Thursday, March 15, 2012

The New New Reality

My dad has seen every episode of Cops.  This is amazing, considering that there have been nearly 1,000 episodes since the show began in 1989.  The show has outlasted two VCRs and TiVo and now gets scooped up on his DVR.

What ya gonna do?  
Cops is a reality show that records police officers as they respond to various situations.  There is no voice-over or narration.  The take-aways of the show are pretty simple: (1) drugs and alcohol cause problems, (2) jumping out of a moving car during a car chase is probably not your best option, (3) people who live in trailer parks address most issues by punching/stabbing their spouses, and (4) police officers are on their best behavior when they know they are being filmed.   

The amazing things about Cops, besides my father's investment in it, is that reality television has gone nearly full-circle since it came on the air.  Popular shows like SurvivorBig Brother and Biggest Loser place ordinary people in extraordinary and contrived situations.  Over the years, these shows have become formulaic.  Every reality contestant has seen every other reality show and such experience influences their behavior. In the end, each season becomes a variation of the previous season.

Reality TVs next big thing is already here.  Why place ordinary people in crazy contrived situations when you can film ordinary people who have already put themselves in crazy situations?  As a bonus, instead of having "contestants" who aspire to stardom, these new reality stars have their own aspirations (usually to make money in the most dangerous way possible).

Below, I've put together a useful ranking of the best of the new reality television world:

7. IRT (Ice Road Truckers)- History Channel

This blog has riveting visual aids!
Synopsis: A bunch of idiots drive trucks through over frozen stretches of the Arctic or narrow, dangerous roads.  The cameras follow these clowns as they drive and explain to the viewers that ice is cold, ice is slippery, and cold and slippery ice is slippery and cold.

Reason to watch: Ice looks cool in HD.

Reason to not watch: The lack of drama.  The big payoff would be a huge crash, but the fact is that crashes just don't happen that often.

Cigarette consumption: Moderate-High.  These people are the opposite of healthy.

Possibility of my doing this job: 10 out of 10.  I like driving.  I like ice.  I like being left alone.  I like the idea of getting use out of my prescription sunglasses.

6. Ax Men- History Channel:
I can't find the top of the boat.

Synopsis: Teams of men in the Pacific northwest and the swamps of the US search for lumber.  Workers operating big machinery try not to kill their co-workers, with limited success.

Reason to watch: The father and son team trying to pull up logs from a swamp.  The father of this team (pictured above) is dumber and has less social graces an inanimate carbon rod.  Also, kudos to the History Channel for computerized graphic simulations that all result in decapitations.

Reasons not to watch: The drama is contrived.  On land, cutting down trees is fairly straightforward and success is just a matter of competence.  Not so in the swamps, where the logging is much more of a roll of the dice.

Cigarette consumption: Moderate.

Possibility of my doing this job: 5 of 10.  Forget about diving in the swamp- I don't trust anyone on these boats to not asphyxiate themselves on their own underpants while I'm underwater.  I could do the tree cutting thing, but only because being pancaked by a tree missile sounds like it would make an interesting obituary.

5. Whale Wars- Animal Planet

"Did you know that so called 'volunteers' don't even get paid?" - Homer Simpson
Synopsis: Where to even begin??  This show follows a group of Greenpeace-type activists as they try to deter Japanese fishermen from poaching whales from the Arctic.  Their methods would be amusing if they were a joke, but in reality their methods are f-n hysterical.  Such methods include throwing stink bombs at massive Japanese whaling ships and pelting said ships with paintballs.

Reason to watch the show: The members of fleet trying to save the whales are seemingly devoid of both basic boating skills and common sense.  This makes any potential "operation" both life-threatening and compellingly pointless.

Reasons not to watch: After about 30 minutes of watching our heroes whine, you actually want to choke a whale to death.

Cigarette consumption: None. Cigarettes cause cancer.

Possibility of doing this job: N/A out of 10.  These folks obliterate the line between success and failure.

4. Bering Sea Gold- Discovery Channel

Synopsis: Treasure hunters in Alaska try to get gold off the floor of the ocean on barges that look like they were made by eighth-graders.

Reason to watch: One of the workers lives in an abandoned school bus, which the narrator casually mentions at every possible opportunity.

Reason not to watch: These guys all have serious drinking problems (and may be sex offenders), a fact that clearly does not disqualify them from almost drowning themselves and their coworkers.  This should be the basis of the show.

Cigarette Consumption: Low to moderate.  Cigarettes get wet when you fall in the ocean trying not to spill your malt liquor.

Possibility of doing this job: 3 out of 10.  Would be zero, but I do want to try mining for gold from a boat made out of a refrigerator box, a hammock, and a volleyball.

3. Gold Rush Alaska- Discovery Channel

Synopsis: Treasure hunters in Alaska try to get gold out of the ground while their machinery falls apart.

Reason to watch: If these dudes were more grizzled, they'd be trying to grab salmon out of a half-frozen river.

Reason not to watch: Unfortunately, these guys only get eight or nine flecks of gold after digging up a hole the size of Dodger Stadium.

Cigarette Consumption:  Heavy, limited only by two-hand operation of back-loader.

Possibility of doing this job: 8 out of 10.  This actually looks like fun, to the point where I would consider doing it if only to grow a neck beard.

2. Storm Chasers- Discovery Channel:

Synopsis: Meteorologists drive special vehicles into the paths of tornadoes trying to get video footage and research data, while arguing like old married couples.

Reasons to watch: The footage is actually quite good, and they have enough tornadoes to keep the episodes moving.  Also, golf ball-sized hail.

Reasons not to watch: The drives into the tornadoes are slightly less amazing when you consider that someone is filming these guys from a different vehicle.  I want to see a show where they follow the video truck called "Storm Chaser Chaser Chasers".

Cigarette consumption: None.... which is probably a good idea considering these guys are sitting in the same car for literally days on end.

Possibility of my doing this job: 4 out of 10.  I think I'd get car sick and tornadoes are terrifying.  At the same time, the science is kind of cool and one guy wears a football helmet for some reason.

1. Deadliest Catch- Discovery Channel

Synopsis: The torchbearer of this genre, this one has everything.  Down-on-their-luck dudes trapped on a disgusting fishing boat and forced to work 36 hours straight without a break.  And they've got crabs.

Reasons to watch: Numerous.  Bon Jovi theme song ("Dead or Alive"!), brutal weather, fistfights, screaming matches, near-death experiences and big rubber sledgehammers used to break up ice.

Reasons not to watch: Will make you feel better about your job, which might not be a good thing.

Cigarettes smoked: Ridiculous.  I feel like the surgeon general might want to get involved.

Possibility of my doing this job: 0 out of 10.  No.  Thanks.  All I needed to see was a "making of" episode where one of the camera men was incredibly seasick for days and said:, "I would kill everyone I know to get off this boat."  I feel you, camera guy.