Archive for March, 2010

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’: The funniest show on TV

March 31, 2010

Peek-a-boo! Debbie Reynolds guest-judging a drag-queen beauty pageant? Only RuPaul (left, with Reynolds) could make THAT happen! Photo credit: Rolling Blackouts/Logo TV

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 31, 2010 — The funniest show on TV is not a sitcom or a sketch show or a late-night comedy show.

It’s a reality show whose reality, paradoxically, is the art of illusion.  It’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” now nearing the conclusion of a triumphant second season on the gay-themed cable network called Logo.  (Original episodes air at 9 p.m. Mondays; the season finale is April 26.*)

The idea of watching (very) effeminate gay men who are passionate in their adoption of female alter egos might not appeal to everyone, but for those with open or even semi-open minds, watching this show is one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences you can have these days in front of the tube.

It’s an elimination/competition show patterned loosely on the “Project Runway” model, with RuPaul — perhaps the world’s most famous drag queen — presiding as host, chief judge and Tim Gunn-like mentor for a group of contestants all hoping to be crowned the next drag superstar.

Fierce femme: Jujubee competes on “Drag Race.” Photo credit: Logo

Few episodes of any show airing this year will likely equal the hilarity and camp quality of this past Monday’s show (March 29), in which the remaining four contestants — sweet and sour Tyra Sanchez, devious Raven, clueless Tatianna, audience favorite Jujubee and tender-hearted Pandora Boxx — were challenged to dress five aging gay men in drag and then cavort with them before a panel of judges that included special guests Debbie Reynolds and Cloris Leachman (one-time “Project Runway” contestant Santino Rice is also a judge on “Drag Race”).

At the center of it all is RuPaul, a drag impresario without equal, who handles the proceedings with drop-dead seriousness as if the stakes couldn’t be higher, all the while giving just the right faint impression that he knows deep down this whole pretend pageant is just one big lark.

Among other titles, RuPaul is the queen of the reality-show catchphrase, as when he — dressed in over-the-top drag himself — orders each week’s booted contestant to “Sashay away!”

But before he renders his final verdict, the contestants in the bottom two must compete in a lip-synch face off, a talent for mimickry that is apparently a hallmark of drag performance.  Each episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” achieves a kind of comedy nirvana at the moment when RuPaul adopts the most serious tone of voice he can muster to direct the bottom two to “lip-synch for your life!”   That’s when you know you’ve crossed over to a place TV has never gone before.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

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TV to get more cluttered with hoarders, addicts

March 12, 2010

Does this look like a television star to you? Hoarder “Augustine” was profiled on an episode of “Hoarders” on A&E. (Photo: A&E)

COPYCAT TLC WANTS A PIECE OF A&E’S ACTION

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 12, 2010 — You’ll know the competition between TLC and A&E has really heated up when A&E starts producing shows about dwarfs.

However, in this contest between cable networks, A&E is not the aggressor — yet.  That title goes to TLC, the Discovery-owned cable channel once known as The Learning Channel and now best known for its emphasis on super-sized families and plucky little people.

Next week, TLC invades territory formerly occupied exclusively by A&E — the world of hoarders and drug addicts.  Representatives of both groups have taken up residence Monday nights on A&E to great acclaim and open-mouthed astonishment.  No one can fail to be amazed (and also somewhat sickened and horrified) by the stories told each week on A&E’s “Intervention,” about addicts and their beleaguered loved ones, and “Hoarders,” about people who fill their homes with junk and then face eviction or condemnation from their local governments.

No rules seem to govern or prohibit the practice of copycatting in the TV business, but TLC’s launch next week of “Hoarding: Buried Alive” (Sunday, March 14, at 10 p.m.) and “Addicted” (Wednesday, March 17, at 10 p.m.) seems particularly blatant.  In fact, “blatant” is the word one A&E source used to describe TLC’s encroachment on A&E’s turf.

Officially, A&E released a statement in response to a TV Howl query about the similarities between “Hoarding” (TLC) and “Hoarders” (A&E), and “Addicted” (TLC) and “Intervention” (A&E).  “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” the A&E statement said — the usual quote companies trot out at times like these when they would rather appear gracious or sportsmanlike than annoyed or even ticked off.

Who can forget the incredible story of “huffing” addict “Allison” on A&E’s “Intervention”? Here, she loads up on the aerosol cans she used to feed her addiction to chemical inhalants. (Photo: A&E)

The real question for TLC is whether there is room on TV for more hoarders and addicts.  For many, one hour spent each week on each of these subjects might be enough.  Some- times, it’s more than enough.  Even the most hardened TV watcher (namely, me) finds it difficult at times to get through an entire hour of “Hoarders” or “Intervention,” so pathetic and upsetting are some of the stories.

“Hoarders” is particularly difficult; yes, these homes are pretty well cleaned out and reasonably cleaned up by the end of each show, but what is usually left are homes in grave states of disrepair and the homes’ residents left desolate and, it seems to a viewer, likely to begin hoarding again as soon as the show’s film crew leaves the premises.

TLC’s entry into the hoarding and addiction categories signals a new ramping up of the competition for reality subjects on cable — particularly between TLC and A&E.  A&E is known for “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels,” the new “Steven Seagal: Lawman,” “Paranormal State,” “Parking Wars” (a personal favorite) and a slew of others, including “Billy the Exterminator” (this is a TV personality on the rise, folks) and the upcoming “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life.”

TLC’s slate is equally diverse, with shows on dressing well (“Say Yes to the Dress” and “What Not to Wear”) and baking (the ubiquitous “Cake Boss”).  However, most people identify TLC with that mammoth Duggar family (“19 Kids and Counting”) or the dysfunctional Gosselins (“Jon and Kate Plus 8”), or all those little-people shows: “Little Chocolatiers,” “Little People, Big World,” “Our Little Life,” “The Little Couple” and others (the other night, there appeared a one-off about another “little” couple seeking to adopt a “little” orphan).

As I write this, there are producers and talent scouts criss-crossing the country and surfing the Internet in search of real-life personalities around which to build reality shows — mall cops, tow-truck operators, various animal “whisperers” and many, many others.  The development of these types of TV shows is becoming  (or has already become) one of the hottest corners of the TV business.    Watch out, hoarders and addicts, the next knock on your door might be a TV producer.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com


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