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Entries in Donny (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.

Tuesday
Aug262014

Tuesday - catching you up.

Very briefly - here is what has happened since the last update...

Zach is still out of the house.

The POV was NOT used on Monday so Donny or Nicole is leaving Thursday.

Monday night Frankie and Derrick started putting out feelers about possibly keeping Donny (he's been the target to go home).

Frankie implied at 9:06pm last night to Derrick that the DR was interested in them trying to save Donny.

By the end of the night it appeared they were giving up on the idea, that some HGs (like Cody) were too gung-ho to get Donny out.

Other than that? Not much has been going on.  It is still possible that they change things up and keep Donny, its also possible that production hinted at the thought of keeping Donny as a way to get the HGs to discuss it so they had some video to show on Thursday's show before the vote.

I expect the next two days to be very very quiet - then again I was surprised last night when I saw that there was work afoot to save Donny so you never know.

Saturday
Aug232014

Saturday - Catching up.

Here I sit on a Saturday morning wondering what to write about.  As you most likely know by now since the last post on the site Zach was evicted in what I would say was the best exit in a long long time by a house guest.  The in a complete crap shoot of a competition, Nicole won her way back into the house.  Here is what's gone on since...

Donny and Nicole are the odd folks out and know it.  So when Cody won the HoH competition later Thursday night the fate of one of their games was mostly sealed and they knew it.

On Friday the new Have Nots were assigned by Cody and shockingly it was Nicole and Donny that will be eating fish bits and tofu for the next week and sleeping uncomfortably. Cody - the guy that always says he is going to 'call people out' can't even assign people as have notes - as you can see Christine helped him to put up Donny by pointing to him behind his back (Nicole had already volunteered).

A few hours later in the first (technically second after double eviction night) nomination ceremony, Cody got to say Nicole and Donny's names yet again when he put them up for eviction.

Its very simple now, if either of them wins the POV they will save themselves and the other will be evicted on Thursday, if neither win it then odds are Nicole will go right back out the door.  Cody seemed to prefer Donny go but Derrick wants Nicole to go and this season Derrick seems to make things work they way he wants them to the majority of the time.

So the POV will be later today, the ceremony on Monday. 

We have a live podcast tonight - please join us at 10pm EST on Mixlr http://mixlr.com/big-brother-gossip-show/ for the live show and chat.

With this week pretty much already determined there is very little game talk going on so don't be shocked if you see a lack of updates here over the next few days.  You can however follow us on twitter where we all post our (mostly) Big Brother related thoughts.  Click on each name to see our twitter feeds: @BBGossip (me) @ashes2ashes13 (ash) @bigbrothrgossip (Scott) and @uselesstraffic (John).

Wednesday
Aug132014

Wednesday, the I'm too busy to type a lot update.

As usually happens - Mid-August tends to slow down inside the Big Brother house and my "real" life gets busy.  However I know not all of you are more busy now and depend on this site for updates so I wanted to give you a little something so you don't feel you are missing much.  This will be VERY short but tell you what you need to know game-wise.

Last night Nicole started campaigning, but it looks to me like it is a lost cause.  She continually told those she talked to (Christine, Derrick, Cody, and maybe others) that it made no sense to keep Donny over her because Donny is going after some of them while she would promise to go after Frankie, Victoria and Zach (#1 was Frankie).  Even though Cody seems to keep saying he wants Donny out soon he wouldn't commit to keeping her.  Derrick gave the standard "if you have the numbers I'm with you" answer that should be a clear sign to her that its looking bad.

Derrick did do something that he did with Jocasta (but didn't have time to do with Hayden), he promised to let her know if she was staying or going right before the show.  Think of that as a game move.  One of these HGs is coming back and assuming Nicole goes Thursday both Nicole and Jocasta will have Derrick to thank for letting them know they were going when everyone else was not being honest with them.  So the player that comes back may see Derrick as the only one they can trust and the others still in Jury will see him as the only one that was honest with them in the end.  Its a great move on his part and no one else is doing it.

A lot of the conversation that went on overnight had to do with future plans, I'm not worried about that right now as they can plan all they want but it all changes depending on who wins what.  The important stuff to me at the moment is that Nicole seems to be heading home.  There is still a chance Derrick may change his mind if he feels he can save Nicole, because I think he would prefer Donny leave since Donny is the only remaining HG that constantly talks about Derrick and Derrick/Cody as being strong players (and the only two that have still never been nominated).  There have been 38 chances to be nominated and Derrick and Cody never have been.  Someone in the house needs to throw out that stat.  It says a lot.

This morning in a talk with Frankie Derrick told Christine and Frankie he thoguht the vote would be 6-0 to evict Nicole.  I'm still waiting to hear him waver and the Zach flip last week took place Wednesday evening so anything is possible still.  Just don't expect the unexpected this week.

Two other items....

An interesting idea tossed out by @Sunflo_BB to me via twitter today - will there be another double eviction?  Might CBS bring back TWO HGs with the extra long season (all of Sept this season instead of ending early Sept), and throw in a second double eviction?  While the chances are slim, its fun to think avout.

And finally - there has been loads of chatter on social media about Christine and Cody's flirty ways the last few weeks, some outraged that Christine is close to any male in the house since she is married.  My answer to that is what does it have to do with the game? I feel most of the 'hate' being thrown at Christine and her husband (leave HG family OUT OF IT folks) is because Christine's game is not helping their own favorite HGs game, whomever that might be.  (rief item here: Bustle.com - its worth a quick read and expresses similar opinions on the situation as mine.

Comment away or holler at me at @BBGossip on twitter.  Ash is online at Twitter @ashes2ashes13 - so make sure to follow here there and she will post again soon.  I can't come close to filling her shoes but wanted to give you an update :)