Sunday, December 10, 2006

Naughty or nice?

It's time to make a year-in-review list and check it twice, to find out who's been naughty and nice in the world of entertainment.


Borat: I laughed a lot, I admit. But I cringed a lot more. He's making a whole lot of money off innocent people he's duped, including dirt-poor villagers in Romania. I can laugh guilt-free at the boors and racists, but many of those he encountered were open-minded and gracious to him, and were rewarded with ridicule. The woman who taught him how to use a toilet at the dinner party should be sainted. And then she should give him a swirlie.

The Emmys: It's too strong to say that TV's preeminent awards are slipping into irrelevance, but each head-scratching year that rewards mediocrity and snubs the actual best shows and performers on television brings them closer to being a broadcast of just another bunch of pretty people in pretty clothes.

FOX: Despite being the home of quality shows like House and 24, they more than regressed back to their days of trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, only they misjudged how low is too low. The sleazy, cynical premise of the OJ Simpson special, If I Did It - and not the public outcry - should have been their first clue that the project should never have gotten off the ground.

CBC: Canada's public broadcaster makes shows I want to see, like Intelligence and The Rick Mercer Report, and some I really, really don't, like Rumours, and doesn't do a very good job of letting me know about the existence of any of them even though I run a website that tries to promote Canadian TV. And they scheduled Intelligence against House, which also happens to be a top five show here in Canada. And Executive Vice-President Richard Stursberg set the network up for failure by publicly stating the ridiculous target of a million viewers per show, which none of their regular series have managed to achieve.

TV's regulatory bodies: The alphabet soup of the FCC in the US and the CRTC in Canada have a mandate to protect the public interest in the use of our airwaves. What does that mean? For the FCC, protecting us from so-called smut at the urging of organized complainants who don't represent the majority of viewers, and with a system of regulations that make little sense. For the CRTC, it seems to mean protecting the Canadian broadcasters from the inconvenience of doing too much more than providing us with shows we can already get on our American channels and burying our own cultural product.


House: I wasn't thrilled with the leg’s-fixed-oh-no-it’s-not storyline, or the way the Tritter storyline has been playing out lately. But House is still my one TV obsession. I complain, I criticize, I adore. Star Hugh Laurie and creator David Shore lead the magic makers who take a cantankerous doctor and witty scripts and turn them into insights into character and ethics.

NBC: The peacock ordered full seasons of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Friday Night Lights despite ratings that wouldn't have justified their existence at another major network. I don't watch Friday Night Lights, but it's a worthy show with devoted fans. Studio 60 goes into the Christmas season on a high note creatively, if not in ratings - and though Danny's speech to Jordan was probably grounds for a restraining order rather than breathtakingly romantic, I choose to get sucked into the romance.

Little Miss Sunshine and Thank You For Smoking: These two hysterically funny, cleverly thoughtful independent films revived my interest in movies this year after a long dry spell, and served as entertaining exposes on beauty pageants and the tobacco industry without clobbering us with a moral.

Anne Tyler: Our era's Jane Austen regularly pumps out consistently fine novels, including this year's Digging to America. Her prose is deceptively simple and profoundly beautiful, and delves into the inner lives of characters who could be friends, neighbours, family, self.

Nerds: Ugly Betty's Betty Suarez proves that brains are beautiful, even hidden behind a monobrow and the fashion sense of an exploded laundry basket. Hiro the hero of Heroes comes from a show I don't watch, but I'm still thrilled he's the sweet star getting all the attention in an ensemble drama, and not because of his ripped abs or chiseled features. The two freshmen series have captured audiences with style, even if their breakout nerds have none.