I Like to Watch

Napping to the Tour de France, lapping up celebrity perks on HBO's "Entourage" and slapping up "The Real World's" Frankie. Plus: "The Jury" is dismissed.


Heather Havrilesky
July 13, 2004 12:00AM (UTC)

Comrades and friendship
What is it about the Outdoor Life Network's broadcast of the Tour de France that lulls me so gently to sleep? Is it the low-key friendliness and leisurely pace of OLN's coverage? Is it the lazy rain, dripping across the camera lens? Is it the lush green countryside of France, hypnotically speeding by?

Or is it the fact that, after about 15 minutes of worrying about an accident every time those ectomorphs zip around a corner at top speed, I'm forced to disengage my emotions entirely? Might it be the demonic, pained faces of the riders, which make me think I'm asleep and having a nightmare? Or could it be the languidly homoerotic undertones of the commentary by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, who repeatedly refer to the riders as "boys"?

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Maybe this is the sweet sleep that comes while you're waiting for history to happen. Maybe when you glue your eyes to the screen, determined to see the big events as they occur rather than catching them in a highlight reel on Sportscenter, a lethargy inevitably creeps in. After all, in this age of sweetened, condensed post-production magic, who has the patience for real-time coverage anymore? As when an organic farmer visits a Taco Bell drive-thru, instant gratification eventually wins out over the purest intentions.

I do hope Lance wins it all one more time, whether I'm asleep when it happens or not. But even if he can't make history with a sixth win, at least he's Armstrong enough to be Sheryl Crowe's man.

"I have a pace, I cannot slow, I ride through rain, through sleet or snow, So try and beat me if you can, Yes, I'm Armstrong enough to be her man."

Hung jury
After disappointing ratings, Fox has stopped production on "The Jury" (Fridays at 9 p.m.) after just 10 episodes. The unique courtroom drama created by "Homicide" team Tom Fontana, James Yoshimura and Barry Levinson has failed to attract much of an audience since it premiered a month ago. While the premise was certainly unique -- a courtroom drama presented from the jury's perspective -- introducing a new set of jurors each episode made for some pretty silly dialogue.

Juror No. 1: The guy says to the D.A., "The gun couldn't fire accidentally." Then says, "Yes, it could" to the defense attorney.

Juror No. 2: He's an expert.

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Juror No. 1: My wife was diagnosed by three different experts. She died anyway. (Heavy pause.) There's no way to be sure that Carlos fired the gun intentionally.

Well, ain't that a corker!

Unlike real human beings, the bright-eyed, compulsively confessional denizens of "The Jury" spout such melodramatic and revealing tidbits at every turn that the whole show feels downright fantastical.

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What's even more fanciful, though, is the fact that most of the jurors on the show are reasonably sensitive, intelligent adults who pay close attention to the facts of the case instead of, say, picking at their hangnails or counting the minutes until the next cigarette break. In my experience, there are exactly three passionate, convincing members of any jury, and those three people spend hours debating the case while the rest of the group points to one of the three and says "What she said" or "I agree with him" until it's time to vote.

Sadly, our criminal justice system is based on the ability of our citizens to use basic logic and reasoning skills to come to a conclusion about an individual's guilt, and this gives the average suspect a damn slim chance of a fair trial. The truth is, most of us follow our emotions in tiny circles like dogs chasing their own tails. Logic is utterly lost on us. Like the rockers in "Spinal Tap," most jurors make arguments that are pure nonsense. "But this one goes to 11, damn it!"

What I'd like to see on TV is a real trial like the ones featured on NBC's "Crime and Punishment" -- well, maybe just the highlights -- with actual jurors processing the case behind the scenes. Of course, if people could see the utterly irrational way most cases are decided, they'd lose what little faith they might've had in our justice system.

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Maybe we should just stick to reruns of "JAG" instead.

Insane clown posse
Whenever I lose my faith in some cherished concept or institution, I handle my disillusionment by whining about it to anyone who'll listen. "Too bad you're not rich and famous," my friends say shortly before hanging up on me, "or you could buy a Bentley and sleep with some hot teenagers instead of wasting my time with your endless complaining."

HBO's "Entourage" (Sundays at 10 p.m.) demonstrates the multitude of options celebrities and their closest friends have in battling bouts of disappointment and existential angst. While bad news, harsh criticism and sudden breakups might leave the rest of us reeling, threatening the few friendships we have left, the fabulous class can merely invite a gaggle of pretty girls over for a late-night pool party, or fly to Vegas with 10 to 12 of their closest friends.

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Based partially on executive producer Mark Wahlberg's experience as a Calvin Klein model, actor and all-purpose sex object with a bevy of friends in tow, "Entourage" focuses on the thrills and spills of celebrity life through the eyes of an upcoming movie star named Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his old friends from Queens, who seemingly have nothing better to do than pick up Vince's dry cleaning.

There are plenty of early indications that this show will be thoroughly irritating, like this soulful conversation between a hot girl and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), a member of Vince's posse.

Hot girl: Look, it's not like I don't think you're cute. But I'm just still hoping I'm gonna be the one that fucks Vince.

Turtle: Sweetheart, look around. Vince is gone. So is your sister and your best friend. Come on, just make out with me. I'll show you where Vince eats breakfast!

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Hot girl: OK.

Surprisingly enough, "Entourage" has its charms. Despite its celebrity-obsessed premise and the predictable cavalcade of hot girls and fast times that are far too shiny and happy to believe, the show has a quick pace and casual comedic style that are refreshingly original, if a bit rambling and weightless. From Eric (Kevin Connolly), the level-headed friend who assumes the role of Vince's manager, and in so doing, invites the ire of his slick jerk agent, Ari (captured perfectly by Jeremy Piven), to Drama (Kevin Dillon), Vince's half-brother whose middling acting career has taken a backseat to Vince's rising star, the characters are all both likable and familiar (save for Turtle, whose opportunistic simpleton shtick is a little bit too familiar and repellent).

After watching the first three half-hour episodes, I definitely wanted to see more but was alarmed at how little the story developed, particularly since there are only eight episodes total. When you have to watch three weeks of a show just to feel like there's some semblance of a story developing, how could eight episodes possibly feel like a complete series?

Ultimately, HBO's "Entourage" may not be a timeless classic, but it does provide a lightweight intermission between the heavy lifting of "Six Feet Under" (Sundays at 9 p.m.) and the gut-busting pranks of "Da Ali G Show" (Sundays at 10:30 p.m.). (More on Ali G later this week.)

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Realer than reel
"The Real World: San Diego" (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on MTV) wrapped up with a confrontational reunion last week, in which the easy, breezy hotties who boozed and high-fived their way through the season accused melancholy cutter and premature quitter Frankie for turning her back on them and leaving the house before the season was over. In explaining herself, Frankie alternately stretched the truth (she claimed she had a great time on the trip to Greece, when she appeared to be pouting the whole time) and confessed that her harsh statements arose mostly out of self-hatred.

As big a train wreck as Frankie was on the show, there's something so haunting about the way the unified group of sunny young people reacted to her behavior with harsh accusations paired with claims that they all care for her deeply and only want what's best for her. Frankie's no angel, but despite the "It's all good" mantra floating through the air, it's crystal clear that at least half of the residents of the house never accepted or liked her for a second. Being an angry, emotional girl, Frankie sensed this, became insecure and reacted by separating herself from the entire group. While her alienation from sincere friends like Jacquese and Jamie was unfortunate, the reigning view at the reunion -- that Frankie was lashing out at people who loved her -- was exactly the kind of inaccurate, black-and-white response that misfits and oddballs so often elicit.

The truth is, as warm-hearted as they were on the whole, none of the pretty kids in that house had even the slightest notion of what it might be like to be an extremely emotional, intense woman with cystic fibrosis. Their response to her difference was to urge her to be more like them -- i.e. drink too much, high five, screech, fall down laughing, get thrown in jail -- instead of trying to understand what she was going through.

Reading tributes to Marlon Brando for the past week, I was reminded of Frankie and the sorts of responses most people have to eccentrics and others whose behavior falls outside of what people consider acceptable. Brando obviously had some serious issues, but isn't there a point where a person's unquestionable talents or driving passions or unique challenges in life give them a free pass to be as inconstant and curmudgeonly as they want to be? Why insist that we all behave in exactly the same safe, politely predictable ways?

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It's hard not to admire those who are weird enough and determined enough to live by their own compasses that their quirks end up hanging out like an untucked shirt. Whenever I read that someone is "strange" or "difficult," my instinct is to imagine the immense levels of envy and confusion that generate such labels. Of course we all love kind, friendly people, but so often eccentricity is misread as malevolence. The world is filthy with unimaginative sorts who can't, in their wildest dreams, comprehend the urge to step outside the realm of acceptable behavior for even a second, and the herd mentality of such animals, with all its spoils, shouldn't be trusted for a second. Better to put your faith in creepy misfits than to get dragged along with a stampede of lemmings, scurrying merrily toward their demise.

No, that was not a plea for you to vote for Ralph Nader.

At any rate, Frankie stirred up trouble in the umpteenth season of "The Real World," which is what she was cast for in the first place. I think next season, instead of waiting for the catfights and drunken nights to happen in real time, I'll just tune in for the highlight reel instead. All hail the sweetened, condensed milk of media!

Next week: Why Virginia is for lovers and "Big Brother 5" is for masochists.

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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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