Archive for December, 2009

Mentally ill ‘Hoarders’ out of touch with reality — Plus: TV’s original hoarder king, Fred Sanford!

December 14, 2009

A hoarder named Betty looks dazed and confused as she contemplates a clean-up of her cluttered backyard on “Hoarders.” Photo credit: A&E/Screaming Flea Productions — More photos below!


NEW YORK, Dec. 14, 2009 — Most of us already believe that a person would have to be nuts to say yes to appearing on a reality TV show, but what if the person really is not competent to make that decision?

I’m no expert on mental illness, but the people being showcased on “Hoarders” on A&E (Monday nights at 10) don’t seem to be in touch with reality — which would indicate they’re not likely in sound enough mind to judge whether appearing on a reality show is really such a great idea.   Who would hand such people a stack of legal paperwork and ask them to sign it?  TV producers, that’s who.

“Hoarders” might be the first reality series to put real mental patients (as opposed to other reality shows on which the participants just “seem” crazy) on display.  Have you seen this show?  This is the show that tells the story of people who hoard stuff — the type of people who can’t throw anything away and wind up living atop several feet of trash that fills every square inch of their homes and yards.

Their homes are so neglected and abused that the towns and municipalities in which they live are threatening these hoarders with eviction and condemnation.  On the show, “experts” in hoarding psychology show up at these homes with great dumptrucks and dumpsters to lead an emergency clean-up, which is usually protested by the flustered and, by all appearances, deluded hoarders who reside there.

The intensity of the hoarders — particularly in their detachment from reality — varies by degree from show to show.  At the worst end of the spectrum, a recent show had the clean-up crew discovering the corpses of dead cats inside a house — including one feline that was flatter than a pancake (and also stiff as a board) that was estimated to have died 10 years previously — buried under several feet of household refuse.

Another storyline involved a wheelchair-bound hoarder who was hoarding her soiled diapers; basically, she was just tossing them into the bathroom until they had formed a great pile, rendering the bathroom useless (not that she was using it, anyway).

Again, I’m no expert on the mentally ill, but I like to think I still have the good taste — even after watching TV professionally for most of my life — to believe that this unfortunate woman should not have been on TV and no network should have agreed to put her there.

It’s incredible how much TV has changed over the years.  Once upon a time, the only person you’d see on TV who came close to being classified as a hoarder was Fred Sanford on “Sanford and Son.”

TV’s original hoarder: Junk man Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx, right, with Demond Wilson) on “Sanford and Son.”  Compare the Sanford residence to the cluttered yards and domiciles of these hoarders on A&E, below.

What’s cookin’? Who knows? This kitchen is so cluttered that hoarder “Jill” can’t find the stove! Photo credit: A&E/Screaming Flea Productions

Dude, where’s my yard? A clean-up crewman masks his disgust at this backyard junkheap on “Hoarders.” Photo credit: A&E/Screaming Flea Productions

Tsk, tsk . . . kids today! Teens are not immune from the hoarding syndrome, as demonstrated by hoarder “Jake” on “Hoarders.” He might be half-buried in junk, but like typical teens everywhere, he keeps a tight grip on that cellphone! Photo credit: A&E/Screaming Flea Productions

Contact Adam Buckman:


Keep up with the Kardashians? A snail could do it

December 11, 2009

O-‘K’ corrall (l-r): Kardashians Khloé, Kim, mom Kris, and Kourtney. (E!)


NEW YORK, Dec. 11, 2009 — Keeping up with the Kardashians?  That’s easy, since it’s not as if the Kardashians move around very fast.

They’re a pretty sedentary clan – they sit around the dining room table eating meals, they sit around the family room together, they sit around at restaurants, and they ride around in cars.  At least they seem like a close family since they are always together – as opposed to each of them being off doing things by themselves, such as working, for example.

You’re supposed to believe their days are fast-paced, and their family life “zany,” “crazy,” maybe even “wacky” and “out of control.”

But they’re really not.  In the premiere episode that kicks off the fourth season of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” (Sunday, Dec. 13, at 9 p.m. eastern time, on E!), bodacious Kim loses the will to live (well, at least the will to work or get up off her couch) stemming from the blues that have set in from her separation from her boyfriend, NFL star Reggie Bush, who’s in New Orleans with the Saints (the episode, a preview DVD of which was provided by E!, seems to have been filmed before the onset of the Saints’ as-yet undefeated season).

Sister Kourtney is pregnant and about to deliver a baby whose father is her off-again, now on-again boyfriend, Scott, who is portrayed in the show as a shiftless layabout whom most of the Kardashians loathe for knocking up their sis.

And Khloé, newly married to L.A. Lakers star Lamar Odom, is house-hunting for the couple’s first home together.   This is always a highlight of these L.A.-based reality shows – the spacious homes with their gargantuan kitchens, walk-in closets larger than most New York City apartments, elaborate iron- and stonework, the custom-shaped swimming pools and everything else.  The opportunity to peek inside the mansions of L.A. and its moneyed environs have been an integral feature of these types of series dating all the way back to “The Osbournes.”

Real estate is often at the center of a plotline or two on these shows, resulting in “conflicts” to which few of us can relate, such as Khloé’s dilemma in this weekend’s episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”: Should she and Lamar buy a $5.9 million home with something like 11 bedrooms, or “settle” for something cozier?

And another situation alien to most of us: Can Kim motivate herself out of her lethargy and stop pouting long enough to successfully participate in a photo shoot for her own fragrance, a dream she says she has had all her life?

Rest assured that it takes very little effort to keep up with the Kardashians as they house-hunt, eat lunch and pose for photos – activities they undertake languidly.  In fact, the fastest elements in this show are the frequent scenes of L.A. that serve as partitions between every scene.  You know the footage – it’s seen in every reality series: The fast-motion sunrise, the overhead shots of cars in fast-motion on sunny freeways and residential streets lined with palm trees and vast dewy lawns, the fast-moving video of the sun-splashed storefronts of Rodeo Drive.

The lesson is the same here as in many another L.A.-based reality show: Problems will inevitably arise from photo shoots and multimillion-dollar real estate decisions, but in the end, it’s always sunny in southern California.

TV Howl photo extra  . . .  Later this season on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Kim gets a life lesson from Deepak Chopra:

Deepak Chopra explains the meaning of life to an attentive Kim Kardashian in an upcoming episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” (E!)

Contact Adam Buckman:

On A&E: Four-fifths of the Jackson Five

December 8, 2009

BOWLER FOR DOLLARS — The Jackson Four (l-r): Jackie, Marlon, Tito (wearing his trademark bowler) and Jermaine. Photo credit: A&E


NEW YORK, Dec. 8, 2009 — Years ago, some clever writer of TV promos came up with a generic plot description for “The Honeymooners” that could be applied to virtually any episode of that classic 1950s sitcom.  The promo copy went something like this: “Ralph has big plans,” boomed an enthusiastic announcer, “until his friend Norton steps in!”

The same kind of description could be applied to the first two episodes of A&E’s new reality series about the Jacksons: “The Jacksons [or at least three of them] have big plans . . . until Jermaine has a tantrum or an issue or some kind of complaint!”

But like “The Honeymooners,” all parties come together in the end, although in “The Jack5ons: A Family Dynasty” — premiering with two, one-hour episodes back-to-back on Sunday, Dec. 13, starting at 9 p.m. — they come together with a group fist-bump as the Jackson Four agree nobly to put aside their differences and come together for the sake of their music and their fans.

These four, this band of singing and dancing middle-aged brothers, are four of the original Jackson Five — Jackie, Marlon, Tito and Jermaine — and they are the stars, along with their various wives and offspring, of this promised glimpse behind the scenes at the sprawling, and mildly brawling, Jackson clan.  However, nine siblings and two parents comprised the Jackson family, and five sibs — Michael, Janet, Randy, Rebbie and Latoya — and one parent — Papa Joe — are missing (as are Michael’s three children), though Janet Jackson is heard briefly in a phone conversation.

Michael’s absence is the one that is most felt, and also the most understood, since he passed away last June 25.  However, the series begins a couple of months before his sudden death, as the other four Jackson brothers were preparing to regroup to produce a Jackson Five reunion album to commemorate the act’s 40th anniversary (dating the group’s origins to 1969, the year they had their first hits).

Michael’s impending death notwithstanding, it’s not clear if he ever intended to  participate, even partially, in the reunion effort, especially since, as we now know, he was preparing for his own series of comeback concerts.  Alas, they were not to be, and at the end of the first one-hour episode of “The Jack5ons” — one of two A&E provided for preview — Michael dies without apparently participating in any filming on the reality series.

Still, Michael’s shadow hangs over the whole thing, starting with the show’s theme song, “Can You Feel It?,” a 1980 single on which Michael sings in the era when the Jackson Five were known as The Jacksons.

Episode Two, titled “The Aftermath,” deals nominally with his death and then jumps inexplicably to a month later, as the four surviving Jackson Five brothers try and come together to perform a concert that they were apparently obligated to perform (possibly with Michael, though that remains unclear) under some contract they signed before Michael’s death.

Certainly, there are millions of Jackson fans for whom any consideration of the Jacksons begins and ends with Michael.  And without him around, they might not tune in for “The Jack5ons” on A&E.  But there will likely be millions of others — be they enamored with any of the Jacksons singly or in various combinations — who will be left for A&E to capitalize mightily on the Jackson mania that made itself apparent, and appeared to be even bigger than anyone previously realized, in the aftermath of Michael’s death last summer.  In fact, this reality series, in which not much actually happens, could be the biggest one yet for A&E.

TV Howl photo gallery: Pictures from “The Jack5ons: A Family Dynasty”:

Mister Lucky’s Lounge in downtown Gary looks a little down on its luck, despite the presence of hometown hero Tito Jackson. Photo: Richard Knapp

Tito (left) and Marlon marvel at the snug, modest living room in Gary, Ind., where the Jackson Five got their start. Photo: Richard Knapp

Back in L.A., the not-so-united four Jackson brothers (l-r: Jermaine, Jackie, Marlon and Tito) rehearse before a dance studio mirror. Photo: Richard Knapp

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Ray Romano’s search for the meaning of life

December 4, 2009

Ray Romano (with Scott Bakula, left, and Andre Braugher) is the center of attention in “Men of a Certain Age” on TNT. Photo: Alan Markfield/TNT


NEW YORK, Dec. 4, 2009 — What do we do, we men of a certain age, when we try to make sense of the new world?

Some of us try to find meaning in the past, which sometimes means attempting to mine significance from old music.  It’s a tactic applied repeatedly in Ray Romano’s new drama series about men in mid-life — “Men of a Certain Age” (premiering Monday, Dec. 7, at 10 p.m. on TNT).

In the five episodes TNT provided for preview, the show’s eclectic playlist ranges from the obscure — “Do You Know What I Mean?” by Lee Michaels — to the sentimental — “This Magic Moment” by the Drifters.  And the show’s theme song is “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” by the Beach Boys (with its lyrics “Will my kids be proud or think their old man is really a square? . . .”).

Pop songs — especially those forgotten by most of us — may seem like unlikely destinations for an exploration into the meaning of life, but I’m here to tell you, when you’re 50, the search can take on many forms and take you to many unlikely places.

For example, my own search has taken me recently to a priceless video on YouTube of Hurricane Smith performing his one and only hit, “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?” on the Johnny Carson show in 1972.  Smith, formerly a sound engineer who worked on a string of Beatles albums (up through “Rubber Soul”), was 49 years-old when he made his first trip to the U.S. to appear on the Carson show.  What does the story of Hurricane Smith’s personal triumph in middle age have to do with the meaning of life?  I don’t know — you tell me.

Meanwhile, on “Men of a Certain Age,” Romano plays Joe, a 48-year-old man (Romano himself will be 52 later this month) in the midst of a divorce.  He lives in a motel and runs his own business — a store selling party supplies.  In the store, Joe plays music from his youth — the album rock and Top 40 songs that his generation — my generation — first heard on the radio, which, in the era before the Internet, was the only source of music anybody really had.

Ray’s great in the role — the kind of performance at which cable has been excelling these last few years, the “surprise” performance so strong and sensitive that it astonishes, like Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad” and before that, Michael Chiklis in “The Shield,” both of whom won Emmys their first seasons out.

In “Men of a Certain Age,” intentionally or not, the Romano character emerges as the central figure in an ensemble of three; the other two are Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula.

Music of a certain age plays a central role in “Men of a Certain Age,” as if the show’s creators — Romano himself, along with one of his co-producers from “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Mike Royce — are embarking on their own search for meaning in middle age and have decided, through the medium of this TV show, to take interested parties along for the ride.

These might include all men over 45, but should also include anyone — grownups primarily since this new series shatters all kinds of language taboos for basic cable — interested in checking out a new drama series produced with brains, humor, maturity and respect for its audience.

And once again, it bears mentioning that this is the kind of series that only cable TV has the courage to attempt these days.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Shatner has nerve, but it’s not too raw

December 1, 2009

William Shatner makes a point on “Raw Nerve.” Photo: BIO


NEW YORK, Dec. 1, 2009 — William Shatner doesn’t seem to touch any raw nerves or even get on anyone’s nerves in the first two episodes of the new, second season of his Biography Channel  talk show, “Shatner’s Raw Nerve.”

However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t unearth some interesting stories about private subjects from his guests — Rush Limbaugh in the first episode and Regis Philbin in the second (the two half-hours premiere back-to-back starting at 10 p.m. eastern time on Sunday, Dec. 6, on Bio).

For Rush, talking about his battle to kick an addiction to painkillers might have had the potential to touch a raw nerve, but did not appear to do so on a preview DVD of the show that was provided by Bio Channel.  In fact, Rush speaks candidly about the agony of withdrawal, a process he underwent several times.  He also talks about his hearing loss, and also about his grandfather, in an interview that was like a session in a therapist’s office — if your therapist is William Shatner, of course.

As for Regis, he reveals his innermost fear, that he actually possesses no real, discernible talent that can explain his success in show business.  He also reveals that he had a brother, now deceased, who was 20 years younger than he — a sibling with whom Regis tried to form a close relationship over the years, but admits the effort was only partially successful.  He also tells the story of how — and more importantly, why — Joey Bishop hired him to be his sidekick on Bishop’s ABC late-night show in the 1960s.

No raw nerves seem to be exposed in either interview, which both come across as more friendly than this show’s edgy title would suggest.

Contact Adam Buckman:

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