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by Melissa Crawley

28 Sep 2010


***Spoiler Alert: Season Finalé discussed***

The subtitle of the Starz series Spartacus is: Blood and Sand. Forget the sand part. It’s all about the blood.

Retelling the legend of the rebellious gladiator, the 13-part series, released on DVD on 21 September, depicts so much blood that it should get an acting credit and a SAG card. Fountains of blood erupt when heads are severed from bodies. Streams of blood spurt wildly out of sliced throats, slashed torsos, and eviscerated abdomens. In my favorite shot, a fallen gladiator’s blood splashes across the entire screen, bringing a clever postmodern nod to the presence of the camera. There’s also lots of sex (gay and straight), topless women, full-frontal nudity (male and female) and did I mention blood?

With all the slicing and cutting and loss of bodily fluids, Spartacus would seem to be a prime candidate for criticism about its excessive violence. Yet the reviews I’ve read, while mentioning the gore, focus more on assessing the show’s characters and story arc. Does this mean that we’ve finally moved past the media effects argument?

by Melissa Crawley

21 Sep 2010


If you haven’t watched an episode of Jersey Shore yet, now in its second season on MTV, you are missing something five million other viewers have decided is worth an hour of their week. What that something is, I’m not so sure anymore. I was a regular viewer of Jersey Shore’s first season and watched Snooki, the Situation and DJ Pauly fist pump their way through the clubs of Seaside Heights. I liked the train wreck that is Ronnie and Sammi’s relationship. I marveled at J-Woww’s rotation of stripper outfits. Now? Not so much.

Season two takes the friends to Miami to basically do what they did at the Jersey shore on a shore further south. Watching the first episode of season two, I wondered if Miami would change the gang. Would they become jaded? Start ordering bottles of Cristal at the clubs? Stop making drunk phone calls at 4am?

by Elizabeth Wiggins

7 Sep 2010


Taylor Jacobson and Brad Goreski of The Rachel Zoe Project

Whether or not it’s the network’s stated agenda, most faithful viewers are aware that Bravo produces reality programming obsessed with aspirational lifestyles. Regardless of geographic region, all of The Real Housewives live lives beyond most viewers’ means and imaginations, the cheftestants of Top Chef make food that aims to be featured in the finest restaurants, and even Work of Art engages in a conversation – one about art – that most people don’t have the time in their days to even try. 

But it’s the shows centered on the lives and work of people who are far cooler than viewers – tastemakers in what are primarily service industries – that really capture Bravo’s upwardly mobile flavor.  And, interestingly, it’s the shows about watching successful, stressed people work like The Rachel Zoe Project and Flipping Out, which are essentially personality vehicles about driven personalities at work, that are some of the most puzzlingly captivating programs in Bravo’s lineup.

by Melissa Crawley

2 Sep 2010


Hoarding: Buried Alive is a TLC show that focuses on people who suffer from a compulsion to collect and keep things until those things literally take over their house. The structure is: exposition, desperation, consultation. It begins with the participant or hoarder taking the viewer on a tour of their home. By tour I mean less a leisurely stroll and more a tight squeeze along one narrow path they have carved between mountains of junk. The hoarders then talk about how they recognize their problem but feel powerless to change. This is where the therapist comes in and the makeover begins. 

During the consultation part of the show, the therapist stands in the one square of clean space left in their client’s home and asks them to discard something. The therapist says things like: “You’re holding onto the past so much that you can’t live in the present.” Or: “How does this sweater/kitchen utensil/broken soap dish, make you feel?” The hoarder cries and after much agonizing, hesitantly puts something in the box marked “discard”. One commercial break and it’s four weeks later. With editing worthy of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, trashed room is now pristine space. In spite of having a compulsion so strong that the hoarder has spent years turning every inch of their home into a dump, they have turned their life around in a few weeks. Their triumph is rooted in one of reality TV’s central lessons: transformation=life success.

by Elizabeth Wiggins

1 Sep 2010


I like FX’s Louie.  The trouble is in explaining why. I’ve tried writing about Louis C.K’s new comedy several times since the show debuted on 29 June, but each time I failed because I couldn’t pin down what I wanted to say about the show in general, let alone come up with an explanation about why I like a crass, absurd, but often funny comedy about an aging divorced man that seems to be at least loosely inspired by Louis C.K.’s own experiences.

One of the reasons I’ve puzzled over what to write is that Louie isn’t like anything else on television. Generically, it’s a comedy, and the show never really violates the conventions of the half-hour comedy to depart for genre-unspecific waters. So, it’s easy to know what Louie is, but in watching the show it becomes apparent that there’s something new here, a different kind of television show. One that maybe pushes into darker territory (on a number of levels), but one that is actively attempting to take on the half-hour comedy differently.

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