To Every Thing There Is A (Reality TV) Season

Have you ever stopped to think about reality TV shows that have come and gone — shows that once were the subject of a tremendous buzz but then dropped off the cultural radar screen, if not off TV altogether? Kish and I don’t watch much TV, but there have been a few shows that captured our imagination, briefly, and now are no more.

One of them was Man vs. Food. We enjoyed watching jovial everyman Adam Richman tackle every food challenge thrown his way, no matter how daunting. Admittedly, our interest was primarily motivated by curiosity as to what ridiculous food consumption dare he would accept, and then watching him pound his fist on the table as he tried to eat more gut-burning habanero wings or five pounds of pancakes. We thought he was an interesting and engaging host, as well as a willing human guinea pig. After a few years Richman shifted to a format where he coached other people in competitive eating endeavors, but the show just wasn’t the same. The show’s run ended, and now Richman hosts other shows and has lost a lot of weight. Good for him! We always thought the Man vs. Food lifestyle couldn’t have been a very healthy one.

Before Man vs. Food, we watched American Chopper. I’m not sure why, because neither of us has ever ridden a motorcycle or has any kind of mechanical aptitude. But the show gave us a peek into a curious family and an even more curious line of work. People who are adept with tools and metal fabrication and design fascinate me, and the process of coming up with a working machine that also is a unique creative statement was interesting. The disputes between Teutul father and sons, and the fallout for the other people who worked at their business, was just icing on the cake. After a while, though, the incessant battles of the Teutuls got old, and the show seemed to be going through the motions, so we moved on. American Chopper ended its run in 2012.

The earliest reality show I remember watching was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which a team of five gay men tried to help some hapless hetero become a little bit more interesting. Each episode the team would help the straight guy with his clothing, haircut, furniture, food, and general behavior. The show was interesting because the “Fab Five” were talented and engaging in their own right, and their interactions with clueless guys who couldn’t dance or wouldn’t change their sweatshirt-dominated wardrobes were priceless. As a similarly fashion- and culture-challenged guy, I found the Fab Five’s tips pretty useful. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy ended in 2007, although the Fab Five reunited for 10-year anniversary show in 2013.

Reality TV is like cultural cotton candy and seemingly vanishes as soon as it is consumed. Some shows, though, break through the clutter and become part of the national zeitgeist.

A Weirdly Desperate Ad Campaign

IMG_5926Yesterday I was minding my own business, driving north on Route 315, when I saw this billboard. It stopped my in my tracks, and reminded me — as if I or any Browns Backer needed reminding — of just how lost and pathetic the Cleveland Browns franchise seems to be right now.

What are the Browns trying to accomplish with this ad campaign? It’s February, months away from the start of NFL training camps. No one in Columbus knows Mike Pettine, so why would we trust any assurance he provided? It would be another thing if the Browns had decided to hire Jim Tressel and were running ads featuring him, and it might even be different if the Browns hadn’t changed head coaches as often as Miley Cyrus changes into another raunchy outfit. But neither of those things is true, and a picture of a random guy with a shaved head and beard looking like a hard ass isn’t going to change that.

I also don’t remember anyone questioning the Browns’ toughness. Instead, it was all about talent — which the Browns sorely lack. Get some good players in free agency, have a high-quality draft, and tell me I won’t ever again have to watch Brandon Weedon on a football field wearing a Browns uniform, and maybe I’ll pay attention.

I’m guessing that the Browns are worried that their frustrated and embarrassed fans won’t renew their season tickets, and they are trying to build a little positive momentum. They’re as a needy and desperate as a high school geek searching desperately for someone, anyone, who will go to the prom with him.

Those Baffling Buckeyes

Last night some friends graciously invited Kish and me to join them for the Ohio State-Minnesota basketball game. We had a fine time as the Buckeyes won, and I got my first personal exposure to a Buckeyes team that has a definite Jekyll and Hyde character.

IMG_1799The first half was dismal. The Buckeyes were completely inept on offense — fumbling the ball away, passing around the perimeter fruitlessly as the shot clock wound down, then launching a poor shot and not getting the rebound — and scored only 18 points. It was painful to watch. A middle-of-the-pack Minnesota team went into the locker room with a ten-point lead, and the Schott was totally deflated.

The second half was a completely different story. Led by high-flying Sam Thompson, the Buckeyes came out and attacked the basket relentlessly, pushed the ball up court at every opportunity, hit the boards to get some crucial rebounds, and quickly regained the lead. The Buckeyes were aided by steals and blocks on defense that were promptly turned into fast-break opportunities and either scores or foul shots. Ohio State held Minnesota to only 18 points in the second half, scored 46 points of their own, and won going away.

This team is a head-scratcher, and their record shows it. The Buckeyes started 15-0 and made it to number 3 in the polls, then floundered badly in the Big Ten in a stretch that saw them lose 5 of 6 games. Since then, the team has won 6 of 7, but it has been beset by stretches where it seems like the most offensively challenged team in college hoops.

Members of Buckeye Nation keep hoping that this team will find its identity offensively. Last night’s performance shows that the Buckeyes have the tools to play an up-tempo game, and with their apparent lack of outside shooters that approach seems like their best hope. As the Big Ten regular season draws to a close, however, we’re left to wonder: which team will show up — the bumbling crew that put up only 18 points in the first half, or the thrilling fast breakers who took the ball to the rim and cleaned the glass of every missed shot? Will we see Dr. Jekyll, or Mr. Hyde?