I'll be the judge of that.

Reality TV Report – Bachelor, Vanderpump, Housewives (Winter 2015-16)

It’s time to face reality.

The Bachelor (ABC)

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This season of the most talked-about reality show on TV is off to a slow start. Following Kaitlyn Bristowe’s mostly unfortunate (albeit entertaining) season of anarchy and overblown slut-shaming, and not to mention the hellish emotional brutality of Bachelor in Paradise, ABC’s producers seem to have backpedaled and chosen a very safe option with niceguy Ben Higgins.

At least so far, I’ve had some trouble getting fully pumped up for this show. Something about this crop of women strikes me as particularly full of crap, and Ben’s behavior has been conservative, wooden, and unnecessarily doe-eyed.

The upside of Ben’s heretofore saintly behavior is that it won’t last for long. He’s in for a rude awakening once he starts really having to send some of these women packing. Soon, his kind, sensitive routine will morph, with insidious retroactivity, into an unintended pattern of “he led her on.” Then, maybe we’ll see some real human emotion out of these people.

As for individuals, Lace and Olivia are the most interesting, if only because they’ve already succeeded in winning everyone’s hatred. Amanda is adorable, and seems genuine. I’m not sure what to make of Caila’s early momentum. Call me moronic, but I really enjoy the twins. It’s particularly fascinating to see them go so quickly from gimmicky ham duo to emotionally invested individuals. Amber should be on her way out (back to Paradise for her), and meanwhile Becca continues to haunt the background with her slow-and-steady strategy.

I’m less than psyched, but sufficiently interested to see where this is going. After all, what else am I going to talk about with coworkers? The weather? Um, no. Bachelor.

 

 

Vanderpump Rules (Bravo)

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Still the best show on television, this RHOBH spinoff is already solidly mid-season through its fourth year. Following the Stassi-Jax split of seasons 1-2, and the Kristen-Sandoval feud of season 3, this newest season has a very different feel.

It started out very strong as we watched Kristen’s boytoy relationship with James deteriorate precipitously, and with it, so too went all identifiable markers of basic humanity in James. Scheana’s trouble with her husband Shay was a bit pathetic to watch, but telling insofar as everyone on the show blamed his drug addiction and general loserliness on Scheana—“she is actually pretty annoying,” everyone seemed to concede. Shay got a sorely undeserved free pass.

The goofball subplot involving the two Toms “going into business” with Lisa was a hit, and Schwartz’s long-awaited proposal to Katie was legitimately heartwarming.

Newcomer Lala has been a disappointment so far. Based on her early willingness to lie directly to Lisa’s face about her “modeling” job in Italy, she seemed to have the Stassi-like courage to stake an aggressive claim on the SUR spotlight. But after Katie and Scheana bullied her a little, she seems to have slumped into a safe, boring autopilot as she carelessly flirts with James and Jax simultaneously. If she’s happy to spend this season playing the mother-object in the vaguely oedipal triangle between Jax (the entrenched “primal father” douchebag) and James (the usurping “murderous son” douchebag), then that’s OK with me. The impending showdown between Jax and James is more than enough for me.

Things may have changed, but the two most interesting characters are still Kristen and Jax. Unbelievably, both seem to have effected substantial personal change since the last season. After gaining our sympathy via James’s cruelty, Kristen successfully humbled herself and switched places with Ariana to convert her into the grumpy, stubborn, insecure villain-girl.

Meanwhile, despite empty flirtations with Lala, Jax appears to be in denial that he is in a mature, monogamous relationship with a sweet Kentucky girl named Brittany. But what’s interesting about denial is that to be “in denial” about some thing itself implies that the thing is, in fact, a reality. In other words, Jax is flirting with Lala and refusing to acknowledge that he is in a mature, monogamous relationship with Brittany precisely because he really is in a mature, monogamous relationship with Brittany.

Maybe I’m speaking too soon?

 

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)

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I’m losing touch with this show. Brandi and Kim Richards were two of the most complex and fascinating subjects ever featured in any Bravo show to date, and they’re both almost entirely gone from the show. The basic necessity and propriety behind each woman’s departure is a complicated topic well beyond the scope of this post, but the fact remains that the show itself is a lot more boring and shallow without them.

The only remotely interesting storyline concerns Yolanda’s poor physical health, and, seemingly even more severe, her deepening depression. Rinna is already out pushing a creepily duplicative “medical hoax” narrative of the kind we just saw in Orange County, continuing on with her self-appointed role of sticking her nose in other peoples’ business and dangerously vilifying women with legitimate emotional issues (first Kim, now Yolanda).

Meanwhile, the women zip around in sports cars and play with cute mutant animals, but dearly missing from the show is real experience, real drama: the human depth of Kyle screaming at Kim in the back of a limousine, the emotional urgency of Taylor’s marital sufferings, and the chilly Machiavellian realpolitik of Lisa Vanderpump’s past conflicts with Cedric, Adrienne, Kyle, and Brandi.

All of that is gone. Instead, the new face of this show is Rinna, hawking her wares on QVC while she does the same thing to our faces in confessionals. For some viewers it’s a welcome shift, but not for me.

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter, including why I’m wrong about the above or what other reality TV I need to be watching now.

 

http://syvology.com – “I’ll be the judge of that.”

 

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