Friday, October 17, 2008

TV Wednesdays: An Ode to America's Next Top Model

Oh, I have fallen behind!

Never fear, the update is here! And boy, do I have a lot to say!


This is one of my favorite nights of the week. Why? One very simple reason: it features what is probably one of the best shows (and by far best in the reality category) in Television history...

America's Next Top Model

That's right. I said it. This is my guiltiest of guilty pleasures, the show that has never disappointed me in my search for the highest levels of ridiculous imaginable; the show that has introduced me to such classic terms as "Fierce!" and "smile with your eyes!" and "Ugly pretty!"; the show that makes me cackle in glee with every episode.

You guys, this is the best show *EVER*.

I know what you're thinking. Let me put it in equation form.

You say....

Models + Tyra Banks + reality show = everything that is wrong with the world.

I say...

Brainless girls (because, come on, none of these girls will ever be a real model, let alone a "top" model) + relentless camp + hilariously bad clothes + Tyra Banks's utter insanity + everyone (but Tyra) knowing this show is a complete joke and pretending to take it like it's the most important show in history = TELEVISION GOLD.

I cannot stress the pure, unadulterated enjoyment I get out of this show. It's a ridiculous hour of television, but everyone involved knows it, and there's nothing I love more than mindless, harmless entertainment. This is one of the things TV was made for You take this show with a grain of salt, and it'll be the most fun you ever have.

Though of course, if you even think about it a little bit, you'll be disgusted (as you probably are reading this) and will try very, very hard to ignore it for the rest of your life. Don't blame you. I used to loathe the very mention of this show until I watched it by accident with my college roomate (we had nothing better to do, ok?) and realized that it was one of the few honest shows in television: it knows it's a joke, it knows it's a circus, and offers nothing more than to give you a good time. It's the one show that never disappoints. There are no bad episodes, because they're all equally hilarious and silly. And it's a pleasure to watch.

Every episode follows roughly the same formula. The girls (14 to start with), who all very seriously believe that this show will get them fame and fortune (even though after 10 seasons not one of the previous winners has even come close to reaching super-modeldom) are given some sort of modeling "class" and "challenge" at the start of each episode. These usually range from learning how to pose with a guy called Benny Ninja, my favorite supporting character who is the most flamboyant gay man you can imagine, to learning how to walk down a runway with coach Miss Jay (a black man who is, expectedly, beyond flamboyant and insane), to learning how to shill cheap Cover Girl products to high-class make-up stores like Wal-Mart. Mmhmm. A challenge winner is chosen and gets some cheap prize, usually consisting of jewelry or ugly clothes.

The second part of the episode is a photo shoot. Tyra picks out some ridiculous concept (natural disasters, "voting is sexy", underwater photography, etc) and the girls take turn practicing what they learned in their "lessons" while having this guy called Jay Manuel (another flamboyantly gay man with orange skin and silver hair, whose job has never been clearly specified) shout out useless instructions at them while they pose. The episode ends with "Panel", where each girl's best photograph is judged by Tyra Banks, Miss Jay, a bitchy british photographer called Nigel Barker and a real, former supermodel (the role has been filled by Janice Dickinson, Twiggy, and this year by Paulina Petriskova [sp]).

Panel is the best part of the entire episode. The girls are SUPPOSEDLY judged by how good their photographs are, but the guidelines for this are very blurry, and most of the time the girls are judged by something outside the photographs; their personalities (because everyone knows that what counts in modeling is how shrill and "crazy" you are in person), how bitchy they were to the photographers, or just how much Tyra Banks likes you. This is where our illustrous host shines. The show is clearly all about Tyra, and she lays down the law over who wins or who gets to go home. She gives out ridiculous advice ("smile with your eyes!" "stretch your neck!") with her insane eyes, and woe to whomever encourages the wrath of the Tyra monster. There was an epic moment a few seasons ago when Tyra exploded in fake yelling at a girl for "not being grateful" that Tyra had magnanimously put her on the show.


In the end, two girls are picked for having the worst pictures, or rather, for not being good enough for Tyra. One is kicked off the show and fades into utter obscurity. And that's the show.

With a formula this simple, it's easy for a show to get repetitive and predictable; but that's not a danger in ANTM. It's completely predictable only because we know how insane Tyra Banks is, but it can't be repetitive because the range of girls chosen is usually highly varied and the photoshoots and challenges get increasingly more insane as the seasons go by.

It's the one show you can watch that will never disappoint you. You can root for one girl or another, but you know it won't make a bit of difference how good a model the girl is, because Tyra will choose whomever will make Tyra look better. Tyra LOVES picking out "firsts", for example, the First Blonde Winner of ANTM, the First "Plus-sized" Winner (who was, hilariously, a size six), and the First Winner To Come Out of Tyra's Model Camp (that's a real thing). She loves pretending that any of this matters, while everyone around her knows that if any of these girls were really meant to be models, they wouldn't have auditioned for this show at all.

In short: you don't watch this show for the realism: you watch it because it's hilarious and insane. Judge me all you want for loving ANTM, I will keep watching as long as its on, and at least I'll know before you do that the moment has come in which Tyra Banks has decided to take over the world.

And who'll be laughing then? HA.


Oh, boy. Do I ever shut up? NAY! There's more!

OK, not really. The only other thing that's watchable to me on Wednesdays is Pushing Daisies , a quirky little show about death and love, that is sadly too formulaic and too over-the-top cutesy for me to watch regularly. It's a visually stunning show, Lee Pace is a total dreamboat and Kirsten Chenowith is hilarious, but, really, it's very twee and too saccharine for my tastes. And I know, I just spent an hour praising ANTM, but if I can't get into a show, I just can't. Besides, it doesn't seem like it'll last very long, so better to not get too attached. As with a lot of other shows, I'll watch the odd episode every now and then, but will usually lose interest halfway through. It's a procedural wrapped in very pretty paper and bows, and not something that'll hold my interest for very long.

Check it out if you like murder mysteries and quirk with a touch of dark, if that's your kind of thing. You might like it.

And that's it. Please give ANTM a chance, and remember: don't feed the models. Or Tyra Banks, because she will eat your hand, and then, THE WHOLE WORLD.

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