Television Review: Breaking Bad

Television Review:
Breaking Bad
Created by Vince Gilligan
The Complete First Season
AMC, Episodes 1-7

Shows like AMC’s surprise hit Breaking Bad beg the question, where else can television take viewers? 

Ten years ago it might seem absurd to believe that an audience would actually reserve time out of their daily grind for a show revolving around the cooking and dealing of Crystal Meth. Then again the same could be said about any number of mind boggling reality shows being churned out every year (how bout’ the short-lived 2008 dating series Farmer Wants a Wife, which is fairly self-explanatory). 

In the rapidly advancing television arena that gave viewers anti-heroes like Tony Soprano, or the testosterone fueled series Rescue Me, the mind numbingly complicated Lost, etc. etc. a show focusing on a flawed but empathetic family man cooking up meth is somehow not only tolerable but viewed as riveting dark humor. 

This is not to say there is something morally outrageous with a show revolving around a detrimental drug like meth, since one can find drama in just about any branch of life. What is most surprising about Breaking Bad is just how desensitized the modern viewer has become to the once risqué. Ten years ago meth was nothing more than scary new designer drug from the Pacific Northwest that was cheap to produce and reeked havoc on the human body and psyche. Today, besides being a creeping national epidemic, it’s the subject of an Emmy winning series on the American Movie Classics network.

The strength of Breaking Bad lies in its protagonist, Walter White (Bryan Cranson), an unassuming, average 50-year-old high school Chemistry teacher living in suburban Albuquerque. His wife Skyler (Anna Gunn of Deadwood acclaim) is pregnant with an unplanned child, his son Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) has cerebral palsy and if life couldn’t get any more complicated, White is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Cranson is the most unassuming choice for White. Prior to this series he was best known for reoccurring roles on Seinfeld as the slimy dentist Tim Whatley, and as the dopey father on the dysfunctional family sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. In Breaking Bad he remarkably morphs into a tragic character coming to grips with his upcoming demise, his run of the mill lifestyle, his past regrets and his financial obligations to his family.

His character belongs in the same family as American Beauty’s Lester Burnham, Jeff Bridges’ character in Fearless and the protagonist of Kurosawa’s masterful Ikiru. Like his cinematic brethren, White’s character has recently awakened from the slumber of his routine life and decides to risk it all, live it up, or, as the title puts it, ‘break bad’. 

After discovering the cancer plaguing his smoke-free lungs and learning about the big bucks in the meth game from his DEA brother-in-law, White seeks out help from a former student he once flunked, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). When the series pilot commences and concludes (the show’s sharp editing is worth noting) the ill-matched duo has been cooking up inside a R.V. in the middle of the desert, White is stripped-down to his everyman white underwear and he is toting a handgun as the sirens approach from the distance.

The meth lab scheme that White proposes to Pinkman is both a sign of desperation (he needs to save up a lump sum of cash for his family’s future) as well as White’s way of letting loose during his potentially final months on earth. In one of the season’s best moments White erupts in a family intervention aimed at coaxing him into chemo treatment and spells out exactly how he wants to live his life. When the show wants to be sentimental, White’s true to life cancer realities get the job done. 

White’s chemistry background remains mysterious throughout the first season. We learn that he was once a brilliant and prosperous mind at CIT but somewhere along the way strayed off this fruitful path and now lectures to detached high school students for just shy of $45K a year.  

He knows his way around the substances needed to concoct the highly potent, highly addictive pipe fodder and seems to have an unhealthy fascination with the dangers and anarchy of chemistry. As the series unfolds its clear that there is a little hell-raiser lurking behind the eyes of this average Joe. 

To this end the show is also very much a tutorial of some of the more curious outlets of basic chemistry in the same way House M.D. enlightens viewers with viruses and diseases. It’s not surprising that Breaking Bad’s most memorable moments are found in the various make-shift labs that White and Pinkman set up or when the two get creative with their scheming (a darkly comedic gross-out moment involving a corpse, hydrofluoric acid and an unstable porcelain tub is the kind of scene that will either turn viewers away or permanently suck them into the mayhem).

Despite the series’ somber storyline, Cranston brings a level of welcomed dark humor to the role. His witty banter and sarcastic outlook on his predicament pairs well with White’s underused intellect and bottled up rage towards the life he’s chosen. His interactions with the naïve Pinkman, a thugged out, wannabe player who is also in desperate need of more character development, showcase some of the show’s finest writing. Then there’s the larger than life Latino drug dealer named Tuco Salamanca (played with gleeful exuberance by veteran character actor Raymond Cruz) who gives viewers a hell of a cliffhanger during the season finale.

Breaking Bad’s first season, a meager seven episodes, is not without its flaws. A great deal of time is spent detailing the production and business side of White’s meth trade, however, little attention is reserved for the drug’s societal effects. White manages to cook up an extremely pure batch of “glass,” which according to a character can keep you high for days, however, the series fails to show the users who are filling White’s wallet. Programs like HBOs The Wire, which to be fair belongs in its own category of television series, succeed by channeling all sides of the drug war. In its first season Breaking Bad takes a timely social issue like meth abuse, brings it to suburbia but fails to show the bigger picture. For anyone privy to crystal meth’s effect on this country, it is widely known that it is hardly a petty drug.

Besides being terribly addictive (addiction is ripe for dramatic television), meth remains one of the most physically harmful drugs available, one that few are able to successfully recover from. That this side of Breaking Bad is still a mystery (after all the show’s is currently in its second season) is an aspect of the series that is fairly bothersome and irresponsible.

White is clearly throwing caution to the wind since learning of his cancer and his actions are seldom those of a completely sane man, however, through Cranston’s refined performance and the little background info available, it’s safe to say White has a good head on his shoulders. To believe that he wouldn’t concern himself with the repercussions of his highly potent meth formula–both on his family and the drug using community–is the one aspect of Breaking Bad that is a bit hard to swallow and hopefully will be developed/remedied further on down the road.

Television as a medium has come a long way since the early days of three major networks, a handful of nightly newscasts, and the occasional prudent sitcom. There was a time when the riskiest moments on TV were live prime-time disasters (Elvis Costello going against the corporate grain on Saturday Night Live), controversial episodes (Seinfeld’s notorious “Puerto Rican Day Parade” turn for example), or the Godfathers of Reality TV, Cops and America’s Most Wanted. To think that in this day and age a gripping dramatic series about a middle age man cooking up Crystal Meth would be as engrossing as your average hour-long drama is yet another indication to the endless directions writers can take television, truly rivaling that of its more revered cinematic and literary counterparts. 

Breaking Bad is as gritty and risqué–censored language, blood soaked scenes of violence and even a bit of backside male nudity–as other envelope pushing cable network series like The Shield or AMC’s other golden child, Mad Men. The acting is polished and, in the case of Cranston, very surprising. At a paltry seven episodes, the series’ first season has a few glitches to work out, hopefully in the current second season but overall it is a unique shining light of a program amid an overly saturated market of bad sitcoms and mind numbing reality offerings. 

The Best and Worst of Anthony Bourdain

It’s amazing how may people despise Anthony Bourdain. Whatever it may be–his giant ego, smug demeanor, and food snobbery–he seems to be one of the most polarizing television personalities working today. Foodies believe his culinary chops are overrated to say the least. Reality TV fans still can’t believe he helped vote off the promising young chef Dale on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and it’s safe to say Rachel Ray supporters (and there apparently are quite a few) fail to find any humor in Tony’s relentless ragging of the overly exuberant quick-meal vamp. Say what you will about the Anthony Bourdain persona, when it comes to travel shows go his series “No Reservations” is at the top of its game.

 “No Reservations” remains one of the only reasons to tune into the Travel Channel. For travel enthusiasts and globe trekkers alike, Bourdain has not only the coolest job around but also provides viewers with a different take on some of the world’s most familiar and unfamiliar destinations. Through his fascination with world history, varying cultural characteristics, and above all the culinary fabric of the world, Bourdain provides a fairly eye opening window into all corners around the globe. With the series well into its fifth season Bourdain’s had his share of successes and failures. With Tony’s raging ego aside and from a pure armchair explorer point of view, the following showcases some of Tony’s best and worst moments across the globe.

Best Destinations

1) Paris, France-It seems fitting that Bourdain chose to jumpstart “No Reservations” with a close and compassionate look at France, arguably the culinary Mecca of the world. Having years of classical French cooking training behind him Bourdain is perhaps a bit biased when it comes to the Parisian offerings presented in this episode. Still Bourdain argues that there has been a shroud of political and social negativity over France in recent years, which has made us forget just how wonderful France can be. By giving us a glimpse into the art of perfecting something as simple and pure as a baguette or embracing the hole in the wall neighborhood restaurants and cafes that give tourists a glimpse into real local cuisine, this episode is the perfect preface for the rest of the series. Bourdain’s message in a nutshell: when traveling one must put all preconceived notions aside and enjoy the many diverse cultures this world has to offer.

2) Vietnam-Bourdain calls Vietnam one of his favorite destinations. As a country with years of foreign influence in its culture and cuisine Vietnam still has a strong inner identity just waiting to be explored. Bourdain, along with a local friend and guide, tastes his way around the capital of Hanoi along with the picturesque Ha Long Bay. From the perfect bowl of Phó, a mysterious dish of porcupine to a shot of a locally made strong rice whiskey infused with fermented insects and animal carcasses, Vietnam provides viewers with all the gross out moments that audiences love while also showing the cultural importance of traditional cooking ingredients and techniques.

3) The Pacific Northwest-Bourdain has done a number of episodes on U.S. soil but none were as eye opening and unexpected as his tour through Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. Bourdain believes that the Pacific Northwest is an area concentrated with creative culinary artists who, with a bountiful selection of fresh food and resources at their disposal, are able to work their magic among fellow masters. He dines on a rare Puget Sound seafood delicacy, enjoys the tasty but insanely wrong donuts at Portland’s wild Voodoo Donuts, and finishes the episode with a look into the Batali family’s acclaimed Italian salami and sausage store. Pair this episode with Tony’s adventures in Vancouver, Canada and you get a fascinating look at one of North America’s treasured regions.

4) Korea-Here’s one of many episodes devoted to one of the underrated, yet to be discovered regions in the world. Coaxed to Seoul by one of Bourdain’s production assistants, Nori, a Korean native, Tony and crew show a side of South Korea that most people don’t realize exists. From the bustling outdoor markets serving up all kinds of curious treats to a farm in the country that specializes in the historic Korean staple condiment, Kim Chee, Bourdain finds a new favorite destination.

5) Peru-Perhaps it’s the lure of Machu Picchu, quite possibly one of the most beautiful sights in the world or maybe it’s the mystery surrounding Peru’s ancient past. Whatever it is that draws Bourdain to this small Latin American country the payoff is worth it. From the snowcapped mountains, the steamy jungles and the bustling cities. Peru seems to have it all. The examination of traditional ceviché still remains one of “No Reservations” most mouth watering onscreen moments.

Worst Episodes:

1) Romania-It’s a shame that the Romanian episode didn’t succeed in showing the true side of this ignored Eastern European country. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and the country’s unforgiving dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu Romania has been on the rise and is slowly becoming a tourist hotspot. Transylvania, the dominating Carpathian Mountains, the Iron Curtain time capsule capital of Bucharest, Romania should have made for an interesting show. Instead Bourdain, along with a heavily intoxicated Russian travel guide (also featured in the past Russia and Uzbekistan episodes) visit some of the more cliché and tourist hotspots of the country like Dracula’s Disneyesque castle attraction. Bourdain himself claims the episode went horribly wrong.

2) Las Vegas-It could be argued that Bourdain’s pseudo Gonzo tour through Las Vegas was supposed to be a tongue and cheek affair. Sent by some food magazines to cover some of Vegas’ world renowned restaurants, Bourdain and companion spend the majority of the episode showing how truly tacky the city of lights really is. While some cannot stomach watching Bourdain swallow tripe, testicles or other nasty bits it could be said that Tony scarfing down $.99 deep fried Twinkies and Oreos is an equally, if not more sordid spectacle.

3) Namibia
-This episode is famous for Bourdain’s ultimate gross-out television moment. After already dining on an omelet cooked in dirt and ash, the local tribesmen hunt and kill a wild warthog and eventually prepare Bourdain a tasty helping of grilled un-cleaned warthog anus. Even Tony can’t finish the serving. Nasties aside, this episode lacked eye-opening sights and was only aired once on the U.S. airwaves.

4) Uruguay– One of the most recent episodes to air is also one of the least compelling to watch. This edition introduces Tony’s quiet brother to the show as they head to Uruguay to retrace a distant family history. Sure the Latin American country is given a proper run through but unlike past successful episodes in Argentina, Colombia and Brazil, this small supposedly overlooked country remains just that for a reason. Oh and the brothers Bourdain come away empty handed in regards to retracing their family heritage.

5) Into the Fire NYC-This was a special episode devoted entirely to seeing if Tony still has what it takes to work the line at his own New York restaurant Les Halles. Put in front of the stove for the dreaded weekday double shift this episode only adds fuel to the fire poked by foodies who question Bourdain’s credentials. In the end we realize that the life of a TV travel host has taken the high-octane, in the zone cooking chops out of Tony’s blood. 

Travel Channel In Need of Programming Change

(Taken from an article written for

The Travel Channel is one of Cable’s niche networks. Like its companions The Food Network, The History Channel, or even something like Court TV, Travel is aimed at a specific demographic–in this case those interested in exploring the globe. Like travel literature or periodicals like Outdoor Magazine, The Travel Channel is just another fix for those in the mood for some armchair traveling. Since its inception in 1987 it has produced a handful of stellar programs and introduced the world to televised poker (hard to say if this was a net positive), still twenty years later the network seems to be lacking in quality.

To be fair, like most cable networks The Travel Channel has to tackle the obstacle of providing programming for nearly 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Half the time the network falls on its own glut of original documentaries with titles such as, “Steak Paradise,” “Extreme Water parks,” “UFOs over Illinois,” “21 Sexiest Beaches,” “All You Can Eat Paradise,” and, well, you get the picture. The remaining time is spent airing and re-airing its staple series, the majority of which are overly produced fluff. There’s Samantha Brown, the overly exuberant host of such tame travel shows like “Samantha Brown’s Passport to Great Weekends,” “Passport to Europe” and “Samantha Brown’s Disney Favorites”, who is to the Travel Channel what the fluffy Sandra Lee is to The Food Network’s show, “Semi-Homemade Cooking.” Both show the lighter and easier side of their trade and both have about as much emotional charisma as cardboard.

 “Cash and Treasures” attempts to show viewers where to find booty in their backyards, however, the chances of said viewers actually leaving the couch and picking up the shovel are slim.

This year The Travel Channel introduced “America The Wright Way,” a short-lived series (currently in hiatus) following British TV traveling guru Ian Wright around the U.S. Wright, a veteran of the Mecca of all travel programs, BBC’s “Globe Trekker,” has a wining personality when taken in small doses. Here the Travel Channel execs seemed to have turned this well respected traveler into a clichéd caricature of the English.

“Most Haunted” is just one of many Travel Channel programs still clinging to the notion that viewers still want to watch so-called “officials” hunt ghosts and other paranormal activity. Spooky reality TV, which begs the question “are you a believer,” may have some fooled (after all the show is currently in its tenth season) but in reality is nothing more than sensationalist television about eerie buildings filmed in night vision.

Finally there is that “Bizarre Foods” guy, Andrew Zimmern, quite possibly the worst television personality out there. Zimmern somehow managed to get lucky in terms of ratings because people apparently can’t get enough watching another man eat foods unfamiliar to cautious Americans. His show came on the heel of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” (who I will spend the remainder of this column discussing) and serves as a more extreme extension of seeking out the less desirable food groups that the majority of the planet eats daily. The problem with Zimmern isn’t so much the food (considering the Western world is a bit spoiled when it comes to what we consume) but rather his methods of delivery. Rather than simply describe the dishes like a normal person Zimmern insists on adding his own ridiculous commentary no hesitating to reiterate what bizarre bit he’s about to dine on. During a recent excursion to Beijing while chowing down on a deer’s nether regions Zimmern joyfully exclaims, “the penis is extremely chewy, very chewy,” most likely a television sound bite first.

While The Travel Channel seems to have struck out more in recent years there have been some successes. Global adventurer Jeff Corwin is the go-to man for all things Alaska and American West related and continues to provide informative windows into the unwavering natural beauty of the United States.

For those curious about the way things work, ex-“Cheers” cast member John Ratzenberger hosts “Made in America,” a quick 30-minute show chronicling how various everyday things are produced in this country. Ratzenberger’s is truly a niche program but fascinating nonetheless. 

 Arguably The Travel Channel’s best move in recent years was wooing Anthony Bourdain away from the Food Network in 2005 and giving him “No Reservations,” the networks one truly brilliant series.

The allure of Bourdain has always been his knack for the English language. Sure he’s a chef and food enthusiast first and foremost, but deep down he’s also a writer and to some extent a want-to-be poet of the culinary world. “No Reservations” combines his witty and unique way of looking at global cultural and culinary wonders with a determination to travel on and off the beaten path.

He’s covered places as remote and misunderstood as Uzbekistan, to more lively and well-known destinations, such as New York or Paris, always showing that despite borders and distances there is a global appreciation of food in its many varieties. While some consider Bourdain overly cocky or completely overrated with devout foodies labeling him a sell-out, his show is highly unique, always informative and eye opening, and currently the only reason to watch the Travel Channel. With the new season currently underway Bourdain has already taken viewers to the mysterious Southeast Asian country of Laos, a misunderstood Saudi Arabia and Colombia, and most recently to Tokyo, a culinary capital of the world, according to Bourdain.

The Travel Channel is in desperate need for a complete overhaul and a new lineup of programs. The world is a big place and there are so many opportunities to provide audiences with a window into what’s out there. Until the network unleashes its next hit we’ll have Bourdain and the many reruns of “No Reservations” to fall back on.



Surviving Survivalist Television

(Story originally written for

At the age of 23 Bear Grylls was the youngest climber ever to ascend the summit at Mount Everest. Recently Bear drank his own urine for the amusement of thousands of television viewers. In 2000 Grylls traveled around the island of the United Kingdom on a jet ski. While filming in the African savannah Bear took a hearty bite out of a recently deceased zebra. In 2003 he led the first-ever unassisted crossing of the North Atlantic Arctic Ocean by boat. This past fall Bear skinned and disemboweled a camel then used the empty carcass for shelter.

Bear Grylls is without a doubt a self-professed adventurer. He’s also the host of Discovery Channel’s extreme survival show, “Man vs. Wild.” You can judge for yourself which of the feats mentioned above encompass Bear the accomplished outdoorsmen or Bear the over-the-top TV personality.

Then there is Les Stroud, the more refined Canadian super outdoorsman and host of Discovery’s other hit survivalist series, “Survivorman.” Stroud is less concerned with the flashiness of reality television, choosing technique and survival tactics over sensationalism. In terms of popularity, Bear’s got him beat. Let’s face it, we’re a culture obsessed with over the top drama.


To be fair both survivalist series are very similar in their intentions – send a man off into the wild solo and learn about the various survival techniques needed to brave the elements. The shows are highly informative, even though the chances of the average viewer being forced to climb inside a dead camel are about as slim as said viewer even seeing a camel outside of the comforts of a zoo. Then again, television has always been an escapist medium.

So which show is the more realistic? Which show is worth the viewers 45 minutes? To answer this question one must question what they look for in a television show of this nature?

For the true adventurers, “Survivorman” is hands down the most authentic look at what it takes to survive in a multitude of different scenarios. Stroud walks viewers through the basics like finding potable water, making fire, staying warm, hunting and gathering food where you would least expect it, etc. Each episode is based off an entirely plausible scenario of being stuck in the wild (canoeing accident, lost in forest, broken down vehicle, even an impressive episode where Stroud is on a raft in the middle of the ocean). To top it off Stroud is alone for a whole seven days without a camera crew (a luxury Bear so controversially benefits from). Despite this arguably more impressive setup, the restless viewer might find Stroud’s no thrills how-to lessons to be a bit trite.

Grylls falls at the other end of the spectrum – action, suspense, and the gross out element. Almost every episode of “Man Vs. Wild” begins with Bear doing a back flip of sorts from a plane or helicopter into his newest destination (seriously, even during a scene as simple as jumping six feet from a tree branch into a marsh, Bear finds it necessary to wow viewers with his acrobatics).

Man vs. Wild

Bear’s stern British narration voice makes even the simplest of feats seem to be life threatening. Above all, when this man takes on the wild he seems destined to look for the most extreme ways of surviving, rather than the simplest or safest methods. Sure, while you could technically spear a salmon and eat it while it’s still alive (as our Bear so fittingly does in an episode braving Alaska) why not just wait till it’s dead?

In one episode of “Survivorman” in which Stroud is stuck in a Georgia swamp, he shows viewers an old Native American technique for catching fish and frogs in a makeshift water corral trap. Whereas Bear Grylls seems solely concerned with putting his body through excruciating unpleasantness for the pleasure of the television audience, Stroud is more focused with informing us about the many survival techniques out there and the history of his given environment.

With a name as blatantly over-the-top as Bear Grylls it’s no wonder that the self-proclaimed survivalist/thrill seeker’s show has higher ratings. An extreme sounding name such as Bear or the even more ridiculous, Dog the Bounty Hunter is ripe for sensationalist reality TV, which is what the average viewer yearns for.

Television viewers these days enjoy watching people eat horrible things or live out excruciating situations from the safety of the living room. “Survivorman,” which was created before “Man Vs. Wild,” is currently on a hiatus from TV with a third season possibly in the works. “Man Vs. Wild” is still going strong, proving that no matter what ratings always prevail in the television arena. While “Survivorman” is without a doubt the superior program when it comes to the authenticity, Bear’s on-screen personality will always garner the most viewers and nails the entertainment draw of survival television.

A Healthy Serving of Reality

It’s hard to say when reality television officially transformed from merely a fad to a staple element of American television. Maybe it was when MTV launched its first Real World. Perhaps it came later with the success of Survivor and the many spin-offs that soon followed. American Idol certainly changed not only the television landscape but also the music industry but then again isn’t Idol nothing more than a flashier version of the Americana classic, American Bandstand

There was a time when I believed that the surge of “reality” programming that was sweeping all networks (I mean, even Animal Planet has a reality show starring a family of Meerkats), was nothing more than a craze that would eventually die down. Instead it’s become very hard to ignore. Much to my dismay I have officially become addicted a to a reality show and while it pains me to say it, I’m rather enjoying it.

I don’t know how it happened but I’m officially hooked on the gastronomic gala that is Top Chef. I’m not sure what drew me to this show. Perhaps it’s the fact that this season was filmed here in Chicago a features some local culinary personalities. Maybe I was desperately searching for something, anything to fill the void left by the recent culmination of HBOs The Wire, one of few shows that I actually watched religiously. Whatever it may be, I’m officially hooked and the side of me that once bashed all things reality is taking a break.

Okay, to be fair I still think the majority of reality TV is trash. Call me a hypocrite but despite my newfound pleasure in Top Chef there’s no denying some of concentrated crap that somehow makes it onto the air. I’ll never understand the allure of watching a has-been rap personality try to find love via a crew of crazy, fame seeking common whores (Flavor of Love), or a show based solely around the concept of Donald Trump saying, “You’re fired” (The Apprentice). 

I believe Bravo’s Top Chef is one of many niche reality shows out there and by that I mean it has a target audience. While the show is accessible to anyone clearly it is aimed at foodies, people in the industry and those who just like watching food cooked on TV (why else does the Food Network work so well?). Sure it’s over the top at times and it plays up the bickering and overly dramatic level of competition between total strangers but at its core isn’t it also a window into the lives of aspiring chefs crafting their art. 

Perhaps this explanation is nothing more than my justification for getting sucked into a reality show. Still I can’t help but think that whereas a show like The Real World or pretty much damn near everything on MTV or VH1 focuses on everything but real life people and situations, a show like Top Chef features people competing with an actual creative craft. If you look past the fighting and yelling between contestants or the cold and unremorseful lineup of judges the show is actually an interesting look into what goes into modern cuisine.

ImageThis past episode of Top Cheffeatured an eruption of bottled-up discontent from a couple of contestants following a cooking challenge. People were yelling, feelings were hurt, spatulas were flying, okay maybe not the spatulas. The sad part was as much as I hated watching the bs bickering I couldn’t look away. 

It seems like this is the biggest draw for reality TV. We as viewer enjoy watching people get mentally and physically abused. The sick side of us enjoys watching people get into fights (the Spike TV network may very well be based on this fascination–now the official home of shows beginning with the phrase, World’s Deadliest________). We enjoy the in-your face showdowns between strangers. It’s why The Jerry Springer Show remains one of the most watched shows or why viewers can’t help but root for the raging cutthroat bitch on a show like The ApprenticeIn the past people would blame violence on television and movies for hurting the national psyche but what about our obsession with watching people bicker and humiliate each other on national TV?  In any other setting someone like Simon Cowell from American Idol would be nothing more than an asshole or wanker on his native soil but behind the judge’s table he’s a star.

Above all though the biggest problem with “reality television” is it focuses on anything but reality. A show like Big & Rob, which my roommate was watching not too long ago, focuses on the life of a celebrity who is living in anything but reality (millionaire skateboarder blowing through his money in a West coast mansion). Shouldn’t true reality television be rooted in reality? 

Lately I’ve been drawn to The Travel or Discovery Channels, which both feature an eclectic lineup of programs that serve as windows into the rest of the world via the food, culture, sights, sounds, you name it. PBS had a reality show based on history highlighting how people lived on the American frontier. Alas these are niche programs whereas the majority of people would rather watch a bounty hunter named Dog tackle and taser a bunch of Hawaiian petty criminals. The Real World once had a show set in Las Vegas quite possibly the most surreal city in America. Even the major news media houses have become havens for pundit manipulation and hidden political agendas, giving the public a heavy dose of distorted reality.

Maybe true reality is just too boring or too depressing to soak in. Reality is working a 9-5 job. Reality is deciding between the many yogurts with fruit on the bottom at the grocery store. Reality is watching my cat figure out the best way to kill and dismember a roll of toilet paper. Reality is watching the disaster in the Middle East continue to unfold. Reality is deciding who will next lead this country. Reality is, oh hold that thought, the Top Chef judges are about to unleash all hell on a guy who cooked an extravagant but soggy corn dog!