Brava, Bravo!

I used to live a semi-cultured life. I’d meet friends for Old Cubans (those are rum drinks, not men), go to the occasional rock concert, get subscriptions to theater, see French films at the Museum of Fine Arts, and try out new restaurants with my husband. Nowadays I sit in front of the TV night after night in a semi-vegetative state, laughing on cue, crying on cue, cheering on the good guys and jeering at the bad guys, eating the low-brow equivalent of Bon Bons (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups), and generally doing a pretty good imitation of a sloth. Sigh. Don’t get around much, anymore.

What can account for this troublesome change in behavior? I could blame it on getting older, but I’m pleased to report I haven’t yet reached the age when I need assistance getting up from the couch. I could say it’s the exhaustion that comes with having a newborn, but my human newborn is now 20-years-old and my canine newborn is approaching his one-year birthday, so I no longer have to jump up every 2.5 seconds and stop their mischievous and messy behavior.

No, I think the real reason I’ve turned from bon vivant to Bon Bon eater can be summarized in one word: Bravo. The owners of the Bravo network have apparently implanted a chip in my brain when I was sleeping after a rowdy night out with the Old Cubans, and this chip has me programmed to stay home, plant my butt on the couch, put my feet up on the coffee table, pick up the remote and press “685”, the numbers for the Bravo channel… every time.

What else besides an evil chip-implanting scheme could explain my slavish devotion to this one entertainment network? I’m not the target demographic (i.e., a gay man with good taste). I’m no fashionista. I’d rather eat pizza every night for the rest of my life than take even a single bite of fideo with duck tongue (huh?). Further, the idea of creating sculptures from discarded junk just makes me snicker.

Yet here I am, compulsively watching shows about fashion, food, and fine arts (but not housewives…at least not yet).

Strangely, most of my Bravo viewing involves reality-contest shows. I say “strangely” because I’m not a real fan of reality and the last contest I ever entered ended badly when I lost the John Street School fifth grade spelling bee on the word “psychologist” (believe me, I’m quite familiar with the proper spelling today).

In recent weeks, no sooner had the second season of Top Chef Masters ended when the new season of Top Chef began. Following Top Chef is a new show, Work of Art. That’s two successive hours of programming that consists of:

a) contestants that are either quirky or arrogant, or quirky and arrogant

b) a respected male head judge or advisor who inspects the contestants’ work, mid-progress, and invariably gives them such a look of withering skepticism, it induces immediate panic attacks

c) a female host who is only marginally qualified to be there yet feels entitled to show no mercy, and

d) a panel of judges that features at least one critic who’s more in love with his snarky wordplay than with the finished product

How do you spell formulaic? B-R-A-V-O. (If only I could enter a spelling contest today.)

You’d think reality programs would be less predictable and more spontaneous than traditional dramas and sitcoms. That might have been true in the early days of reality TV, but once the creators of these shows hit on a winning formula, there’s no messing with it.

At least My Life on the D-List with the comedian Kathy Griffin is back! However, while there are always some unpredictable and even poignant moments, how many times can Kathy’s adorable mother Maggie be shown tipping back a glass of white wine? How often can Kathy’s assistant Tom be ridiculed for his nervous habit of plucking out his eyelashes? Will there ever be an awards show where Kathy doesn’t proclaim, “Suck it, Jesus”?

The problem isn’t limited to reality TV. Even the interview show, Inside the Actors Studio, which helped launch the Bravo network and turned the inimitable host James Lipton into a cultural icon, cannot remain fresh forever. The questionnaire Lipton uses with each of his famous-actor guests (“What is your favorite curse word?” “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”) initially required them to think of original answers that revealed their personalities.

By now, though, what guest hasn’t seen the show dozens of times and planned out his or her answers beforehand? Certainly not anyone with an agent, manager, or publicist around to give them sound bite-sized tips. What’s worse, even the best actors cannot make a rehearsed answer seem off the cuff, and so it’s uncomfortable watching them try.

Despite my disappointment, I still planning on watching my favorite Bravo shows—and enjoying them. Because here’s the rub: those Bravo executives are tricksters, fooling me into believing familiarity breeds contentment, not contempt.

Besides, until HBO produces shows again that are the equals of The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, or The Wire, Bravo is simply the best.