Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Top Ten TV Guilty Pleasures

I promised this list a while ago as a counterpart to my My Top Ten Guilty Pleasure Movies. Enjoy.

"Sesame Street" - As a kid, whenever I was home sick from school and still conscious, the television was usually turned to PBS so I could look in on "Sesame Street" and "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." We used to live within range of three different PBS stations that showed everything at different times, so I could expect to spend at least two solid hours catching up with the Muppets and letting a few good old Joe Raposo songs make me feel better. I still can't help scanning the airwaves for "Sesame Street" if I happen to be home on a weekday morning.

"The View" - Yes, I'm one of those people. I originally started watching back when Lisa Ling was on the program out of Asian solidarity, but somewhere along the line I got attached to Joy Behar and Meredith Vieira, and I always enjoy Barbara Walters' visits whenever there's a notable guest. Yes, Elizabeth Hasselbeck makes me cringe, Sherri Shepherd is dead air, Rosie O'Donnell was a disaster, and I'm still not sure if Whoopi Goldberg is all there, but "The View" has somehow managed to stay relevant after all these years, and whenever I catch an episode, I feel a little more plugged into the present.

"I Love the..." - VH1's nostalgia programs can suck me in like nothing else. I've wasted whole weekends reliving the best and worst of 80s and 90s pop culture with various C-grade comedians providing tepid commentary. There's just something fascinating about barely remembered commercials and shows and other cultural artifacts. At least with other backward-looking specials like the AFI Movie countdown lists I can pretend there's something sort of educational or informative about them. With "I Love the 80s" and "I Love the 90s," I know it just amounts to collective navel gazing.

"The MTV Movie Awards" - I have a certain yen for award shows, but I really have no business watching the MTV Movie Awards ceremony. It's always terrible, a collection of vacuous promotions cobbled together into an awards-show format. Occasionally you might get a decent tribute or a few good parodies, but otherwise it's a strangely hypnotic train wreck. As actual awards, of course they have no integrity at all. You can't even call them populist anymore, as the "Twilight" franchise has swept the past three years, signaling that MTV has set its sights square on the adolescent female demographic.

"X TV" - I could fill an entire list with just the wretched anime I've watched over the years, but I think my favorite bad anime has to be the television series based on the CLAMP manga "X:1999." It collects two group of superpowered people together in Tokyo, and because destiny says so, they proceed to kill each other off in various inventive, over-the-top ways. Occasionally they pause to angst. There's also a movie version that's goes to even further extremes with big battle sequences, and manages to destroy most of Tokyo in the process. Yay carnage!

"Food Network Challenge" - Hey, a couple of cake decorators have been rounded up to make themed cakes based on PIXAR movies! Lets watch them run around in a panic to create these fantabulous confections, and maybe they'll drop them at the end when they have to move the cakes to the judging platform! I watch a lot of food-themed programming, and "Food Network Challenge" is definitely the most haphazard in every sense. If you've seen one you've seen them all, and with the recent shows the creators have fixed it so that hardly anything gets dropped anymore.

"E! True Hollywood Story" - Yep, sometimes I like the gossip shows too. However, I'm not particularly entertained by individual acts of celebrity debauchery unless they're on the level of a Charlie Sheen or a Mel Gibson. I prefer my dirt nicely aggregated into glossy, hour-long narratives, and if they can work in some nostalgia, all the better. What was really going on behind the scenes during "Growing Pains"? What has Lindsay Lohan been up to for the past year? I don't know why, but sometimes I just gotta know. Hollywood is a never-ending soap opera, and this is its Soap Opera Digest.

"Hoarders" - I gawk. I gape. I secretly feel better about myself and my Dad, who is something of a hoarder himself. The garage may be full of cardboard boxes, but at least he's not as bad as some of the miserable souls on this show. I'm slightly OCD about cleaning, and I always get an odd sort of rush seeing the homes of the hoarders transformed from nightmarish heaps of clutter into livable spaces again. The A&E show doesn't have the budget for the more dramatic, full-scale makeovers that "Oprah" and others have done with hoarders in the past, but they do enough to keep me tuned in.

"Dateline NBC" - Okay, once in a while "Dateline" will come through with some decent pieces, but let's be honest. It's one of the more salacious, dumbed down news magazine shows out there. It doesn't hold a candle to "60 Minutes" or "Frontline," or hell, even "20/20" most weeks. Much of its content revolves around true crime stories, and it's probably best known in recent years for "To Catch a Predator." But I have to say that "Dateline" is very good at what it does, and even as I'm rolling my eyes at the corny narration and musical stings, I still watch all the way to the end.

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" - I didn't mean for this list to have so much reality television, but I guess it makes sense. I have way higher standards for fictional narratives than I do for documentary and news programs. "SVU" has been bad for a while now and it's been getting worse. Chris Meloni and B.D. Wong are not coming back, and Mariska Hargitay is on her way out too. I miss the early days of this show, when it skirted the edge of good taste, but could be powerful television. Now it's all guest stars and histrionics and trying to out-sleaze "CSI."

But then again, maybe the new cast could help turn things around. I guess I could give them a few episodes...

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