I Haven’t Seen Skins, But I Did Go To High School

I understand there’s been quite some furor over a new teen drama on MTV called Skins. Apparently the show depicts teens engaging in sexual activity, as well as drug and alcohol abuse — you know, teen stuff. Numerous sponsors, including Taco Bell, Subway and L’Oreal, have dropped their sponsorship while there’s been roaring debate whether the show features child porn.

(If the show featured child porn, I don’t think it would require debate. That’s a pretty specific feature.)

I haven’t seen Skins or any MTV show in years. I grew up on MTV and always felt a little too young to watch it, but as I grew older, the network seemed to shift its programming toward younger audiences. That said, I’m always a little saddened to hear peers talking about Jersey Shore or Teen Mom or whatever nonsense reality series that’s airing. I can’t help but think, “Really? MTV? At your age? Shame on you.”

I give MTV credit for pioneering the reality series (as we know it) with The Real World. In its first few seasons, the seven strangers picked to live together had to maintain jobs, income, relationships, a sense of order. It was all quite fascinating for a white kid growing up in Middle America. It was like my first chance to intimately know people of different races, religions, sexual orientation and views. The Real World was, dare I say, educational?

Around season five — I refuse to go back and fact check — the cast members were pre-assigned jobs and that’s about when the deviancy started kicking in. The Real World was no longer a microcosm of the lower-case real world, but rather a group of over-muscled, over-tanned, over-sexed, over-boozed twits polluting a posh living space.

When that formula started to fizzle, MTV started skewing toward the kids with shows like Laguna Beach, The Hills and The City. Now, here we are — I presume — with Skins. I haven’t seen an episode, but reading a synopsis, I thought, “Yeah, that sounds like high school,” and I started high school over a decade ago.

The season premier of Skins was seen by 3.3 million viewers. The second episode? Just 1.6 million. Why would this popular infamous series geared toward teens lose half its viewing audience in just one week? Because teens have already seen every episode. They live Skins.

So, what’s worse: The fact MTV’s airing a show with teens having sex, drinking alcohol and taking drugs, or the fact Skins might just be an dead-on depiction of high school in 2011?

Portlandia: Portland Dream of the ’90s Video

This is exactly what I was writing about. Portlandia is a six-part original comedy short series premieres on IFC on Friday, January 21. I’m counting on creators Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein to nail the same absurdity that ran rampant while I was there.

Improving Intervention

PCP addiction just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

At its best, Intervention — the A&E series where families and friends confront loved ones about their addictions — provides some of the best television this side of HBO or Showtime. Over the years, I’ve seen eating disorders, substance addictions and even Allison, the young woman addicted to duster. I’ve seen it all, and frankly, Intervention, your subjects have become passe.

I’d like to throw out a couple suggestions as you begin to considering production of the next season of Intervention. Consider:

Tanning — Here’s your answer to that curiously popular show Jersey Shore. Tanning is a growing epidemic in our country, and you won’t have to look far to find an orange 19-year-old college student who’s jonesing for a tanning bed 24 hours a day. How you know they need an intervention: Each of the bulbs in their home have been switched out for 160w Custom Bronzer lamps.

World of Warcraft — The YouTubes is rife with angst-filled teenagers who have taken tantrums and destruction to a new level should anyone mess with their WoW. In my previous job working with online college students, I met several who dumped years of tuition because they couldn’t shake WoW. I met two students who’d married someone they met via WoW. How you know they need an intervention:

Social media — Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare — this addiction comes in many forms, but nevertheless, it’s interrupted our normal way of life. That’s gone to an extreme with some. Social media might be great for meeting new people, but for some people, it’s a way of existence. How you know they need an intervention: If they have over 3,000 Facebook photos of themselves interacting with Facebook … If they tweet about their tweets … If they’ve created multiple Foursquare check-in points from within their own bedroom.

Texting — Special guest: Oprah! Picture a mother of four in a bigger city constantly texting and driving. She’s been in several car accidents before, but she can’t stop. Sitting in her intervention led by Oprah, she chooses to text her responses to her family members. No one is LOL. How you know they need an intervention: Ask them. If they respond via text, well…

Mad Men More Than Smoke, Booze, Suits

Before I get this post going and decide to interrupt it with a piece of irrelevant trivia, I want you to know January Jones and I went to the same high school.

I bring it up because I’ve just started watching season one of Mad Men, the AMC show about an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York City during the 1960s. (Jones plays Betty Draper, the wife of Jon Hamm’s lead character, Don.) This is my second attempt at watching the show. The first attempt ended with my girlfriend horrified by the sexism and me feeling kind of, well, bored.

Now that I’m working at a place akin to the Sterling Cooper agency from the show, I’m taking more interest. I’m just two episodes in, but one thing I admire is the creative process. That’s what brings people like myself to the business of advertising and marketing  — those moments when you’re in a quiet room with your colleagues, and you can almost hear the ideas bouncing off the walls. It’s a brilliant silence and Mad Men captures it well.

I’m borrowing the first season from my mom. She was born in 1958 so she probably relates to the Draper children better than Don or  Betty. The show has been applauded for its remarkable honesty to the era, so I can only imagine what it’s like for her to have this wildly successful drama reflect the earliest memories of her childhood.

A few early observations from season one:

  • So. Much. Smoking. I wanted to cough at times during the first few episodes. Once you’ve see a gynecologist smoking during an exam, you know you’ve been taken not just to a different era, but a different world.
  • Joan Holloway, played by Christina Hendricks, is the one female character on TV right now with the looks to transform society’s views on female beauty. Hendricks is considered “busty” by today’s standards. In reality, she’s shaped like a normal, healthy woman. Glad to see she’s being celebrated for not being the uber-skinny type.
  • As I write this, I’m at working in a short-sleeve flannel button-up, blue jeans and a pair of brown leather shoes. Man, I wish we dressed now like they did back then. Let’s revert back to suits and dresses, huh? I dressed better than this going to some of my college classes. Now, I’m a professional? Something’s wrong here.
  • I’ve always respected movies and shows that can do a lot with silence. Dialogue is easy. It’s what you do with silence that shows mastery.

There’s no chance in hell I’ll finish the first three seasons or have AMC by the weekend when season four premieres. If there’s any Mad Men fans out there, I’d love to hear how you came to the show and what you like or dislike about it.

If Crystal Bowersox Wins ‘Idol’, We Lose

Crystal Bowersox is the overwhelming favorite after killing her performances in last night's finale.

It took me until the ninth season of American Idol to give a damn. And now, it’s down to two contestants — Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox. Both are 24 and couldn’t be bigger underdogs. After last night’s final performances, it’s clear Bowersox is the bigger talent.

But, for the love of everything holy, I implore you to vote for Lee DeWyze. A vote for Crystal Bowersox is a vote for terrorism, and here’s why:

She’s a modern day Janis Joplin. That’s a high compliment, I realize, and I say it not because of Bowersox’s physical appearance. (You can about imagine the awful makeover she’d be given if she wins — veneers, no more dreadlocks, a summer with Jillian Michaels.) The point is she’s raw and achingly talented, but that won’t make her a commercial success, necessarily. No one doubts Joplin’s brilliance, but she put more into her live performance (and drinking) than churning out chart-topping singles. That’s what the Idol machine demands of its winners, though.

She’s already playing to the wrong audience. Isn’t it strange seeing Bowersox on stage performing before hundreds of the same teenage girls who would’ve made fun of her in high school? Her style is too mature for the iTunes set. Idol winners don’t so much win a record deal as they win a role. If she wins, she’ll be lucky to pen a single lyric. Her future image and sound is being constructed by a think tank right now. The problem? The brainiacs at Idol will try and dress her as another Joss Stone — someone no artist aspires to be. Bowersox doesn’t want to be popular. Not to the demographic Idol will try and sell her to, anyway.

Lee DeWyze went from underdog to endearing soft rocker overnight.

Lee DeWyze has huge upside. Bowersox has been a star since her first audition, while DeWyze has made huge strides throughout the season. He seems like a nice enough guy and maintains that deer-in-the-headlights look we want in our winners. (Think of a David Cook, who looked like he’d been performing on Idol his whole life.)  DeWyze, like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson before him, appears to be someone America could know and love on a personal level, which, in the music industry, translates to “Cha-ching.” DeWyze shouldn’t win because he’s better, but because he stands to benefit more. Bowersox would get to keep her freedom.

This is the most important vote in Idol history. Don’t screw it up. With Simon Cowell leaving and the few winners — Kris Allen and David Cook — already wandering into musical obscurity, Idol needs someone who can be a No. 1 artist. That ain’t Bowersox. Talent doesn’t always win when it comes to female recording artists. (See: Jenny Lewis, Norah Jones, Feist, Tori Amos.) This is a world where Katy Perrys and Ke$has win because they’ll sing ridiculous things, look sexy and make it all really catchy. Bowersox is kitschy, not catchy. DeWyze, on the other hand, benefits from other brooding soft rockers like Lifehouse, Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows and — to a lesser extent — Pearl Jam. (DeWyze reminds me of another Chicago-native — Eddie Vedder. The difference? All that goofy smiling.)

It’s not about you. You might get the warm-and-fuzzies voting on longshots like Ruben Studdard, Fantasia or Taylor Hicks, but enough with the charity already. Don’t vote for Bowersox if you don’t plan on buying her debut album.

___

Rant complete, I’m looking at tonight’s finale like a divorce settlement. Bowersox and DeWyze will finally split, and while one may get full custody (a record deal), the other can relish their newfound freedom (no record deal but a buttload of fame). Here’s hoping, for the sake of both, DeWyze wins while Bowersox is graceful in defeat. Best bet is your loser will be the winner a year from now.


TriMet Tragedy Causes More Concern

My paranoia surrounding walking across the streets of Portland isn’t totally unfounded. Maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve had this growing phobia of crossing city streets for months now. Like so many of my personal issues, I blame it on viral videos, like those which feature pedestrians dodging vehicles and sudden death at the very last moment.

Tragedy struck in the Old Town district of Portland on Saturday night when five pedestrians were hit by a TriMet bus while crossing a crosswalk. The pedestrians had the walk sign but were hit by the bus that was turning left. Two of the pedestrians were pinned under the bus and died. Another was taken to the hospital, but has since been upgraded to fair condition. The other two suffered only minor injuries.

This happened in a well-lit part of town under driver-friendly conditions. The investigation is still under way, but you can bet Portland pedestrians like myself are taking extra caution when crossing crosswalks. I’m sure this was a flukey thing, but this is also a city that places crosswalks flat in the middle of its busiest streets, away from intersections. It’s a surprise these things don’t happen more often.

If I get hit, it’ll most likely be on the way to work in the morning. On a sunny morning, the sun beams like a laser over the Cascades, cutting through the streets of downtown. I’ve been a lot of places but never seen sunrises brighter than the ones here. There have been mornings my girlfriend has driven me to work, and it may just be me, but without sunglasses, I couldn’t see a thing. God forbid I ever cross the wrong street on the wrong mornin morning. If a westbound car hit me, I couldn’t even be mad.

I also don’t do myself any favors by listening to my iPhone when I walk. My hearing is completely occupied by NPR podcasts in the morning, so I imagine a scenario where I get hit by a vehicle playing out like an episode from CSI: Miami. (If you’re unfamiliar, it’s critical you click here.)

 The driver tells the police on scene his brakes went out and he honked and yelled, but it was like I couldn’t hear him.

Frank: (Picking up my iPhone) “Looks like he was listening to All Things Considered.”

Horatio: “Maybe he should’ve considered dodging that car.”

(Queue theme music: “Yeeeeaaaaaaah!”)

The resolution here is pretty obvious: Pay more attention to my surroundings, eliminate distractions and don’t set Horatio up for a one-liner. Enough said.


Back to Basic

My girlfriend and I added yet another luxury to our apartment over the weekend — cable.

Previously, we’d been getting by on basic cable, which is really no cable at all. Just the four of five local networks and a smattering of public access channels, which seem to cover any local church service, every municipal meeting and, sometimes, algebra.

No, really, there’s a channel that constantly has some clown working through algebra equations on a chalkboard.

So yeah, we needed cable. Or so I thought, anyway. My girlfriend’s been awfully busy working 40 hours per week and taking classes nearby. She’s at it seven days per week, so I’m left altruistically planning my days alone with a book, thoughtfully cooked meals, maybe some NPR. What happens is I end up yearning for cable when the networks are playing all infomercials or I already know the algebra equations.

I’ve been back on the cable now for two days and I’ve had enough. Too many reality television shows that couldn’t be further from reality. Too many sports channels showing obscure sporting events (college lacrosse?), too many 24-hour news networks diluting two hours of legitimate news and too many reminders why we, as a society, are done.

I watched MTV for a little over 10 minutes. The Real World was on. I couldn’t tell where the kids are living this season, but in that 10-minute span, I realized:

  1. I’m officially too old to be cast on The Real World. That left an empty feeling.
  2. The Real World used to be more like a fish bowl or a sociological experiment that blended gender, race, religion, class, sexual orientation and every other characteristic that makes us different. I think the first four seasons were crucial to my formative years, where I was underexposed to people different than myself coming from South Dakota.
  3. Wouldn’t it be great if, midseason, the cast got word their digs had been foreclosed? Welcome to the real world, fools.

Cable is a time suck. If my math is correct, I spend just about three hours awake and unoccupied during the weekdays. I can’t say watching cable brings me a sense of fulfillment. The reality is there’s so much to do in Portland, and I haven’t seen the half of it.

A co-worker the other day alluded to an observation his 30-something sister made: When you get out of college and settled into your first full-time job, you spend several years just working for the weekend, but then wasting the weekend by going to bed early and spending all your time on the couch. You’re exhausted. However, a little later on in your 20s, as friends are becoming husbands and wives and parents, you take initiative and start owning your weekends. You’re off to the bars, off on vacations, out doing stuff.

I’m 25 and I’ve got a lot of time to do stuff. I want to try hiking or camping. I want to give the local golf courses a hack. I could use some culture, too. Catch more plays, see more concerts. Try food I never knew existed from restaurants I’ve never heard of. It’s become more apparent in the last 72 hours I’m a homebody, a man of routine, and that’s something I desperately want to shake.

So, I’m canceling cable this week. Goodbye, 60 channels of excess. I won’t be your prisoner no mo’. Back to basic, which I hope offers very, very little so I can somehow push myself off this loveseat and in the direction of something, oh, I don’t know, not on TV?