Reality Bites: Branson Famous and a Farewell to "Reality Bites"

Photo courtesy of TruTV
America. Heck yeah.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Nelson: What is this place?
Bart: Branson, Missouri. My dad says it's like Vegas, if it were run by Ned Flanders.

I've passed through Branson, MO and if anything, Bart was being charitable. Branson is to Las Vegas as Diet RC is to absinthe. Just hop on Highway 76 and you'll get a good overview of the Ozark version of the Strip, including the Mickey Gilley Theater (Christmas shows start November 1st!), the Hollywood Wax and Ripley's Believe It or Not museums, and more tribute acts than you can shake a brand new Cadillac at. It's entertainment for people who find the Creation Museum too controversial.

By the way, this is my last "Reality Bites," but more on that later. For now, sit back, crack a brew (or a Caffeine Free Diet Coke if you're more Branson's speed), and join for me one final descent into entertainment's abyss.

More »

Reality Bites: Vanderbilt MDs

Photo courtesy of USA Network
Pressed for time, doctors often find themselves forced to tear their clothes off.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Reality shows based on the various medical professions always end up concentrating on the actual work performed. This makes sense, as doctors, nurses, and EMTs and the like have jobs that are much more compelling than most of us cube jockeys. Several seasons of Trauma: Life in the E.R. and ... Untold Stories of the E.R. provided ample proof of this, if also showing how fond people are of watching their fellow man suffer in emergency rooms.

As a result, most of these shows only touched upon the personal lives of their subjects. Enter network TV, which has been filling this gap by churning out medical melodramas for decades. Everything from St. Elsewhere to E.R. to Grey's Anatomy relies on a formula combining gripping hospital action with allegedly moving personal drama, punctuated by seasonal absurdity.

The USA Network, not known for its forays into the genre, nonetheless is trying something new with Vanderbilt MDs. Unfortunately, throwing seven medical residents into a house Real World style and juxtaposing their personal interactions with their various duties at Vanderbilt University Medical Center didn't have the desired effect of "we work hard, we play hard." More like, "Hey, doctors are pretty much as douchey as anybody else."

More »

Reality Bites: Forensic Files

Photo courtesy of Forensic Files
"The truth is out there, most likely under a black light."
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

My first thought, when I sat down to take in the first episode of Forensic Files I've watched in -- well -- forever, was "This show is still on?" It seems like only yesterday I was mostly broke and watching FF in one of the first apartments I lived in here in Houston, during it's initial run on what we only now sarcastically refer to as the Learning Channel. It later spent the bulk of its life on Court TV/truTV, before it came to its current resting spot in syndication on HLN, formerly Headline News.

And I've since moved into a house, though I'm still mostly broke.

They're not producing new ones, a fact I only realized when I hit the Info button on my remote midway through. Still, that hasn't stopped me when writing this before, and I'll be damned if I'm enduring any of The Bachelor this season.

More »

Reality Bites: Kate Plus 8

Photo courtesy of The Learning Channel
I bet that's Jon's bloody handprint on the bowl.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

After all the tabloid unpleasantness surrounding serial breeders Jon and Kate Gosselin, they did an admirable job dropping out of the public eye. True, the first season of Kate Plus 8 (no longer with the Jon & in the title), which included appearances by Jon even as the two were going through divorce proceedings, aired in 2009, and a second season ended in 2011, but we've seen next to nothing since then.

And because all of this took place well before the debut of "Reality Bites," I naturally figured I'd dodged a bullet.

Unfortunately, my luck began to run out in 2014 when a handful of K+8 specials aired, and sure enough, my shrine to Lakshmi went into the dumpster when Season Three was announced. True. time has softened my perceptions of mom Kate somewhat (and of everything else, 2011 was four years and several hundred bottles of gin ago), so when I saw Kate Plus 8 was about to kick off again, I said, "It can't be any worse than Eaten Alive, right?"

More »

Reality Bites: Impractical Jokers

Photo courtesy of TruTV
Wacky *and* zany. What a combo.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Hidden-camera humor dates all the way back to the early days of photography, when Matthew Brady famously encouraged Union officials to "bomb" his portrait sittings of Ulysses S. Grant. Tragically, misunderstanding of slang led to one general being executed for attempted murder and treason, and the practice was largely abandoned for almost a hundred years until the arrival of Allen Funt's Candid Camera, which also ushered in the Sexual Revolution.

Subsequent efforts have produced mixed results. MTV's Jackass incorporated goofs on unsuspecting bystanders as part of the show's general theme of combining cringe humor with severe body trauma, while HBO's Taxicab Confessions demonstrated the technology's utility in capturing drunk people feeling each other up in the backs of cars.

Impractical Jokers, which premiered in 2011, is the latest in this illustrious line. It changes up the formula a bit, but as is often the case with these types of shows, isn't nearly as funny as it thinks it is.

More »

Reality Bites: Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve

Photo courtesy of ABC
Resistance is futile.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

It's New Year's Eve. Many of you are doubtless girding your loins and hardening your livers for a night on the town, while others may opt for parties hosted at various friends' domiciles. If you plan on indulging, please make good use of Uber or the city's various taxi services. Otherwise, have the decency to pass out in a bathroom stall somewhere.

The parents among you -- those who aren't entrusting your offspring to a teenager who's going to raid your medicine cabinets for Adderall as soon as your headlights disappear around the corner, that is -- will likely make an early night of it, secure in the knowledge your trusting little darlings don't yet know the difference between 8:35 PM and midnight.

Whatever your plans, there's a good chance a TV somewhere in the vicinity will be set to ABC, so anyone interested can watch that annual reminder of America's love of variety TV and apostrophes, Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.

More »

Reality Bites: Chug

Photo courtesy of National Geographic
"So, Austrians *weren't* Nazis?"
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Who doesn't like to drink? Recovering alcoholics, I guess. Also people who are allergic to it. Oh, and those of you who don't like the way it makes you feel, or the taste, or the fact you flunked out of college because you discovered tequila your freshman year and spent the next two years in a haze of keg stands and impromptu road trips to Señor Frogs.

Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like *my* freshman year.

So fine, plenty of you don't like to drink, but plenty still do, and for those people (who also have ample disposable income), there's Chug, National Geographic's new travel drinking show. Because what could possibly go wrong when you get drunk overseas?

More »

Reality Bites: Eaten Alive

Fool me once, shame on you...

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

I didn't actually watch Eaten Alive when it aired last weekend, though I understand quite a few people did. How do I know this? Because they were unbelievably whiny in their disappointment:

No way I would have done what he did, but why build the show up and him not even be eaten alive? I mean... He wasn't even close. #EatenAlive -- Ty Shute' (@TyShute33) December 8, 2014

Discovery letting me think Paul gets eaten by a snake and then not letting that happen is the reason I have trust issues. #EatenAlive
-- Zac Dalpe (@ZacDalpe22) December 8, 2014

And it went on like this, apparently, for two hours. Obviously the prospect of being able to react immediately to a man getting swallowed whole by a python was a big reason people tuned in live, but for the first time in years I was happy for my "experience" with reality shows. I knew better than to sit through the overwrought two hour(!) buildup, recording the show for future ... well, I don't want to call it "enjoyment." Call it an opportunity to exercise my fast forward finger.

More »

Reality Bites: Antiques Roadshow

Photo courtesy of
Just once I want someone to bring in their vintage collection of "Barely Legal Teens."
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

When thinking of reality shows, one generally doesn't consider PBS. That might not make a a lot of sense at first; after all, the network airs programs which certainly qualify.

Then again, none of those invoke the usual imagery associated with the genre. There's no screaming on American Masters, no Kardashians on This Old House, and the History Detectives actually investigate items of significance with more rigor than a Google search.

Also, nobody screams at each other. As far as I know, that is. I hear that Judy Woodruff can get a little salty.

Covering this genre as long as I have, I sometimes forget the existence of shows I actually enjoy. Years of plumbing the depths of America's obsession with drunken rednecks and wife swapping almost made me miss the fact I've been watching -- and enjoying -- one particular reality show for years now. No, not Cheaters, I'm talking about Antiques Roadshow.

More »

Reality Bites: Hungry Games

Richard Blais: almost human.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

The first Mockingjay -- which is the penultimate entry in the Hunger Games movie franchise -- comes out this week. Normally I'd have reviewed it, but I was unable to make the screening. You can probably count on some stuff happening, sufficiently padded out to make a 390-page book stretch for two feature-length films.

Even though I honestly wasn't that upset that I didn't have to drag myself out to hang with an audience more suited to monster truck fandom than sitting quietly in a theater, I figured I'd try and make it up to you. So for this week's Reality Bites, I tried to find something similar in tone, if not overall archery content.

The result: Hungry Games, a show I hadn't heard about before I found it on my channel guide and am likely never to watch again. In that last respect, it's a lot like those Jennifer Lawrence movies.

More »