Monday, November 27, 2006

The All My Children Transgender Character Stunt

It's all over the entertainment websites that soap opera All My Children is pulling a "groundbreaking" move: adding a transgender character. You'll forgive me if I don't bat an eyelash.

As a former soap viewer, I have to say that this is sort of a non-story. The media hype, on the other hand, is a rather humorous story. AMC's Executive Producer Julie Hanan Carruthers has been quoted as saying "After 36 years, you start rehashing. It's inevitable." So, am I to understand that up to this point, All My Children has been producing completely original storylines? I'd say most soaps run out of "fresh" material after about 3-5 seasons. The characters may look different or have ambiguous genitalia, but the game is the same. Someone steals someone's significant other, someone else is a bitch and a catfight ensues, and someone has amnesia/comes back from the dead/plots a nefarious scheme.

AMC is also getting way too much press for doing something "different" when outlandish shows like Passions have been making viewers suspend their disbelief and knowledge of history, science, and human behavior for years. At one time or another, Passions has had witches, zombies, talking dolls, and a mermaid. My favorite plot point has to be when an elderly character, Edna, had a live-in nurse named Precious. Precious was no ordinary nurse--she was an orangutan. Who wore a nurse's uniform. And fell in love with one of the human male characters. Check out this Wikipedia entry if you don't believe me. There was the standard girl-loves-guy-who-may-be-her-brother plot, but that just distracted from the orangutans.

I'm not criticizing, mind you. I used to enjoy a good man-stealing yarn with the best of them. However, I believe that this silly emphasis on originality is pointless in the soap opera genre. The predictability is comforting, like that one relative at family get-togethers who never fails to say something creepy, dumb, or otherwise bitchy. You don't always pay attention to him or her, but it's nice to know that the person is there.

AMC does get originality points for the transgender character's name, however. Zarf is easily one of the weirdest names ever, and those soap writers get awful imaginative when it comes to names. This guy/gal sounds like something out of the most recent Star Wars movies. Perhaps one of Jar-Jar Binks' friends?

I look forward to hearing more about our friend, Zarf, and all the transgender adventures that s/he's sure to have.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dancing With The Stars Finale--Emmitt Wins!!

When O.J. Simpson does his disgusting Fox interview, when the Oscars once again embody predictability, and when Lost returns to tease and confuse in February, I will always look back on last night's Dancing With the Stars finale and remember when the entertainment world made sense.

Things weren't looking good for Emmitt on Tuesday's final episode of competition, so last night's results show as a true nail-biter for me. As always, he wasn't the most technically polished dancer out there, but his infectious smile and charm made up for it. Mario's tired use of the "relationship" card during his training segments really had me worried for a while--that is, if you call a partners-with-benefits setup that ends as soon as Mario leaves to do Saved by the Bell: The Minivan Years a relationship. Unfortunately, phony romances have been known to generate a lot of buzz. I should never have doubted Emmitt's fans, however.

Part of me wants to know the margin by which Smith beat Lopez, since the judges' scores were completely useless. On a side note, I wish the judges would actually show some backbone and give the finalists different scores. Some might argue that leaving it up to the voters is more entertaining, but I would be curious to see fans call in to "save" a dancer with a lower score. That's what made the earlier rounds so interesting: an adorable dope like Jerry Springer or a blah dancer like Sara Evans got to advance strictly based on audience votes. This isn't the Olympics--why not acknowledge that DWTS is part popularity contest?

Anyway, I thought the results show was pretty good from what I saw. My husband didn't care for the sentimental montages about "the journey" that is Dancing With The Stars, but I enjoyed seeing the eliminated contestants dance one last time. Remember Vivica A. Fox and her open-shirted partner? Remember Tucker Carlson and his blatant non-dancing? I had forgotten how long this show has been on.

My reaction to Emmitt's victory was equal parts relief, excitement, and poor sportsmanship. I totally wanted Emmitt or Cheryl to say something like "in your face, Slater!" They didn't, so I had to step up. Emmitt was classy as usual, praising Mario's toughness as a competitor. My favorite part of the night was watching all the contestants congratulate Emmitt onstage while Mario stood to the side with a sour expression on his face. That's just good TV. Congrats to Emmitt and Cheryl!!!

By the way: aren't you glad that the Taye Diggs Groundhog Day show finally aired, so we can stop seeing those commercials?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Last Night's Iron Chef America

After reading this article about an upcoming episode of Iron Chef America, I was intrigued enough by the contestants to give the show a try. For you non-Food Network types, here's the gist: Rachael Ray, culinary everyman, would be crossing spatulas with Giada De Laurentiis, the pedigreed host of Everyday Italian.

First of all, I think women competing for anything makes for good television: money, fame, Flavor Flav, it matters not. The nature of the matchup was also appealing. According to her Food Network profile, Ray does not have any fancy-schmancy training. She basically markets herself (or is marketed) as the anti-Martha Stewart: practical, frugal, and approachable. She hosts "ordinary gal" shows like 30-Minute Meals and $40 a Day, in which viewers learn how to dine out in their favorite cities for--you guessed it--$40 a day. Giada De Laurentiis, however, has quite a resume, having trained at Le Cordon Bleu and worked at the Ritz Carlton and Spago, in addition to running her own L.A. catering operation. To make matters worse, Giada is a knockout, while Rachael Ray looks as though she does more than sample her own cooking (I know, "meow," but it was worth mentioning). This was set up as a definite David vs. Goliath scenario ("only this time, David's gonna win!").

The show itself was actually pretty entertaining. As a special twist, or more likely as a way to even the playing field, each contestant was paired with a seasoned (get it!) Iron Chef. Giada got paired with Bobby Flay, who I only recognized from a morning show; Rachael got Mario Batali, who I had never heard of. For those not familiar with the show's concept, the chefs have to make 5 courses based around a single random ingredient. This week the ingredient was the cranberry. Yuck. I did not envy those ladies. It was funny watching the competitors scramble around, getting in the way of their respective partners and assistants. While the spotlight should have been on the two lady chefs, I found Mario Batali to be the most entertaining. No flies on that man, to be sure. He even had the time and boldness to serve cranberry-flavored drinks to the three faux-lebrity judges. After doing a little research, I realized that Mario is the chef at a trendy restaurant called Babbo, and both he and the restaurant were mentioned on a recent episode of Ugly Betty. Mario officially rocks, people.

The other folks were less entertaining. Whenever the host tried asking Bobby Flay questions, Flay responded with grumpy gestures and facial expressions. They may tolerate that nonsense on The Early Show, but don't sell that behavior here. Giada was good-natured but dull, and Rachael alternated between sweating and being insecure about her non-chef status.
Don't even get me started on the judges. First up, there was Mo Rocca, occasional panelist and low-level HITG. My brother-in-law Justin once said, after watching the millionth VH1 show involving Henry Rollins, that Rollins must hang out in the VH1 offices begging for work. The same could be said of Rocca and any TV network. There was also a random editor of Entertainment Weekly and David Evangelista, hairdresser "to the stars." Didn't this guy do Rosie O'Donnell's hair when she had her own talk show? Congratulations on a job...done. I'm sure there's some rationale for using so-called entertainment personalities, but do Hollywood types really know about food? I always assumed eating was frowned upon in those circles.

Anyway, the results were creative and, I can only assume, delicious. The best-looking dish was the Zuppa Inglese with cranberries. Like Miss Entertainment Weekly, I normally don't bother with non-chocolate desserts, but this looked incredible. Ultimately, Rachael Ray was declared the winner, and by a significant margin. A blank-faced Giada did not seem to expect this outcome. Not to be uncharitable, but most of the really cool dishes seemed to be Mario's doing, but oh well. Rachael still gets bragging rights. That's Ordinary Gals: 1, Perfect Hotties: 3,457,922.