Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kids, incorporated

Season hasn't even officially started yet but I'm already shifting into grab-bag mode. Spoilers of varying lengths for, in order, "Kid Nation," "Back To You" and "Gossip Girl" coming up just as soon as I call home...

I am shocked -- shocked! -- by "Kid Nation." All that pre-premiere fuss, and it seemed perfectly innocuous! Who ever would have predicted that? (Oh, wait.) Now, obviously the controversy about this wasn't quite the same as for, say, "Survivor: Race Wars," in that the stuff people are unhappy with -- the allegedly back-breaking, unsafe labor conditions -- can very easily be edited around without us ever seeing it. But in terms of the other major complaint, thus far, none of the kids seem all that scarred by the experience. Even the kid who went home was able to describe his reasons pretty damn logically for an eight-year-old, and he spent all four days with the other kids stroking his ego and telling him he was cool and should stay.

But is this a show I ever want/need to watch again? Not particularly. I appreciate that, except for the two oldest guys and that girl who said beauty queens don't wash dishes, all the kids are trying hard and being nice to each other, but bogus civilization-building -- even on the set of the great "Silverado" -- mixed up with scaled-down "Survivor"-style challenges doesn't do much for me.

I basically said my piece about "Back To You" in yesterday's column, but now that it's aired, I'm curious about two things: 1)Did anybody like it more than I did?; and, more importantly, 2)Is there anyone who hadn't figured out about the true nature of Patty Heaton's daughter long before it occurred to Kelsey? (In the original version of the pilot, by the way, father and daughter shared a peanut allergy, ala "October Road.")

I also largely exhausted my opinion on "Gossip Girl" with today's column, but I do want to talk about a couple of things: 1)The washed-up rocker dad's band is called Lincoln Hawk, which was the name of Sly Stallone's character in the epic underdog arm wrestling movie "Over the Top" (one of many glorious pieces of the film can be glimpsed on YouTube); and 2)While I won't object to having Kristen Bell still in my TV life in some way, I'm not sure the Gossip Girl narration works if it's supposed to be taken literally as what you'd find on her blog, as opposed to a Mary-Alice Young-type omniscient narrator. If Dan's a complete social zero, for instance, how does Gossip Girl know he's in love with Serena from the start? Why is she speculating about Chuck and Cindy Lou Who's dalliance at the party before the party's even over? Not a big problem -- my oldness is a bigger barrier -- but something I'll keep an eye on for however long I wind up watching this show.

What did everybody else think?


J said...

I'm, like, totally down with Gossip Girl. It's very 90210 -- poorer/centered brother sister -- and I can get behind that. Besides, Serena is teh hawttness.

The narration feels phony -- I'm not a Bell fan -- and it's tough to tell when it's supposed to be "read." Sometimes the V.O. comes off as morning-after Gawker stuff, sometimes it seems to be Twittered (or whatever) around as it's being read.

The soundtrack tries very hard to be hip in March of 2007, but I'll assume it'll get more current (and obnoxiously in my face) as I continue watching.

Band Daddy is Tony-Danza-in-She's-Out-of-Control creepy. "My daughter's a woman!" he declares, leeringly. "You look just like your mother!" Ewwwwwwwwww. A blight on the memory of James Eckhouse and his Casio keyboard!

Matt said...

On "Back To You" (where I again demonstrated my psychic prowess!)

1. This is clearly and painfully a case of talented people doing the best they can with mediocre material.
2. Ayda Field looked much hotter last season on "Studio 60." The slut makeup is not attractive.
3. Am I the only one reminded more than a little of "Good Morning, Miami?"

Sure, the narrative voice of "Gossip Girl" makes no sense, but Bell's voice is so perfectly dishy that it works so well.

Dani In NC said...

I watched Kid Nation simply because a lot of my friends were watching it. (Sometimes my friends and I make that sacrifice -- I'll try your show if you try mine.) I'm not a big fan of Survivor-style shows, but the fact that it was kids got to me. I shed a few tears when the 8-year-old first said he was too young to be there. I also laughed a bit when the new kitchen crew took over and Sophie was dubious about how the breakfast would turn out. There were a couple Southern girls on that team; they already know how to cook breakfast by age 10 :-).

I'm not interested in watching it again, but I think my kids probably would like it. It might draw an audience that is the same age as the participants if they aired it on the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one reminded more than a little of "Good Morning, Miami?"

*raises hand* Very much so. And about as funny. It's too bad; I really do like Grammer and love Willard (although Heaton does nothing for me; I emphatically did NOT love Raymond) and I would have liked this to be good, but - yeeaaah, I don't think I'll be tuning in again.

Re: Bell on Gossip Girl - totally useless, to my mind. I was never thoroughly enamoured of the VO on VM but accepted it as part of the hard-boiled-detective schtick, and it did at least sometimes let us in on stuff that wasn't being shown onscreen. Here, she's not telling us anything we don't already know. It just comes off as a lazy device, especially since, as you pointed out Alan, there's no way a real blogger could know the stuff "Gossip Girl" knows when she knows it.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time commenter here -- thanks Alan for all the time and effort you put into your blog! It's a pleasure to read every day.

Back to You was pretty flat. I already knew about the surprise but it was obvious as soon as we found out about their one night stand. The funniest part was definitely the commentary right after Chuck found out. The pacing of the whole episode was weird, though, with Kelsey Grammer walking around randomly talking to people for the first half and then focusing just on him and Patricia Heaton for the second half. And did it really end with him calling her and leaving a message? I DVRed it and recorded an extra minute and didn't see a tag or any credits, but that was an odd place to end.

With the talent involved, it could get better, so I'll give it a couple more episodes.

Anonymous said...

Re: Alan's question on Back to You:
1)Did anybody like it more than I did?

Not me; if I recall my only laugh was one of Willard's line readings, but 3 hours later I can't even remember the line. (Not one of the lame sex gags, I'm pretty sure; more work-related. Regardless, it was a B- joke that got an A delivery from Willard.) Grammer and Heaton earned a few smiles, but not enough to tune in next week. This is one of those shows I'll probably check out a few months down the line to see if it's gelled.

2)Is there anyone who hadn't figured out about the true nature of Patty Heaton's daughter long before it occurred to Kelsey?

Well, since Grammer had his allergen epiphany about halfway through the show, I actually figured they were going to flip expectations and have the surprise be that there was, in fact, no surprise. I was even readying for a painful bit where Grammer brought up the discrepency about the daughter's age and Heaton pointed out that she'd know better than the weathergirl being, you know, the kid's mother. So no, my boring, predictable outcome was not used; the show stuck to its own boring, predictable one.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the narration-- there's a simple explanation: if Gossip Girl is really Jenny. then she would know firsthand about her brother's crush, Chuck having another potential victim, and Serena's heroic exit.


stevie said...

The weird thing with the narration in Gossip Girl is that it's pretty much how it appears in the books (I work in young adult literature, don't judge me). So it's weird because I think that's the producers throwing a bone to the thousands of teen girls who love it, but it doesn't quite translate.

Matt said...

The other thing is that in the books, it's widely assumed that Gossip Girl is one of the main characters. I don't think they ever answered who she is. By giving her her own voice, that hurts that mystery.

Adam said...

I had no familiarity with Gossip Girl last night, but it sure seemed like trashy fun. But isn't Rocker Day, like, 28 years old?

Also, Alan, I did watch ANTM last night, and it's looking to be a glorious season. What other reality show has a woman with Asberger's *and* a hunchback?

Alan Sepinwall said...

The other thing is that in the books, it's widely assumed that Gossip Girl is one of the main characters. I don't think they ever answered who she is. By giving her her own voice, that hurts that mystery.

Schwartz has said that we're not supposed to take it that Gossip Girl, if we ever meet her, will be played by Kristen Bell -- rather that, whoever she (or he?) is, this is just how she sounds to us as the anonymous webmistress. They're definitely leaving open the option that GG could turn out to be a regular character.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Adam, I'm always agnostic about Top Model, but your description has me wanting to DVR Sunday's rerun.

Anonymous said...

Back To You- ...sigh. My brother's been working for a local news station for the past few years, and he's told me some stories... but this series doesn't really go for the throat. Chuck may be self-absorbed and inconsiderate with the ladies, but he didn't really seem like a bad guy.

I laughed a few times, but it struck me as bizarre that the third act was basically very serious in tone. And Heaton and Grammer did a fantastic job with it.

'Til Death afterwards was funnier, which was saying something. Or maybe I was impressed by the Power of Joely's Splendorific Rack.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the lightbulb in my head regarding the big twist came the moment Chuck said his editorial would be about "leaving a part of myself in Pittsburgh."

Taleena said...

I watched Back to You and then flipped over and watched the last half of Kid Nation.

Back to You Really Labored but Mr. Taleena and I loved Fred Willard. Just the right amount of Fred Willard, because he is too painful in Christopher Guest's movies (Supreme Court Babies anyone?)

Kid Nation was fine reality fodder and much better than the hate fest of Big Brother. The host should get his own look and not try and shop in the Jeff Probst discount mall though.