Episode 2 – The Only Way Is Essex

 

This week’s discussion: The Only Way Is Essex, Season 18, Eps. 1-3.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Finding Bigfoot, Season 11, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Animal Planet. (cable sub required past first episode) Purchase on Amazon Video.

This week your intrepid hosts take a (somewhat unplanned) trip across the pond to take in the ‘scripted reality’ drama The Only Way Is Essex.  After venting about our hatred of this show, we analyze the pacing of the show and how its one-track focus on petty relationship squabbles might have left a sour taste in our mouths.  We then explore the definition of reality TV on a broader level and decide whether the concept of ‘scripted reality’ fits.  Finally, we look at how this show treats British stereotypes and grapple with our cultural unfamiliarity before ending with a discussion on why this show has been so popular despite the fact that it did not connect with us personally.

Show Notes and Links

1:03 / Introducing this week’s show

1:53 / The high concept of the show (Flub 1: Essex is in Southeast, not Southwest England)

2:25 / A quick peek behind the scenes of 42 Minutes of Reality

3:52 / The locale of the first two episodes: resort town of Mallorca; Mike mentions Season 4 of Jersey Shore

4:45 / Back to the high concept

5:33 / Quoting The Guardian’s TV Critic

6:11 / We hated this show

7:55 / The ‘Waiting for Godot’ of reality TV

8:35 / We summarize the only non-relationship parts we remembered from the first 3 episodes of Season 18

9:40 / Mike thinks there are too many people on this show, compares it unfavorably to Jersey Shore

10:11 / The Wikipedia page for Season 18

10:23 / JS talks about the rapid and formulaic editing structure

12:16 / Mike talks about ‘padding’ – concept borrowed from MST3K

13:40 / ‘Plot’ summary of the first 2 episodes – such as it was

15:26 / JS notes only one holdover from first season – but archetypal continuity

16:29 / Mike thought the sound mixing was awful

17:00 / We both needed closed captioning

17:25 / Mike did like the ‘montage’ style intros of some of the episodes

18:23 / JS finds a synthesis of our views on the pace

19:18 / We briefly discuss the virtues of swears v. bleeps

20:12 / We get into definitional issues – this is an edge case

20:45 / ‘Scripted reality

21:24 / Mike thinks the term ‘reality TV’ is ironic, because it isn’t truly real, but how far is too far?

22:08 / Comparing the structure to Curb Your Enthusiasm – is this a ‘bad soap opera’ with no script?

22:44 / Mike compares to Cheaters, which is even more fake, but actually entertaining

23:13 / A pro wrestling analogy

23:29 / Are the producers next leveling us?

23:39 / The camerawork is quite good – perhaps TOO good…

24:40 / Comparing camerawork to Jersey Shore

25:18 / Goes against the most clearly artificial reality TV conventions – living in same house and the confessional booth – which paradoxically made it seem less real; Mike mentions the granddaddy of modern US reality TV, The Real World

26:47 / JS talks about Arg and Lydia’s break-up scene and some suspicious audio

28:47 / The abortion that was TOWIE Live

29:40 / JS thinks the barometer leans towards ‘not-real’

30:10 / Some of the people in this have been on other reality TV programs

30:52 / Even with all these caveats, is this still reality TV?

31:25 / JS gives a hard ‘no’

32:37 / Mike thought it was the horseshoes of reality TV – close enough

33:57 / JS believes that there should be something authentic, even if there is some manipulation behind the scenes

35:46 / This show lacked that authenticity

36:28 / Mike thinks there is possibly some authenticity ‘beyond the camera’, but mostly thinks this because the show is so boring and obviously faked stuff is more exciting

37:13 / JS would have bought it more if there was more variety in the subject matter

38:05 / Mike says there is a bit more variety beyond the third episode, which might be influencing his opinion

38:35 / Maybe not real in the literal sense, but ‘based on a true story’

38:52 / How did these people all get off work at the same time to go on holiday?

39:42 / The people on this show seemed to be living in an invisible bubble. Where are all the other people in Essex? (Flub 2: Essex has 1.5 million people but not millions – the point still stands)

40:50 / Moving on to popular stereotypes of Essex

41:09 / Different from America’s Most Smartest Model, but both share a worldview that plays on stereotypes

41:46 / Controversy and pushback from Essex residents

42:15 / Mike thinks ‘breaking down stereotypes’ works for Sundance documentaries, but not successful reality TV

42:52 / Mike busts out his Wikipedia research and has JS play a guessing game

43:07 / ‘Essex girl’ stereotype

44:52 / ‘Essex man’ stereotype

46:44 / Mike’s Theory of the Week – are these stereotypes connected?

47:33 / JS wonders if there is a ‘nouveau riche’ component to Essex stereotypes – even in Season 1, these people seem to have no jobs, but lots of disposable income

50:14 / Mike mentions that there were a few people who seemed to own businesses

51:33 / Piggybacking on the last episode’s discussion – why has this gone on so long?

52:28 / A clarification on ‘seasons’ in the UK (?) context

53:08 / A doomsday scenario

53:36 / TOWIE in the context of the genre of ‘soap opera

55:09 / JS drops some soap opera knowledge

56:31 / Mike noticed a pattern in the Hulu ads – is there a gender component to the target demo?

57:17 / JS thinks the main component is age (and class?)

59:10 / Mike wonders if the banality of the show is the key to its popular appeal

1:03:05 / JS observes that with age, you are more likely to encounter weightier issues in life

1:04:46 / Mike wonders if some portion of the audience has problems, but watches for escapist reasons – part of the appeal is that there is a lot of drama, but nothing serious behind it

1:06:06 / It often seemed that there were more interesting things going on off-camera than on camera

1:07:24 / Announcing next week’s show

1:09:00 / We are on iTunes and have an email address: 42minutesofreality AT gmail DOT com

Episode 1 – America’s Most Smartest Model

 

This week’s discussion: America’s Most Smartest Model, Eps. 1-3.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: The Only Way Is Essex, Season 18, Eps. 1-3.  Watch it on Hulu.

Our very first episode!  We introduce the format and goals of the podcast as well as discussing our previous experiences with reality TV and our preconceptions of it going into the show.  We then get to the meat of the episode where we discuss the show’s humor, product placement, outdated technology, reliance on stereotypes, and gender/body politics.  We also speculate as to why this show failed to be renewed and delve into what makes a reality TV series successful.

Show Notes and Links

1:20 / Introducing our show’s format and goals

3:32 / Our experiences with reality TV and our reality TV touchstones

JS: Survivor (season 1), American Idol (season 5), COPS

Mike: Blind Date, The Jerry Springer Show, Jersey Shore, Mike’s Challenger moment and possible new reality TV show pitch

9:22 / Our preconceptions and stereotypes of reality TV

11:07 / Gender and Reality TV fights

12:23 / Our (not very extensive) experiences with America’s Next Top Model, Mike mentions Tyra Banks’ Oprah rip-off

13:11 / Concept of America’s Most Smartest Model

14:14 / The show’s judges

14:50 / The ‘point’ of the show

15:34 / Questions about the contestant interview process

16:10 / This is not a show about merit

17:00 / Issues with pacing and questions about timescale

18:23 / The show’s body politics

20:53 / Back on topic with discussion of the contestants

26:25 / Stacking the deck on gender and ‘dumb model’ stereotypes

27:37 / Mike’s theory on the dominant ideology of reality TV

28:47 / JS thinks the show is reminiscent of the movie Zoolander

29:20 / Celebrates modeling industry despite poking fun at stereotypes, Product placement

31:13 / Mean-spiritedness of show’s humor, fashion industry; is it a hallmark of reality TV?

33:24 / Mike preferred the meanness being channeled into zany challenges rather than mean comments (He also forgot to mention the commercials they had to film while taking an ice-cold shower, that was funny too)

34:41 / Being put off by some of the show’s gender politics, particularly Mary Alice’s dismissive response to a contestant’s concerns about being approached by male strangers (she’d get pilloried on Twitter if this show aired today) and Ben Stein’s leering

36:03 / They’d have to take the smartphones away if they re-did this show today

37:35 / Reveling in the shittiness of this show’s video post-production quality, Mike mentions the 90’s vintage VH1 show Pop-Up Video

39:20 / The show’s bipolar attitude towards the fashion industry’s relationship to sex, Mike thinks Mary Alice needs to get off her high horse

41:30 / Mike thought that the show’s attempt to change gears and get us to sympathize with the participants in the finale was a failure

42:06 / JS compares the narrative arc of reality TV competition to horror

42:57 / Discussing the finale

44:40 / Mike hadn’t seen a reality TV competition finals with two ‘designated villains’ (admittedly drawing from a limited sample)

45:15 / Who we found (kind of) sympathetic and our difficulties sympathizing with the contestants, Mike mentions the Grand Guignol Theatre

47:13 / Mary Alice’s myopic attitude towards non-modeling interests

51:05 / The Wikipedia page for the show

51:23 / Reality TV as a ‘springboard’ to notoriety

52:43 / The Calvinball-esque quality of the competition element and Mary Alice’s odd “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” attitude and strange judging criterion

54:31 / Mike has a grander theory about the show; JS is skeptical

55:14 / Discussing why this show was not renewed; JS thinks the lack of fairness in the competition undermined the show’s prospects

57:32 / Would playing it straighter have helped?

57:57 / The ‘Borat’ problem; if the show is successful, it’s harder to replicate because everyone is in on the joke

59:02 / Is the show too gimmicky to sustain itself beyond a season?

1:00:04 / JS thinks celebrating success is an integral part of successful reality TV competition

1:00:51 / Mike thinks the show lost steam because it became more of a ‘regular’ modeling show as it went on, but thought it had fun moments with the creative challenges

1:02:41 / JS thinks the most successful moments were the challenges that forced the contestants to be creative

1:03:50 / The answer to what would make this show succeed: America’s Next Top Model

1:04:30 / The ‘novelty Christmas album’ of reality shows; works best as a one-off

1:05:10 / Why people come back to new seasons of reality TV shows, JS mentions the show Chopped

1:05:55 / This show doesn’t celebrate success, but failure

1:07:13 / Mike liked this show more than JS because he likes watching people fail

1:08:06 / Comparing this show to Top Chef (or more accurately, Mike’s second-hand impression of Top Chef), Trade-offs of focusing on humor v. competition, accessibility vs. sustainability

1:10:01 / Failure can be sustainable, but needs variation

1:10:46 / Mike found some weeks of competition worked better than others on a merit-level, but the bogus competitions sometimes led to entertaining results

1:11:41 / Discussing the humor of the quirks of some of the contestants

1:15:02 / Reality TV humor and ‘creative editing’

1:16:09 / Mike goes on a tangent about Jersey Shore (get used to this)

1:17:10 / JS wraps up with a discussion of gender stereotypes and humor, picks on the poor women and their laughter

1:18:42 / Signing off and announcing next week’s show