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and the television is cheesy
by michelle von euw

Summer, while a good time for tan lines, frozen pastel-colored drinks, and Jimmy Choo sandals, is historically a terrible time for television. With most network shows winding up their seasons –- or series -– in May, the long months that stretch between Memorial Day and the day the San Diego Chargers are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention usually signal a wasteland of repeats, “news” specials, and poorly-developed reality shows that weren’t quite up for the striking competition of a new episode of "Married to the Kellys" or "CSI: Des Moines."

Not since Fox successfully launched a summer season of "Beverly Hills 90210" has a scripted show made a splash during the summer. (When reality shows become summer hits they are quickly whisked into the regular lineup —- you won’t catch a new season of "American Idol" or "Survivor" in July ever again.)

Despite the dim outlook, those of us who don’t have the Star Wars trilogy on our Netflix queue, who won’t be stretching happy hour until 11 p.m., and whose fingers are itching for the type of heady remote action of "Friends"/"CSI"/ "Survivor"/"The Apprentice" used to bring, there are enough reasons on every night of the week to remold your favorite spot in front of the television set at least for one hour every night.

I know -- what would you do without me? I’m putting my television addiction to good not evil and saving you from dreck like "Trading Spouses" and repeats of "Joan of Arcadia." I’ve spent several weeks weeding out the truly unwatchable (the current crop of famewhores literally watching the grass grow in Big Brother’s backyard) and present you with the best things on television for every night of the week. The list skews sappy, so a handy rating is given (in fresh American pre-wrapped slices, of course) with 1 being not very cheesy at all a 5 being, well, the WWE.

Mondays. "Joe Schmoe 2." The show is pure B-level cheese, where a cast of a dozen actors play reality show contestants, all for the benefit of one poor schmoe who believes it is all real. For season two, the producers upped the stakes and added a Jane Schmoe -– convincing two reality-show contestant wannabes that they were in contention for the hearts of a bachelor and bachelorette, throwing in all the ridiculous and hysterical stereotypes we’ve come to expect from the tired formula: the stalker, the crier, the bimbo, the player, plus an out-of-control falcon, a pearl necklace ceremony, and a smarmy host who tells rejected contestants their search for love is over -- forever. Jane Schmoe almost ruined the whole concept by figuring the charade out almost immediately (She constantly asked, “Am I on the Truman Show?”); but the producers brilliantly brought her in on the gig by turning her into one of the “actors” and introducing a new Jane. Fortunately, Joe is still wonderfully clueless, whole-heartedly competing in ridiculous challenges and moderating staged controversies. Cheese Level: 4 slices.

Tuesdays. "Gilmore Girls." Judging by the WB's ratings, most of you aren't addicted to television's least dysfunctional but most enjoyable mother-daughter combo. The fast-paced dialogue of "Gilmore Girls" is reminiscent of Aaron Sorkin’s "West Wing" at its sharpest; the characters’ vocabulary is often reminiscent from an early Kevin Williamson script. Bonus: each episode is crafted in a self-contained way that doesn’t prevent a casual viewer from enjoying the action –- you don’t need to know Rory and Dean’s history to appreciate the tension between them; prior viewing isn’t required to enjoy Emily’s shopping spree through Neiman Marcus (a scene that caused even my husband, the man who limits his summer television viewing to baseball games and wrestling, to burst into appreciative laughter). Cheese Level: 2 slices (unless it’s the renaissance wedding episode, which bumps us up to 3 and a half).

Wednesday. I’ve got nothing. Hit that hump day happy hour.

Thursday. "Last Comic Standing." If repeats of "CSI" and "Will and Grace" don't have you running for the remote, then tune in to "Last Comic Standing’s" results show. On Tuesday (it airs after "Gilmore Girls," so you’re safe), the comics compete against each other in a standup competition, but the results show features (in some cases, thankfully) shorter sets and the elimination of up to half the contestants. Favorites include 6’7 Gary Gulman, with legs that run all the way to the floor and a talent for pointing out the humor in the obvious. The Boston native was a target earlier in the competition for the less-funny comics, but he easily defeated the two unlucky enough to face him in head-to-head challenges. John Heffron, who does a mean Joe Procopio impersonation, also survived two head-to-heads in the early rounds. The funniest thing about the show is often observing the high levels of discomfort the producers thrust upon the comics, plus the bonus of anticipating host Jay Mohr's live TV implosion. Cheese level: 1 slice.

Friday. "Degrassi." Yes, I’ve already written about this Canadian import -- before Ken Tucker and the rest of the Entertainment Weekly staff decided that this was the hottest show since "The O.C.". But since then, the show has gotten even better, with US audiences being treated to a mini-fourth season this summer. Episodes include homages to The Breakfast Club (Saturday school for the geek, the jock, the princess, the freak, and the criminal) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Paige, Spinner, and Ashley cut school and don’t get caught), Rock and Roll High School, a boys against girls battle of the bands, and continues its focus on issues like depression, binge drinking, and abuse. Plus, in the season finale, the school burns down! What more can you want? Cheese Level: 5 slices.

Saturday. "The Amazing Race." For years, this show has carried the oxymoronic burden of being known as the thinking person’s reality TV, but I've ignored its siren call for the likes of "Big Brother," "Married by America," and "Temptation Island." Until now. Dozens of pairs (60-something internet couple, twin sisters, married parents, dating models) complete a series of challenges while racing through foreign countries while circling the globe, vying not to be the last one to reach each episode’s final destination. A recent episode featured a bus trek through Argentina, a flight to Russia, a jaunt through St. Petersburg that included serving as a goalie in an ice rink, drinking shots of vodka off a sword, and downing two pounds of salty caviar, a challenge that knocked more than one team lower in the standings. The media seems obsessed on Charla, a little person who has surprised the other teams with her endurance and her mastery of the game; but it’s her cousin Mirna’s obnoxious and hysterical observations that rattle the competition and makes this show truly Must See TV. Bonus: if you have better things to do than watch TV on a Saturday night, CBS airs new episodes of "The Amazing Race" on Tuesdays. Cheese Level: 2 slices.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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ellen marsh
8.6.04 @ 11:24a

I've already discovered your Tuesday and Thursday solution to the TV dregs of summer, but if I'm absolutely compelled to watch one other evening some week, I'll check out the rest of your list. Sounds like Wednesday is the appropriate evening for any late dental, doctor, or hair appointments (or maybe dinner out with friends). Thank you!

adam kraemer
8.6.04 @ 11:56a

You're telling me you don't like "Meth and Red"?

sandra thompson
8.6.04 @ 8:00p

I "discovered" Di Grassi many years ago when our local PBS channel ran it at 11:00 p m where they used to run Monty Python. I've watched one episode of several of the reality shows and that was quite enough, thank you. Even the Amazing Race wasn't quite amazing enough to hold my attention. Between the Comedy Channel, Bravo and HBO I've managed to skip most of the really nauseating stuff. Of course, one has to be a little demented to watch an entire evening of The Comedy Channel, which I've been known to do. Since I have no testosterone laden macho image to uphold, I really enjoy those queer guys on Bravo. There's always PBS, which ran that Roy Orbison special again last night.


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