Gok Wan knows good body shapers and isn’t afraid to share. As the host of the UK version of How to Look Good Naked, Wan uses both fashion consultations and mini therapy sessions to teach women how to love what nature gave them. The series, which recently finished its sixth season on Channel 4, is a makeover show but wants to be a life-changing therapy session. This identity crisis reflects reality television’s love affair with therapeutic discourse, but does a disservice to why this show really works. It’s not Wan’s body image counseling that makes his guest feel great at the end of the hour. Rather, it’s his role as best friend.
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Since roughly the midpoint of its first season, Glee has been a train wreck. Which means that despite the show’s endless onslaught of WTF moments—like when Rachel and her estranged mother bond, love glue gunning all over the place, during a bizarre take on Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”—I have not been able to tear my eyes from it.
For a while, I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly why the derailment happened. Mostly, my concerns have been about Glee’s slow transformation from a smart send-up of the High School Musical films (and teen dramas more generally) into a heavy-handed, humorless public service announcement. I held off on passing judgment on that transformation because the show did, once upon a time, seem innovative in its attempts to explore topics like physical disability, queerness, and interracial teen relationships. Excepting the wheelchair stunt double kerfuffle, Glee’s writers exposed those issues with equal amounts of satire and sincerity.
At the end of a recent episode of The Event, the mysterious leader of an otherworldly group of visitors tells the American president that her people have been waiting “66 years” and their patience is running out. On the other hand, I’ve only been waiting a few hours to find out what the ‘event’ is and my patience ran out around episode two.
The Event is part Lost and part FlashForward. The group of mystery people alludes to Heroes, but without the charm of a villainous Sylar and the conspiracy aspect places it in the category of 24 but without the fierceness of a Jack Bauer. I might have more patience for this identity crisis if it wasn’t for the show’s reliance on back story flashbacks.
In the opening sequence of the first episode of Nikita, Maggie Q is wearing a slinky bathing suit while fighting bad guys. Really? She’s so thin that I’m pretty sure they could just blow on her and run away. In the second episode, she’s wearing more clothes but they mostly consist of skintight leggings. This only seems to emphasize that her legs are about the same size as her arms.
Despite my feelings that Maggie should gain a few pounds, this is not a piece where I want to argue about Hollywood standards of beauty. For all I know, she has a hearty appetite and an enviable metabolism. I also don’t want to debate body image as presented in the media and its effect on women. If a woman is watching Nikita and searching for a role model, she should take note that an actor of Asian descent is the lead on an American TV series. What I do want to briefly examine is the issue of physicality and its relationship to the credibility of a character and their story.
***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?