I Like to Watch

This week's tweaked TV featured metrosexuals, matchmakers, and Jen and Brad decorating tips. Plus: The devastating finale of the mind-melting "Paradise Hotel"!


Heather Havrilesky
October 3, 2003 12:00AM (UTC)

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw Silverstones

Remember when Alicia Silverstone was heralded as the It Girl to end all It Girls, and then she got her own production company, made some bad movies and promptly disappeared? Well, she's come back to the matchmaker role that put her on the map with "Miss Match," NBC's hour-long dramedy that looks like an unholy hybrid of "Clueless," "Ally McBeal" and "Legally Blonde."

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"Victoria, I'm a divorce lawyer. An ass-kicker. People can't think of me as some ... romantic softie!"

You get the idea. Silverstone's character, Kate, is a divorce lawyer with a cutthroat lawyer father, a lounge-singing mother, some quirky McBealesque friends and a wet-noodle boyfriend whom she's clearly going to dump by the end of the episode and ... yep, there she is, dumping him.

The real question is, will "Miss Match" get dumped before the end of the season? Probably, unless "Clueless" screenwriter Amy Heckerling joins the staff.

Make new friends and ditch the old

Haven't you missed your "Friends" since last spring? I sure have. What happened last spring again? Joey knelt to pick up a diamond ring and Rachel thought he was proposing? Ross had a misunderstanding and almost married the wrong person again? Monica had a bad hair day, then got weirdly uptight about something small and burned the onion tartlets?

Luckily, I got to see my dearest Friend Jennifer Aniston again just about a month ago, when she appeared as the first guest on Ellen DeGeneres' new talk show, appropriately named "The Ellen Show." First the two goofed around, then Ellen got down to business and started asking hard-hitting questions, like whether or not Jennifer and Brad have the same taste in carpeting. Jennifer explained that they didn't, a little fact that lent their current redecorating project an urgency and desperation that called to mind "The Raft of the Medusa." Eventually, though, Jen managed to be philosophical about the situation.

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Jennifer: "You know what? I really do believe, if you can live through remodeling a home, you can live for the rest of your lives together."

Ellen: "It's true. That's the most stressful thing."

Jennifer (to audience): "It's hard. It's hard."

Loud applause.

Yeah, redecorating can really rip your marriage to shreds. That, and unmanageable debt, alcoholism, infertility ... But nothing's really worse than that moment when Brad's unpacking his 10-foot-tall "Scarface" poster and propping it in the middle of the living room, where you thought you distinctly stated that the color palette included only pale blue and chocolate brown.

Is it any wonder that "Friends" is starting to feel a little weighed down by the weight of its own history and larger-than-life personalities? Last Thursday's premiere was good and everything -- "Friends" is never really bad, truth be told -- but do we actually buy Rachel and Joey together? The two looked about as excited to kiss each other as two squabbling siblings with their arms around each other in a Sears portrait. Ross' story lines are never remotely interesting, and Monica and Chandler have been doing the same uptight/snide routine for years now.

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How many years? I can't remotely remember, but when I think about the fact that this is the show's last season, I feel a mixture of sadness and dread. Attached to "Friends" as we might be, imagining the endless interviews and retrospectives and sappy shit that's in store for us this year induces dizziness and suicidal ideation in one out of every five viewers. As Jennifer told Ellen, "It's gonna be hard to end 10 years of this show. You know, maybe it should just ... You think that the last show is gonna air, and it just doesn't." Put that woman in charge of the network!

Gimme a piece of that metrosexual pie!

"Will & Grace" wins the prize. You heard it here first. OK, you probably heard it elsewhere first, or decided it all by yourself. Nah, you wouldn't do that to me. Anyway, "Will & Grace" is easily one of the best sitcoms on TV. But you knew that already. Stop thinking on your own, damn it!

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Those who wander by "Will & Grace" occasionally on their way to some other, far more important high-quality programming, like "CSI" or "Extreme Makeover," might have the impression that the show is just an endless progression of sight gags, incredibly cruel jokes and gay innuendo. But those aren't the only reasons to watch. Karen (Megan Mullally) and Jack (Sean Hayes) are easily the best sitcom characters around, and Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) get more entertaining every season. Rosario (Shelley Morrison) tends to make any scene she's in hilarious, most notably last season's finale, in which she (or, more likely, a stunt double) did an impressive swan dive off the back of a yacht to save Karen from drowning. Hell, even Harry Connick Jr. is great on this show.

So why doesn't anyone seem to care? Ratings are solid, but the show doesn't seem to garner the same kind of attention that other really great sitcoms have. Maybe there's some kind of a backlash against "Will & Grace" among metrosexuals who don't want to seem quite so metrosexual, so they're no longer using Kiehl's aftershave or growing little square plates of wheat grass on their living room tables or laughing at jokes told by witty gay men. Well, go ahead and ditch the mango body butter, but don't neglect to give this excellent show a little face time. Do it while you've got white strips on your teeth, I don't care. Just pay attention. See how the writing is clever and weird and truly creative? See how each scene has a great pace and bounce to it?

In last week's premiere, Jack and Will's scenes, in particular, were incredibly well choreographed. Their jokes spewed out at such a rapid clip, while remaining totally understandable, and their movements and over-the-top expressions were perfectly timed and just a little bit tweaked on top of that. I can't figure out how each scene can feel so electric and alive, when so many other sitcoms are populated by zombies haunted by canned laughter.

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And I love the blocking on this show, the way the cast's movements never seem forced. I love the way transitions from jokes to serious moments back to jokes never feel awkward. "How do you do that? How do you tell someone that you have kind of a history with that you're just not interested in them romantically?" Will wonders out loud. After a pause, he murmurs, "I guess I could start with a plate of soft cheeses..." The acting is both theatrical and natural; the scenarios are simultaneously absurd and believable. Most of all, the show has such a great dynamic range, with the actors shouting, whining, whispering, hitting every mark with flair and energy.

I swear, these people are always in the zone, and I can't figure out how they do it.

The Running Man runs and runs and runs

But let's not try now, OK? Instead, let's just whine about the pathetic situation unfolding in California, where, in something out of a futuristic sci-fi nightmare, the current leader of the state is about to be forced out of office by an angry mob led by square-jawed mutant Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Our only hope was that Obi-Wan Kenobi might appear and set things straight by cutting a wide swath through the mob with his light saber. Our only other hope was that last Wednesday's debate might have given the other candidates a chance to stop Schwarzy from playing Kindergarten Cop to the dimwitted masses.

Sadly, Tom McClintock, Peter Camejo, Arianna Huffington, and Cruz Bustamante didn't stand a chance against the slogan-hurling behemoth. While Bustamante played the soft-hearted liberal violin and Huffington made the serious error of appearing intelligent, well-informed and dedicated to progressive approaches to old problems, all Ahnold had to do was throw out an assortment of rebellious-sounding one-liners and insults simple enough for an intelligent dog to understand.

"We are med as hell, and we are nut going to take it anymore!"

"This is all trickery, just like the budget vas trickery!"

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(To Arianna) "You personal income tax hef the biggest loophole, I can drive my Hummer through it, that's how big the loophole is."

"They go out and go tax, tax, tax. You guys hef an addiction problem, you should go to an addiction place!"

"Where are the jobs? Gone, gone, gone."

(To Arianna) "Maybe a little bit more decaf!"

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Yeah! What he said! Tax, tax, tax! Jobs gone gone! More decaf!

Predictably enough, by a few days later, the Barbarian had a lock on the election and Huffington left the race. It's comforting to know that the thug who yells the loudest wins it all.

Drunk assholes check in, but they don't check out

And on that note, we come to the real story of the week, the finale of that exalted pillar of dramedy, "Paradise Hotel." The suspense was thicker than Toni's biceps as my demented cronies and I threw back cold beers to calm our nerves while the opening strains of that touchingly cheesy theme song played and those lip-glossy smiles flashed across my screen. Would the last Originals standing, Scott and Holly, win "the ultimate prize"? Or would Team Barbie's Charla and Dave or Keith and Tara take home the reward -- that is, if it turned out to be something you could take home.

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Maybe it wasn't money, we thought. Maybe "the ultimate prize" was one more week in paradise! Or maybe "the ultimate prize" was a gift bag from L'Oréal, and a really big chocolate chip cookie that said "Congrats Paradise Hotel Winners!" on it.

Things started off nicely when Scott and Holly were sent packing, and Keith and Tara served up their special brand of soft porn just by lounging around, being themselves and looking ridiculously good together. These two should have their own show -- I would watch "Keith and Tara Hotel" in a heartbeat.

Charla, on the other hand, was acting shady straight out of the gate, accusing Dave of dissing her friends Keith and Tara when in fact Dave did nothing of the sort. The emergence of Dave as the fall guy makes no sense to me at all, in fact, since he did nothing wrong and actually got to know most of those redheaded stepchildren while the other Barbies kept to themselves.

Once Charla was done rolling her eyes and pouting, Toni and the others returned to paradise once again to vote for a winner and behave like little babies for the cameras one last time. Scott was probably the biggest disappointment, freaking out over Keith's obvious choice to keep Dave and Charla in the game, but bigger disappointments were right around the corner. First, each of the finalists gave a speech, and Golden Keith, who I'm convinced should try his luck in New Hampshire, made everyone assembled -- even Zack -- weep openly.

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But next, another twist! Dave and Keith were asked to switch places, so that the guests had to vote for either Dave and Tara or Keith and Charla. Naturally, they chose Keith and Charla, which made sense and was both surprising and satisfying. They won half a million dollars, too, which can buy you a lot of really big chocolate chip cookies.

It might have ended there, if the evil geniuses behind this brilliant show could control themselves or take their medication as directed. Instead, there was yet another twist. Our lovely hostess informed the winners that they had a choice: Each of them could keep $250,000, or they could split it with their partner.

Whoa! But they'll both do the right thing, won't they? Of course they will!

So Keith and Charla were given 30 minutes alone to think over their decisions. Knock, knock. Here's Toni to wreak more havoc in persuading Charla not to give the money to Dave. "Charla won't cave!" one of the goons yelled. "Dave got her this far!" Knock, knock. Here's Alex to try to convince Keith not to give the money to Tara.

"Like Keith's gonna listen to that loser! Send Andon in there while you're at it!"

"Yeah, Andon is the William Zabka of 'Paradise Hotel'!"

Next think you know, Keith is giving half of his money to Tara, securing his place in the firmament, and Charla, heretofore to be referred to as That Whore, keeps all the money for herself!

What the hell?

Charla, we hardly knew ye. How in the world did Dave come out empty-handed like that?

The rest of the night was spent yelling at the TV screen and each other over what a freakish loser Charla was to spoil everything, but let's face it: We goons take our "Drunk Asshole Hotel" way too seriously, maybe even a little bit more seriously than the people who actually appeared on the show. So what does that say about us?

That we're shameless. Which is also why we don't care that you think so.

God, I can't wait for next season.


Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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