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Entries in Devin (11)

Sunday
Sep212014

Another Shade of Reality: Utopia

What say we review Utopia from a disgruntled Big Brother viewer’s perspective? No? What, do you think #BB16 is providing worthwhile live feed viewing today? Okay, gotcha on that one.

This post is long, I admit. But if you’re reading this during business hours, stare at your screen and furrow your brow such that colleagues who wander by will assume you’re very busy with important things.

Consider the very basics: Why do we watch television?

Highly watchable characters, whether or not we like them as people, are what draw us to television. When we identify with characters, we just have to know what happens to them ... so we never miss an episode, whatever the show.

This show's format worked so remarkably well that its characters were interchangeable.TV has also given us formats which are so compelling that we tune in episode after episode even with only tenuous personal connections to the people.

It’s just a few days from the Big Brother 16 season finale ... and I honestly don’t care who wins. The people I especially wanted not to win (Devin, Frankie, and Caleb) got evicted, and the people I half-heartedly followed (Donny and Zach) are long gone as well. No house guest emerged as my favorite this season, and I’m wondering if watching amounted to wasted effort.

What makes any show worth watching? Likable characters and/or compelling formats. Or vice versa. Plenty of shows are highly watchable when central characters are well-written even if they’re people we’d avoid in real life.

It was easy to get invested in Walter White.Think of Breaking Bad's Walter White. This guy was an underpaid under-appreciated high school chemistry teacher with a wife, a kid, a junky car, an ordinary middle-class house in suburbia, and a life savings of only a few thousand dollars. Who among us can't identify with Walter? It made him likable and compelling from the very first episode -- enough so that we wanted to follow his (mis)adventures to the very end, even as his misanthropic selfishness vanquished his humanity.

Or think Tony Soprano. Despite being ruthless, evil, and utterly devoid of moral restraint in the running of his business affairs, Tony's struggle with mental health, his love for his children (misguided though his expressions of love sometimes were), and his intense desire to achieve and gain more (more wealth, more respect, more recognition, more validation) gave us a personal connection to his ... I'll call it his unique humanity. We laughed and cried with him. We rooted for him. We wanted him to win.

You didn't have to like Tony Soprano or his crew. But you couldn't not watch.Or how about compelling formats? Law and Order aired for 20 years and spawned numerous successful spinoffs despite having a revolving cast who played characters with little depth. The format itself proved compelling and long-lasting: Investigate a crime, catch the bad guy(s), take them to court, and reveal the winner (the cops & attorneys or the accused).

Popular daily game shows -- think Price Is Right and Jeopardy -- are similarly compelling because we understand the format and, by playing along, feel like we're part of it.

We have written much here at Big Brother Gossip about why #BB16 was disappointing. House guests who outright failed to play the game (including some who barely understood what was happening), predictable competitions, ridiculous twists which served only to make a tired format even less compelling, stunt casting, etc. #ExpectTheExpected week after week.

Could a new American reality show shake things up for CBS’s Big Brother? That’s exactly what we’re wondering about Fox’s new Utopia. Isolated from the outside world on several acres in the country, 14 people from wildly diverse backgrounds are trying to build a new society from scratch, starting with only a barn, plantable land, a $5000 start-up budget, and no modern amenities (at first, not even a toilet). There are 24/7 live feeds (some free, some paid) and televised recap episodes on Tuesdays and Fridays.

But there are no competitions. There is no grand prize. There will be no winner. That, to me, makes the format questionable. So are the people likable? Is there something which makes this program compelling? If you’ll pardon the Big Brother pun, the jury’s still out.

Utopia's five acre compound.The predominating feeling I had after watching Utopia’s first two episodes was that irrational anger does not make for good entertainment. It was anger loudly on display by unlikable people. It was puzzling, actually. When you find yourself amongst a group of strangers with whom you know you'll be spending some time, aren't you usually on your best behavior for a while? I found myself wondering if Utopia's producers engineered the conflict (a la Big Brother), misguidedly thinking it would make for better TV.

In your face! The majority of the men were arguing, sometimes violently, in the first day they were there.It didn’t. In fact, for me, the conflict had the opposite effect: I might not stick around to find out if anybody is likable / relatable (as Walter White was) or at least compelling (Tony Soprano). Absence of conflict would be off-putting too -- but until we find a reason to watch a show, its characters should avoid motivating us to change channels.

So if the people are (potentially) repelling, is Utopia’s format compelling? Not yet sure about that, either.

Utopia is somewhat like a "My Summer Camping Trip" home movie, albeit one obviously produced with professional-grade video cameras. But who wants to watch camping trips in slow motion on TV? They tried to create drama over the notion of running out of money, but viewers won't care. (Name for me, please, one viewer anywhere who thinks they will be allowed to starve on national television. They've already aired paramedics and doctors visiting on multiple occasions.)

Utopians celebrate newly-run electricity in the barn.Utopia had a beginning ... but there's no discernible middle or end on the way in a few weeks or months for viewers to look forward to. That's a huge problem. We are conditioned by Big Brother (not to mention scripted TV and another major televised competition thing which seems to be catching on -- I think they call it football) to earn the reward of a "winner" when we invest viewing time. And characters (or teams) to root for or bemoan along the way.

There are no Big Brother- or Survivor-style competitions on Utopia. Watching people plant gardens (or not), milk cows, raise chickens (or argue about dead ones), and sit around outside is dull. (Big Brother's annually-repeated predictable comps are dull for different reasons. But each has a beginning and end, loser and winner, enabling viewers to feel like they've accomplished something in the watching.)

It also occurs to me that there is a basic dichotomy between Utopia and the TV network on which it's airing. The Utopians, we are told, are there to build an ideal society from scratch. They must set aside their many differences ultimately to come together in harmony toward common goals.

Hanging around outside.But if there is a major television network (family of networks) whose brand image is the antithesis of societal harmony, which one immediately comes to mind? Right. Fox is entirely about dividing the country, not about bringing us together. Fox fosters the lack of basic civility in our national conversation and then they televise it and profit from it.

Why on earth is this show on Fox? Shouldn't it be on a channel like TLC, Discovery, Oprah Winfrey Network, PBS, or any channel known for documentaries? TLC was once known as "The Learning Channel" before it veered into quasi-reality faire such as Kate Plus 8, Extreme Couponing, Sister Wives, and LA Ink. If they could possibly clear time by canceling drivel like Toddlers & Tiaras and Honey Boo Boo, each of which destroys human dignity in its own unique way, TLC might have a theme-fitting show in Utopia -- one whose premise, at least, is worth consideration.

Indeed, I do find a few redeeming qualities to Utopia. There are people from all walks of life (city, country, presumed varying levels of education and access to money), and many ethnicities are represented. The conflict I've seen so far seems to have been based on their controversial behavior and differences in ideas or their implementation, not on personal backgrounds. That's an important silver lining to Utopia's odd drama.

I like that religion and faith are represented but also that secularism and atheism are there too -- and that while these Utopians are clearly welcome to discover new expressions of spirituality (there was a Christian baptism, for example), the disinterested seem to remain welcome members of the tribe.

It is refreshing that there is a greater (if less than total) acceptance of the human body. Many Utopians have found a European or dare we say aboriginal comfort with the notion that at times clothing is neither warranted nor practical, e.g. when swimming or when neither the climate nor the specific activity requires its protective qualities. American society is paradoxical and puritanical about nudity. We are completely desensitized to death and violence in media ... but simple non-sexual, non-lewd nudity makes people crazy.

Example: Do you remember that when Titanic arrived in movie theaters, Americans made far more of a fuss over their children seeing a momentary glimpse of Kate Winslet's breast than they did over their children seeing graphic depictions of the horrific deaths of a thousand people? I digress, but get your priorities straight, people.

Regardless of Utopia's harmless nudity, media pounced on it as controversial. Fox undoubtedly welcomed the publicity.And although I complain that Utopia is basically "televised camping," the outdoor environment is nice. The setting itself provides a welcome departure from the endless city streets / urban decay / guns / screaming sirens / death / destruction that usually fill primetime television.

I am not convinced that Utopia’s format is fundamentally flawed or that the show will not find a following if Fox sticks with it long enough. But neither the show’s first few episodes nor the network on which it’s being aired bode well for Utopia’s longevity, in my view. Although DVR viewership has helped, ratings haven't been kind so far. Repeats on other networks had more viewers than new Utopia episodes, and Fox could dump Utopia when its baseball coverage disrupts the schedule next month (if not sooner).

Reality fans who like the “isolate people outside of the real world” genre might be stuck only with a 2015 edition of Big Brother’s tired format.

More Utopia reading: A writer got to visit the Utopia compound before the cast arrived. Also, Slate.com’s Utopia review delves brilliantly into the initial cast and the conflicts of their first few days.

Big Brother Australia just started its 2014 season a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been enjoying it. What could CBS learn from #BBAU? I’m planning to write about that in a few days. Share your thoughts about Utopia in the comments below or @uselesstraffic.

Saturday
Jul122014

POV Competition Results - Big Brother Gossip Show Tonight!

The Power of Veto Competition was held this afternoon and Donny ended up winning his second one.  Before the competition he pledges to use it to save Jocosta if he won since she wasn't playing due to illness.  Since she couldn't play only five house guests participated; Caleb, Caleb, Devin, Donny and Christina.

 

While its pretty much a lock that Devin will go up in Jocosta's place at the POV meeting, I wouldn't say it is a sure thing that Devin will be the one voted out.  There will be some strong consideration given to getting Caleb out while they have the chance.

We will discuss the possible outcomes on tonights Big Brother Gossip Show along with loads of other things - tune in tonight at 10pm EST - 7pm BB Time via the tuner in the right sidebar or at BigBrotherPodcast.com.

Wednesday
Jul092014

Big Brother Flashback Timeline for Power of Veto Craziness

It may seem a bit late but it takes a LONG time to document this stuff and it is still worth going back to see what all went on that lead to Zach being nominated and then the aftermath of the Power of Veto meeting.

You will need a live feed subscription to watch the videos listed below.  Click here or on a banner to sign up and then you can use the Archive feature from your computer to go to each time listed and watch the events as they happend.

Below is the timeline for things to watch as Devin decides to save Britt and put up Zach and the fallout after - ending with Devin tellign Britt he likes her (things are ommitted - there was just SO MUCH).

7/5 8:59pm Cam 3/4 Britt comes to talk to Devin. Around 9:48pm Devin starts to imply he might save her. Tells Britt that Paola threw the BoB competition. 10:25pm Devin tells Britt that the POV will be around her neck.   Click to get the Live Feeds so you can see everything yourself! 

7/6 3:30pm Cam 3/4 Devin and Zach butt heads. One of several times they clashed which led to Devin wanting Zach out.

7/6 9:53pm Cam 1/2 Devin thinks he has 6 votes to evict Zach and he can break the tie.

7/7 10:20am Cam 3/4 Devin starts to hint to Paola that things may change. Paola gets mad (Several brief convos starting at 10:20am).

7/7 1:18pm Feeds back from POV meeting in which Devin saved Britt and put up Zach. Zach apparently called out some people after the fact and made comments about Devin being on meds and his daughter being ashamed of him (or something to that effect).  Paola also blew up at Devin.  The next several hours was non-stop multi camera discussions. I can't go back and document it all so her are the highlights (you will see how crazy it was).

1:20pm Zach & Frankie talk (Frankie upset @ Zach)
1:24pm Zach & Paola talk (Both mad at Devin)
1:25pm Nicole and Britt talk (Nicole tells Britt that Paola threw the BoB)
1:26pm Nicole and Britt joined by Hayden & Paola - more BoB discussion.
1:27pm Cody, Frankie and Caleb talk.
1:30pm Frankie and Caleb talk after Cody leaves room.
1:33pm Hayden talks about BoB to Frankie, Amber, Devin
1:34pm Zach, Frankie and Devin talk.
1:40pm Amber says that Devin controlled things (telling her noms thing).
1:42pm Cody & Frankie talk.
1:43pm Zach reveals the Bomb Squad to Hayden (Derrick present).

Do you get the idea? You really just need to watch the live feeds yourself to catch everything that happened at that time.

Moving right along where things had slowed just a little...

7/7 3:08pm Cam 3/4 Zach and Paola fight - Paola continues to deny she threw the BoB (fight really kicks off at 3:10pm).  Meanwhile at the same time Frankie, Caleb and Cody are talking game.

7/7 3:15pm Cam 1/2 Christine reveals the Bomb Squad alliance to Nicole

7/7 3:20pm Cam 3/4 Caleb talks to Hayden - Caleb saying he's been loyal to Hayden (even though he's not in the Bomb Squad).

7/7 3:33pm Cam 3/4 Caleb talks to Devin about Hayden (because he knows about the Bomb Squad now).  Devin explains why he decided to nominate Zach &  wants to talk to Hayden & bring him into Bomb Squad.

7/7 3:48pm Cam 3/4 Devin brings up Hayden - Devin, Caleb and Frankie in room while Devin and Hayden try to recruit Hayden into Bomb Squad

7/7 11:10pm Cam 1 Devin reveals he like Britt to Christine - Christine goes and tells Britt right afterwards.

7/8 4:36am Cam 1/2 Devin tells Britt he likes her.  Thus completing the circle of luvvvvv.

While far from perfect - there is easily a couple hours of feed viewing there and 90% of it will never be seen on the CBS show.  Again if you don't have a live feed subscription you need that in order to see the archived videos - what we also call Flashback - so click here or on one of the Live Feed banners.

 

 

Monday
Jul072014

The Day Timer - Devin goes crazy

If you like chaos, then today's your day. Devin made more promises than he could keep as HOH this week, and winning Power of Veto has proven to be a case of too much responsibility. Here's a quick summary of events leading up to today's POV ceremony:

As HOH, Devin targeted Brittany and put Paola up as a pawn ... and then he promised Paola that if she'd throw the Battle of the Block comp and he won POV, he would save her. But Devin had promised all Bomb Squad alliance members (including Zach) to keep them safe, too. When, in essence, Zach wouldn't pledge his allegiance to Devin, despite Derrick's encouragement to do so, Devin got pissed. (It was actually way more convoluted than that ... but an African tsetse fly has more short term memory than I.)

So Devin concocted a reason to save Brittany: Like Devin's mom, she's a single parent, so he doesn't want to be responsible for her eviction. At Monday afternoon's POV ceremony, Devin saved Brittany and put Zach on the block -- breaking multiple promises at once.

Zach responded by outing the Bomb Squad alliance to Hayden in Derrick's presence, and now just about everybody's in damage control.

It's a fun time to watch the feeds! Get your free trial here: bit.ly/BB16Free

What new alliances will emerge from the chaos? At Thursday's eviction vote, will we finally be treated to a split decision? Will Paola or Zach be the next one out? Did Devin's eccentric behavior seal his fate for the following week? Share your thoughts at @uselesstraffic or right here in the comments.