Episode 25 – The Four: Battle for Stardom

 

This episode: The Four: Battle for Stardom, Season 1, Eps. 1, 5-6.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next episode: Steven Seagal: Lawman, Season 1, Eps. 1-8.  Watch it on Hulu.

Mike wanted to stretch the podcast’s legs out and take on a singing competition and boy did he regret it!  Interspersed between his procession of grievances about the loud production, frenetic pace, bizarre voting system, and overbearing personalities, we discuss our experiences with previous singing shows and top 40 radio (or in Mike’s case, lack thereof) and add some comments on how this show could have been improved.  Mike then lays out his critique of music contests as meritocracy and we finish with an article from the Atlantic on how these shows interpret the American Dream and speculate as to why these shows continue to have such a voracious appeal even as they fail to launch their winners into the stratosphere of superstardom.

Show Notes and Links

1:32 / Mike has something to get off his chest

2:45 / Introducing the show officially

3:20 / Complaining about the episode length

4:03 / How the hell did this get renewed?  (Our Monica episode is here.)

4:33 / Starting with the structure of the show and how it compares to its more famous siblings (American Idol and The Voice)

6:50 / The strange audience voting scheme and the garish product placement (brought to you by T-Mobile)

7:30 / How the structure killed any sense of narrative build-up and continuity

9:12 / The contestant background narratives hit (or try to hit) all the familiar ‘beats’

10:22 / Segueing to the judges – DJ Khaled, Meghan Trainor, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, and Charlie Walk

11:15 / Discussing the #MeToo allegations surrounding Charlie Walk and how the show (didn’t) handle them

12:32 / Mike does his Fergie impression

13:04 / Describing the performance venue

14:18 / Talking about the semi-professional backgrounds of many of the contestants

17:16 / Returning to our personal impressions of the judges

17:55 / JS enjoyed some of the between-the-scenes banter

19:17 / JS’s power ranking of the judges, with Diddy as #1

20:22 / Mike thought the judges were the most annoying part of the show

21:06 / Discussing what JS liked about American Idol

23:03 / Investment in contest vs. music

24:45 / Different flavors of badness – Mike was surprised by how much he hated this one (he also runs down the cavalcade of lowlights from 42 Minutes past)

25:35 / The production style of this show is too ‘loud’ and ‘quick’

26:56 / Mike was irritated by how forced it was – the banter, the ‘trash talk’, the catch-phrases

27:35 / Dissecting the etymology of ‘Eat!’

28:15 / The airhorn was really annoying

28:49 / Mike continues on the grievance train by complaining about Charlie Walk’s namedropping

29:56 / Returning to the format: Mike found it irrational and capricious, particularly the voting system

32:16 / This show didn’t live up to its promise of genre diversity

33:35 / JS’s musical background

35:10 / Mike’s musical background (Mentions: last.fm and the podcasts Hit Parade and Switched on Pop)

37:14 / Mike’s complete lack of familiarity with commercial top 40 radio

38:10 / JS’s personal definition of pop music

39:49 / Mike adds his two cents

41:54 / What should pop music aim for?  Financial success or artistic value?

43:16 / Importance of concerts in post-Internet music economy

44:02 / Mike outs himself as an “insufferable elitist”

44:55 / We try out some constructive criticism

45:15 / JS’s expectations and idea for a different battle format

47:10 / Mike’s idea – have the contestants perform original material

48:28 / This show needed more musical diversity (Mike mentions Bon Iver)

49:42 / Original material as ‘leaning in’ to the semi-pro status of these artists

50:55 / This show as advertisement for hit songs and the careers of the judges

51:27 / Mike thought this would have been improved with different judges (obligatory Kanye West mention)

53:10 / Is this specific format salvageable?

54:56 / Mike’s critique of music contests (Mentions: Debris’ Static Disposal, William Hung, Kate Bush’s The Dreaming and Bound 2 from Kanye West’s Yeezus)

58:18 / JS pushes back on the critique, cites the cover of Creep as a contestant risk

1:00:20 / Mike points out that the unique contestants lost in the semifinals to more conventional singers

1:01:30 / Our article for this episode, from the Atlantic, Julie Beck’s “The Voice’s Empty Promise of the American Dream” (published March 28, 2017)

1:03:13 / The emphasis on American Dream as ‘superstardom’ particularly reflected in this show’s narrative

1:04:36 / Our current cultural obsession with seeking fame for purpose of being famous

1:05:20 / Reality TV as a pioneer of the ‘democratization of fame-seeking’ (Mentions; Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, YouTubers and Instagram models)

1:06:09 / How the music industry has shifted since American Idol’s debut – innovations in technology and distribution (Mentions: Soundcloud rap, XXXTentacion – this was recorded before his murder, Lil Uzi Vert.  The article Mike referenced on Spotify’s RapCaviar is here.)

1:08:35 / The persistence of the music contest’s appeal even after its relevance as tastemaker and gatekeeper has faded

1:09:46 / The importance of the success narrative to these shows’ appeal and why it doesn’t carry over after the cameras stop rolling

1:11:59 / Situating this into larger reality TV narratives, particularly in comparison to others we’ve watched (Kitchen Nightmares and Highway Thru Hell)

1:13:24 / Drilling down to the specific appeal of this show (as opposed to music contests in general) (Mentions: The X Factor, America’s Got Talent)

1:14:30 / Perhaps the short length and quick pace might have been a feature, not a bug to some audiences; Mike explains why we didn’t do The Voice

1:15:52 / Mike thought it was trying to be the ‘hipper’ version of American Idol, targeting younger and more diverse urban demographic

1:17:30 / Final thought: Mike won’t be checking out Season 2 (unless someone wants to send him money)

1:18:06 / JS’s blockbuster pick for the next episode

1:20:12 / The usual announcements: contact us, rate and review, and subscribe

1:20:47 / Bonus PSA: Check out the listener’s choice poll on our Facebook page

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Episode 9 – Kitchen Nightmares

 

This week’s discussion: Kitchen Nightmares, Season 5, Eps. 1-6, 16.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Survivor, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.  Watch it with Amazon Prime Video.

This week Mike and JS delve into their first food-themed reality TV show – Kitchen Nightmares.  We mainly cover the US version, but also devote some time to discussing the original UK version as we were both struck by the many differences in the presentation of the shows and how they might reflect broader differences between US and UK culture.  Topics discussed include: our impressions of reality TV star Gordon Ramsay, the insanity of Amy’s Baking Company, the ‘disclaimers’ in the credit sequence of each episode, the centrality of food in Western social interactions, the harsh realities of operating a restaurant, and how the optimistic narrative the US version tries to sell us reflect a broader cultural view of American idealism.

Show Notes and Links

1:08 / The moral of this week’s show

1:58 / Introducing the show

3:30 / The concept of the show (similar shows include Bar Rescue and Restaurant Impossible)

5:06 / The optimistic narrative arc the show is trying to sell us

6:02 / Discussing the history of the host, Gordon Ramsay; JS mentions Hell’s Kitchen

7:45 / Emphasis on the ‘celebrity’ in celebrity chef

8:22 / The differences in Ramsay’s presentation in the US and UK versions

10:15 / The US version struck us as much more heavily produced

11:20 / Starting our detailed breakdown of La Galleria 33

12:50 / The general arc and themes that reoccur in each episode

14:35 / Returning to La Galleria

15:22 / Mike fills in a couple spots in the episode arc that JS missed

16:35 / A brief digression on the editing

17:07 / The afterword at the end of each show

17:38 / The show often implies the owners are chiefly at fault for the problems at the restaurant

18:00 / Talking about the restaurant shutdowns

18:40 / The episodes of the show are pretty similar; many blended together for Mike

19:02 / Discussing episode highlights from Mama Maria’s

20:05 / The motif of frozen vs. fresh that comes up again and again

21:24 / Nostalgia is a common refrain in these episodes; many of the owners who have been successful at one point are more stubborn

22:06 / The common dynamic of multiple owners who conflict over the changes Ramsay wants to implement

23:53 / Segueing into our summary of Amy’s Baking Company

25:19 / JS can’t contain his giddy excitement over this episode

27:40 / This episode breaks the typical narrative arc of the show

28:47 / Discussing the fallout of this episode on the Internet and how it affected the business

29:52 / The difference between Amy and other recalcitrant owners was that the others would at least temporarily ‘play ball’ with the show

30:40 / Segueing into this show’s placement on the spectrum of ‘reality’ in reality TV

31:40 / There are some notable disclaimers in the credits of the show

32:42 / The diners being brought in by the show and ‘playing to the camera’

33:25 / JS knows of a restaurant near him that went through one of these shows, discusses the process of collecting diners

35:23 / Mike mentions a lawsuit against the show; JS explains mandatory arbitration

37:05 / Despite the lawsuit, our feeling is that this show is probably not TOWIE or Bridezillas

37:37 / The narrative of hate-to-love of Chef Ramsay by the owners came off to JS as producer coached

38:12 / The rags-to-riches theme of the US version reminds Mike of a Horatio Alger tale

38:43 / The site that Mike got his information from

39:01 / The harsh realities of the restaurant business

39:38 / The message of the US show may not correspond perfectly with the real world; the UK version seemed more realistic

40:52 / The restaurant as a symbol of the American Dream – often an immigrant success story

42:00 / The US show is very focused on the personal and family backgrounds of the owners

42:53 / The different center of focus in the two versions: US version is owner-centric, UK version is kitchen staff-centric

44:00 / The American focus on individual success and responsibility; UK focuses more on the overall team

45:38 / A brief aside of the differing budgets of the shows, Mike mentions Rupert Murdoch

45:53 / Segueing into the appeal of food TV

46:12 / The centrality of food and ‘dining out’ in Western social interaction; JS alludes to the Food Network

47:09 / The combination of immediate accessibility and specialized behind-the-scenes insight

48:15 / The allure of reality television success and overcoming difficulties

49:38 / Many of these owners have gone in without specialized business training

50:38 / Mike preferred the realism of UK version to the idealism of the US version

51:42 / The contrasting afterwords of the two shows as an example of this

52:38 / How does the episode of Amy’s Baking Company fit into the idea that this show’s appeal is about success?

54:00 / Was Amy’s Baking Company really a failure?  Discussing the irony of the owners who tell Ramsay off doing better than many of the restaurants on the show who followed the instructions

55:20 / The capricious nature of the restaurant industry, even something as simple as lack of parking can doom a restaurant

56:10 / The high failure rate of restaurants in the first year (and an article Mike found that provides a counterpoint); this show perhaps looks at the industry through rose-tinted glasses

57:43 / We both discuss how will we never be opening a restaurant, even if we win the lottery

58:30 / This show, like other reality shows we’ve watched, is very focused on individual control and individual responsibility

1:00:48 / The appeal of the show’s Prodigal Son narrative, but how realistic is it for these businesses to dig themselves out of the deep holes they are in?

1:02:00 / Mike made a Facebook page: please go like the page and take part in our listener poll: Snooki & JWoww: Moms with Attitude vs. The Sorrentinos

1:04:02 / Announcing a semi-reoccurring segment for the next show: Reality TV First Loves

1:05:16 / Contact us, rate and review, and subscribe