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the amazing couch
tivoing through the new tv season
by michelle von euw

When Chris O’Donnell, Geena Davis, Jason Lee, Stuart Townsend, and the entire cast of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (save a certain tiny blonde eponymous one) are suddenly battling with emaciated Survivors and comedic fat husband/hot wife duos for airtime, you know it’s got to be fall. In some people’s heads, fall means back to school and foliage changes, but around these parts, fall is all about the new television season, and the shows that will crash and burn almost immediately, leaving a light footprint on our brains, like Sharon Lawrence and Leah Remini in a clock tower loft/office or perky NBC spots featuring Tea Leoni taking up valuable space that should be devoted to, say, not ending up with my cell phone and keys on the other side of a locked apartment door.

My shiny new TiVo had a whole summer of practice to prepare for the new fall season, and once again, I proclaimed to anyone who couldn’t escape fast enough that I wasn’t getting sucked in this year. I was trimming the excess -– goodbye, housewives! Catch you later, iron chefs! –- and narrowing my weekly viewing to the core basics: “Lost,” “Veronica Mars,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Amazing Race.” Oh, and “Arrested Development.” Among the new shows, I’d give “Kitchen Confidential” a shot, because of my undying love for Nick Brendon and Bradley Cooper, and “Supernatural,” because Jared Padalecki is just that pretty. But I’d be like the ABC suits in my critical approach to these new shows: they’d get two episodes max, and if wasn’t doing some sort of equivalent to the Veronica/Logan dance by episode three, I was out.

Yeah, this is where TiVo becomes a problem.

You’ve read about the godlike powers of TiVo before, but one of its key unheralded features is its ability to capture two programs that air at the exact same time. Scheduling nightmares are suddenly nonexistent. When everyone else was sulking over the Wednesday night at 9 p.m. timeslot, I shrugged my shoulders. TiVo would take care of that. TiVo knows what I like to watch, and when I like to watch it, and when it’s done performing its magic, it all but gift-wraps my favorite television shows in front of me in a well-organized list. OK, so the prettiness of my list is somewhat tainted by the Hulk Hogan reality shows and the thirty-seven incarnations of a Redskins pre-game report, but that’s fine, marriage is about compromise, yada yada, and with eighty hours on my TiVo, there’s room for wrestling and islands of whacked-out theories, with room left over for the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

So the new television season problem number one began with the “Amazing Race.” Again, thanks to the combined powers of TiVo and the Game Show Network, I’ve swallowed six seasons of eleven teams of two with preexisting relationships throwing themselves off tall buildings, jamming into rush hour trains in India, and navigating the harrowing queues at international airports (“I’m sorry, we have seats for you on this flight, but no meals, so we can’t let you on this plane, even if a million dollars is at stake.”) I could pretend that it’s the scenery that keeps me hooked, the fact that in every episode I see a part of our world I didn’t know existed, from the lush greenness of northern Ethiopia to the mountains of Santiago to the backseat of a cab in Marrakech. But really, if I only wanted unfamiliar vistas, I’d TiVo the Discovery Channel. No, the race feeds a baser instinct, and that is the distinct pleasure I get in the personal meltdowns. Like when Kelly accused Ron of being a quitter, illustrating her point with a reference to his stint as a POW, effectively ending their relationship at that very moment. Or when Colin claimed his ox was broken during a challenge, and proceeded to have a massive, “I hate you” screaming fit directed either at girlfriend Christie or the uncooperative ox, or possibly both.

Of course, cast against the racers who harangue each other through four continents, 24 cities and 44,000 miles, are the respectful, hilarious, self-deprecating and even-tempered pairs, who provide a strong contrast to the melt-down prone, illustrating the two very different ways people have of approaching the show (and making very clear that if I ever do apply for this race, it will be as a writer/friend and not as a married/sports fanatic.) [Editor's note: Remember, you drive, I'll climb.] And the show likes to pretend that people come on this show to work out their problems –- from the general, like parents and children who don’t get along or separated couples who use the race to give their relationship another shot; to the specific, like Uchenna and Joyce’s inability to have a child, or John Vito and Jill honoring his best friend/her brother who died in the World Trade Center on September 11 –- but in the best circumstances, these details are never mentioned past the first episode.

The latest season of “Amazing Race” contains one of those dreaded reality-show “twists”: instead of pairs with slasher-y titles (dating/models, best friends/circus clowns, married/grandparents, and my personal favorite, dating 12 years/virgins), teams would be comprised of four related team members, to form the “Amazing Race: The Family Edition.” And while in true Race fashion, family is a fluid term that encompasses a father and his three sons-in-law or four adult siblings, it also means that there are several racing teams comprised of parents and young children, and by “young” I mean “freakin’ 9 years old.”

While there’s a certain joy involved in watching a smug Vassar grad break down in Danang, or a cocky 40-something fall victim to his own bad planning and a nefarious train schedule in Fussen, I can’t imagine being depraved enough to want to watch a similar fit enacted by a 9-year-old girl, no matter how bad a day I’ve had. Really, if I wanted to watch kids in perilous situations, I’d take my nephews to Fenway Park.

But after struggling with my conscience for several weeks (“CBS really won’t make a pre-teen bungee jump to his certain death”), I decided to give the Family Edition a trial run. I’d watch the first episode, and if it was too tough on the tykes, then I’d go back to my merry memories of seasons past. Problem was, my TiVo, with its season pass scheduled to grab me all episodes of the “Amazing Race,” got caught up on the semantics, and did not recognize that CBS changed the name of this version to “Amazing Race: Family Edition.” So instead of letting you know if I squirmed through the family dynamics or cringed at the awkwardness of four-person teams, all I can tell you is that the uncomfortably-named Black Family, the only non-white racers of the season, is out.

But rest assured. I may have missed one hour of so-called “good” TV, but I sure as hell overcompensated on the other end. I managed to sample much “bad” TV in the form of new shows that I didn’t really mean to watch, but ended up accidentally stumbling upon. Like the dreadful soap-y “Reunion,” a show with a rather wonderful premise for those who love nonlinear story telling: it follows a group of friends from their high school reunion in 1986 to the present day, where one of them has been murdered and the rest are all suspects. And even with the Madonna pumps and the George Michael/OMD/Frankie Goes to Hollywood soundtrack, it’s a terrible, terrible show. Melodramatic, unbelievable, repetitive, derivative, and even inane. I know: I’ve watched all three rotten episodes.

Accident number two was when I read a review of “How I Met Your Mother,” in Entertainment Weekly, and somehow, someone programmed the show into TiVo. If I lived with my cat, I’d be blaming him right about now (my husband’s too smart to have been a candidate for that fiasco.) Here’s another show with an unexpected premise (it takes place in the future! He’s talking to his kids!) and expected, sitcom-y results. Accident number three is a show called “Night Stalker,” and it co-stars Gabrielle Union, who I’ve loved since her back-to-back featured roles in She’s All That and Bring It On. The show was barely half over when I was banned from the room for interrupting too many times with: “Hey, that happened on ‘CSI’” and “Oh, that’s just like on ‘Lost’” or “They did something just like that on ‘Veronica Mars’/’Buffy the Vampire Slayer’/’Twin Peaks’/’X-files’/’Supernatural.’”

As for the two new shows I actually planned on watching, “Kitchen Confidential” is a slapdash of bad humor and low expectations, rendered toothless by its hilarious follow-in, “Arrested Development.” And “Supernatural” features some lame dialogue and way too many waif-y WB actresses in perilous situations, but has scared the hell out of me on at least three occasions, not to mention that the prettiness of Padalecki carries the show to significantly higher standing than it should. A girl’s gotta have her eye candy. And it beats watching a 9-year-old cry.

So the count is at five returning shows, and one new. Figuring out the time/space continuum of “Lost” makes my head hurt; Luke may have said yes, but Lorelai Gilmore is going to squirm her way out of this engagement; the big mystery isn’t a school bus crash or the death of a minor character, but why the hell Veronica Mars would pick Sponge Bob SquareJaw Duncan over hot, unstable Logan; and the Bluths put the fun in dysfunction, but they’re only on screen for 23 minutes a week.

But, damnit, Rex was buried in the sharpest tie. Uh, make that six returning shows. Fortunately for me, TiVo has room for a couple of housewives.


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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jael mchenry
10.7.05 @ 9:01a

Mmmmm, hot, unstable Logan. Yummy!

The Family Edition of the Amazing Race is certainly different. But I like it, as a change of pace. No models/actors, no dating/virgins, no whiny girlfriends or inTENSE boyfriends. There's one family where everyone's mean to each other, but if they keep racing as crappily as they have been, we won't have to worry about them for long.

Plus, the episode from this week had them in DC, so when they were looking for a gas station near the Mall, I just laughed and laughed and laughed.

michelle von euw
10.7.05 @ 12:40p

Yeah, that ep was -- confusing! Teams of four are just way too hard to keep track of. My favorites right now are the sons-in-law, merely because I can tell them apart from the other teams.

Once we whittle it down to a managable number of teams -- please go away, mean family (Paolos?) -- and the challenges get a tad more interesting, I'll probably enjoy it more.

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