Sunday, 25th April '04

Reality, TV, And A Touch of Gloss.

Yes yes, loads of time to keep good company with the goggle box of late. =) Especially since I've got a good number of accumulated shows taped from before the exams to clear. But anyways (I actually think "anyways" sounds nice!)... it's all worth me blogging about. Maybe I was on cold turkey, but the recent week of TV was so electrifyingly satisfying I just had to blog. Apologies to those who don't share my passion for the television. May my brain turn to mush - Roald Dahl would surely disapprove.

Reality programmes... whee! There's this basic human desire, I think, to watch other people suffer and squirm and batter each other in pursuit of the titular objective of the show. Watching them fight tooth and nail to be America's Next Top Model, or American Idol, or Sole Survivor... or catch Rachel what's-her-name's Eye for a Guy. Addictive sia. And the last episodes of all of them were so what I can only call "full of kick".

In Model the top four had to pose nude... ok, they had to SIMULATE nude... it wasn't even as bad as going actual nude. But watching poor sweet Shannon get stressed out and awful Bible-totting-Puritan Robin go all holy and lecture the producer on the evils of nude simulation... damn shiok lah. And when Tyra Banks caught Robin jiggling her naked boobs (up and down and round and round - excellent description, Tyra!) at the producer during a costume change? Now THAT'S some good TV. Funny thing, though... I have never seen this many people willing to strip down to their undies and change in front of each other, since, well, TFYE!

In Idol... the departure of JPL could be quite easily overlooked in the light of Barry Manilow's tremendous work with the top seven this week. My GOSH, I'm telling you, he worked WONDERS! I didn't need to see him perform live to know how well he must know his stuff - all I needed to do was see the performances by the kids of the show. Diana Degarmo, John Stevens and Jasmine Trias... they improved so much in terms of performance quality and connection with the audience, it was startling. And I found myself respecting Barry Manilow for taking the effort to actually stay with the finalists and train them for an entire week - most of the other guest judges just visited them for a day and shook hands with them, but Manilow actually re-arranged his own pieces to suit each of them... it was heartening to see how much an old veteren still cared for the somewhat failing music industry, and how great he must be as a teacher. And the result show was something to get me on my feet cheering. It went like this: Ryan Seacrest separated the first six finalists into two groups. Fantasia Barrino, Latoya London and Jennifer Hudson in Group A. Diana Degarmo, John Stevens and Jasmine Trias in Group B. One group held the bottom three in terms of polls, the other held the top three. When this happened you could just see the glee in Barrino's and Hudson's eyes - they thought they had it made. True, the three in Group A had always been consistent powerhouse singers. And the three in Group B had their plain youth, inexperience and resultant lack of confidence against them (all were either 16 or 17). Until Manilow came and worked his wonders, at least. But yes, when Seacrest told George Huff he could join the top group (without saying which group it was), poor Huff didn't have a clue where to go. He just sort of stumbled onto the stage (he thought he was a goner, he'd had a VERY bad show the night before). And here's where the telling bit happened. Barrino and Hudson reached out and PULLED HIM INTO THEIR GROUP. You couldn't possibly turn me off with any greater show of arrogance. It was patently disgusting. So imagine my fist-pumping joy when Seacreast announced that Group B was the top group that night. Well, in conclusion, Hudson went home. No complaints here. She was my Carmen of the last season, diva voice or not.

Survivor... I actually not sure who I want to win now that Rob Cesternino got voted off. He was a terribly smart player, but it being an all star game, the rest were wary and got rid of him fast. I suppose my vote's with Boston Rob now... I tend to go for the players who play the game well. But this week's was a thriller not because of anything any of the power players did. Instead it was Shi-Ann's sheer determination in raising her arm ramrod straight for two and a half hours to win immunity that got to me. She was the physically weakest player this season, and the fact that she beat out all the alpha-males in a pure endurance challenge was inspiring. But she was dumb and shot her mouth off after that, so, well, unless she wins all the challenges all the way to the end (which I highly doubt), she's gone.

Then there's normal TV.

The Practice closed its seventh (or is it eighth?) season this week. And since the nextwork didn't intend to re-air the series, it ended with Bobby leaving the firm, divorcing Lindsay and generally a lot of sappiness. Well, good sappiness, since for me nothing the Practice does is ever wrong =). And the cases that were fought this episode were brilliant, as usual. What gets to me is that when the funding was obtained for a last season, they producers dropped the Bobby, Helen, Lindsay, Rebecca and Lucy characters from the show. Now how do you spell "what the hell"? STUPID PRODUCERS. They essentially removed every character that was cool, leaving one Eugene Young to carry the rest of the show. No, Eleanor and Jimmy do not make me think show-hero. Sigh. Disappointment.

On the other hand, Channel 5 finally did something useful and brought us the Fox hit, the O.C. It's kind of this S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders" meets Beverly Hills 90210 flick. And get this, it was written to be a television soap opera. Well, its actually a good one. Three episodes in and I think I'm sold. It tells the story of protaganist, Ryan Atwood (think greaser-tough with 98 percentile SAT scores in place of the hair, and a single scruffy grey sweater in place of a leather jacket and switch-blade. He's a Ponyboy Curtis clone, personality-wise.), who comes from a rotten little 8-milish ghetto. When abandoned by his trailer-trash mother, he is taken in by his Public Defender to live with him and his family in their ridiculously over-luxurious mansion in the O.C. (that's Orange County, Beverly Hills without the clothing shops, but with plenty of sun, sand, sea, and sex to go). Oh yes, and along the way he meets and semi-falls-in-love with girl-next-door Marissa Cooper (think Cherry Valance), who happens to be attached to jock Soc-y-type asshole boyfriend (Bob Sheldon reincarnated). Well, there are the essential basics... I guess what impresses me is the simplicity of the story and the humaness of every single character. Even Jock-arsehole has a good side and each of the show's heros have flaws too. The freshfaced innocence of the cast was quite alluring too. They weren't ace actors (who am I to judge), but they were entirely believable and the guy who plays Ryan especially has a certain lost puppy vibe that comes on in vulnerable times, and is replaced by a snarling cynicism at others. I guess I'm a huge fan of casting unknowns because they make simple characters so much more real. Having a cast of beautiful, telegenic people doesn't hurt either. The show also has a rocking soundtrack, designed to bleed money off me. It's been split up into several CDs and will be released slowly as the show progresses. Who would have thought I'd be spending money on a soap opera's merchandise? *groan*.

Finally, there was Glossolalia, the VJC's Writers Circle function that I went for a night ago. Mich, I'll be honest, okie? Just take it with a pinch of salt, I may not know what the hell I'm talking about.

The councillor in me will gripe about the production side of it all. Entering the place did not give me any sense of a well thought out function. But for Ave's being an ex-student, the lack of any decent signage made it so that we might never have found the performance space. As we trotted down to a little congregation of people we thought must be the ticketing booth, the organisers were shocked to find that the ushers hadn't caught us and we had simply wandered right into the performance space without tickets. I can't say that left a great impression.

Worse still came the show. Audience settling time is of course appreciated, but starting the show half an hour late and ending it almost an hour over time is not a sign of professionalism. Overall, the production reeked of a woeful lack of practice. The MCs were appalling - they hadn't a clue how to begin to address the audience, their lines were flubbed at almost every introduction, and the order of the performances seemed a mystery to them. Almost every other introduction had them introduce a reading, and then correct themselves after frantic waving and gesturing from "backstage" (which we could all see into, thankyouverymuch). At other times they introduced the piece and then visbly and audibly forgot the reader's / author's name, or vice versa. The technical aspect was possibly worse. The microphones were muffled - or perhaps the readers had never occasioned to use one before. Certain readers went au naturel, but forgot how vital a little voice projection is, especially when you're staging your show in a garden with trees and grass and open-air to devour your sound. The lighting was pretty after the sun set, but it did not help that the stage lights reached just high enough to illuminate the readers' torsos, but lost their faces in the shadows. There might not have even been a real props crew, since half the props were carried on by other readers, and the other half, by the MCs. Too often were props carried out, set up, and then removed as the "crew" discovered it had set up the wrong props for the wrong item. Finally, one of the rapping trio's admission that they could not even hear their own backup music just took the cake. Everything that went wrong production could be attributed to plain lack of practice.

Other aspects spoke of clear inattention to details or poor discipline. The fact that two relatively illustrious and well-respected poets, Alfian Sa'at and Chris Mooney were in the audience was overlooked. It might have been nice to acknowlege their presence from the start, or at the very least, provide them with labelled chairs. Sa'at, in particular, ended up sitting on a groundsheet on the floor. And when guest readers or any other readers, for that matter, are performing, a general mark of respect is NOT to stand behind them and rehearse your own reading. This was painfully apparent during Alfian Sa'at's reading, where students behind him mouthed their own lines and marked their own actions in full view of the audience. Performers' costumes were a disappointment as well, some being dressed up to the nines in full formal office wear, some in ordinary street causal, and some in forehead-smack-inducing school uniform. If any of that had been catered to suit the piece being read, it was certainly not evident enough. During the readings, the organisers could have taken greater care to make sure their own members did not shuffle up and down the performance slope, or creak distractingly on the swing right behind the audience. During the interval reception, I was pleasantly surprised by tasteful goodies, but was quickly forced back by the spray paint fumes coming from the graffiti corner right next to the refreshment table.

All the above was a pity because the Writer's Circle did have rather good pieces of writing to showcase. Certain gems like White Hairs, the One-Minute-Poem, the piece that the male MC recited about boys, and Mich's MOE rant captured my attention easily. Unfortunately, possibly well written pieces in the first half were lost to the terrible AV (what is poetry when you can't hear the words?) or obscured by sheer bad taste on the part of many of the readers. Poetic licence or not, it was evident that many of the readers hadn't the vaguest concept of showmanship and the few readers who did, hadn't shared what they knew with the others. Pretentious chair flinging and dropping to the knees weren't the slightest bit convincing. At other times the words were lost under falsified accents, over-dramatised inflection and sloppy enunciation. Often, the readers could not be seen for stepping out of the light space, or worse, behind the ample shrubbery that framed the stage.

All that having been said, it was not a terrible show... perhaps more like me being anal. There was something to be said for the substance of the poetry being read, or at least what I could hear of it. As I said, when not marred by bad performance or poor projection, the pieces were mostly entertaining and thoughtful. I also appreciated the effort made to include a variety in the readings, and the fact that the audience was not buried under the angst and pathos characteristic of teenage artists. In summation, I suppose credit must be given to the organisers. Though small in number and perhaps not all that well funded as some sports teams, they did manage to stage their first ever ticketed function and attract a decent crowd. Even if they failed to deliver their substance, the substance was, ultimately, there. There's nothing a little experience and a second try can't cure.

en ying snapped a shot of life @ 12:40 pm
[well, the pictures aren't going to take themselves!]

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