I Like to Watch

Hurricanes destroy Vegas! Nicole Kidman sells out! "Real World's" Shavonda swoons over dying roses! James Spader morphs into Skeletor McBeal!

By Heather Havrilesky
Published November 16, 2004 2:00AM (UTC)
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Some TV shows are just like bad boyfriends. They get on your nerves. You're bored with everything they have to say. Yet, they're always there, each day just like the last, with no memorable moments, no hugging, no learning, no laughs, and only the occasional outburst of gratuitous maliciousness. Every night, they suck up all your time, time you could spend doing much more important things, like deep-conditioning your hair or feeding credit card offers into the paper shredder. The magic is gone, and you're not even sure if you like them anymore, let alone love them.

Unfortunately, TiVo can be just like a couples' therapist. Just when you're ready to say goodbye forever, there's your TiVo, gently whispering, "It isn't over yet. There's still hope! The important thing is that you're honest with your feelings, and that you 'Save until: I delete.' Looky here, I've got two episodes of 'Survivor' and three episodes of 'Lost' and last week's 'Desperate Housewives,' all waiting for you, all longing to be back in your embrace."


"We never embraced in the first place!" you screech. "We sat on the couch and ordered Thai delivery, then I did the dishes while he played 'Grand Theft Auto II: Vice City'!"

Wait, that's not what you screech. You screech, "No! No more 'Lost'! No more Desperati! Unless Jeff Probst is doing some kind of a dirty safari striptease this week, I don't want to know about it!"

But your TiVo just smiles enigmatically, a smile that tells you that your boyfriend is right, that you're the crazy one. You're the one with the problem, not him. I mean, come on. Who doesn't like "Desperate Housewives"?


House of Trump cards
A bunch of different shows are transforming into bad boyfriends for me this fall, without rhyme or reason. I think I may have lost my desire for "Survivor," "The West Wing" and "Will & Grace" permanently. Even newcomers "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" just don't make me smile like they used to. My short-lived romance with "Gilmore Girls" is already wearing thin.

But I should probably just look on the bright side -- lots of my long-term relationships are going really well. "The O.C." has had a little makeover and learned a few new boudoir tricks. The charmingly bitchy couples of "The Amazing Race" will be back on Tuesday night, be still my beating heart. And "America's Next Top Model" continues to make me swoon, even if supersized Toccara did get booted by an unforgiving Tyra Banks last week. (Hey, did anyone else notice Tyra's "I'm about to cry" makeup in that scene with her mom? Those geniuses at ANTM just never cease to amaze me with their inspiringly demented beauty wizardry.)

My most surprising committed relationship has to be with "The Apprentice" (Thursdays at 9 p.m. on NBC), though. There's no clear reason why anyone would want to watch ambitious young mutants insult each other while performing arbitrary tasks while a pompous Trump 'bot looks on. But somehow, the extreme stumbling blocks inherent to each week's challenge keep drawing me in.


This week's boardroom was absolutely tweaked, with everyone agreeing that Jennifer is intolerable, despite the fact that she hasn't screwed up nearly as much as the others. Then Ivana almost got fired for no reason whatsoever, other than the fact that Trump dislikes her. Meanwhile, Chris imploded completely, griping about the bridal boutique challenge, "Well, no task is easy, but this is friggin' ridiculous!" Now that's the kind of can-do attitude that wins you the undying respect of your peers.

And even though Trump is more arrogant and obnoxious than ever, he's also more arbitrary and punishing in his decisions, which, like it or not, makes for a much more unpredictable boardroom. Is it all a deliberate strategy to jack up the ratings? Of course it is. Without a deliberate strategy to jack up the ratings, where would any show be? Wasn't that Ray Liotta dying a gruesome, bloody death on "ER" this week? It's like the bad boyfriend who buys you a big bouquet of flowers out of the blue, thereby securing a three-week reprieve from getting dumped like the clod that he is.


It's a world of boredom, a world of tears
Do you notice, though, how even as you're cutting the stems and arranging your bad boyfriend's flowers prettily in a vase, you still have this sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, a feeling that says, "The end is inevitable."

That's the feeling I get when I watch "The Real World: Philadelphia" (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on MTV). As smart and lovable as Karamo is, as much as I'm rooting for him to live happily ever after with that cute guy from the gym, the rest of those refrigerator monkeys are just static and dull and predictable. Sure, it was cool when Shavonda caught her dumb boyfriend in a lie and screamed at him for days. But then she forgave him. Why? Because he sent her a dozen red roses that looked like they'd spent the better half of their short lives in one of those refrigerated flower vending machines at the airport. I mean, the roses were red (Zzzz), they had opened completely, and they were surrounded by a massive clump of baby's breath, plus the kind of greenery you see in really awful, Easter-themed Hallmark bouquets. And did you notice how they only half-covered the 1-800 Flowers logo on the card? Was that deliberate?

Here's a little note to all you bad boyfriends out there: Don't call 1-800 Flowers, because they will happily charge you way too much for a clump of really old red roses in a cheap vase. They outsource those jobs to Afghan warlords, or at least to unreliable local flower shops. I sent my mom a very expensive bouquet of cut flowers from 1-800 Flowers, and they delivered her some brown, wilty things two days after her birthday.


Wait, which show was I talking about, again?

Dies destructo!
If certain shows are like bad boyfriends whose names you can't even remember, certain made-for-TV movies are like sordid, cheap flings that make you feel all dirty and soiled inside every time you think of them. Sounds good, huh? Then you'll want to check out "Category 6: Day of Destruction." The first part aired last night, but you can catch the second this Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBS.

"Tornadoes destroy Las Vegas, we've got hurricane-force winds in the Gulf, we miss them both? People are dead, because we failed! From now on, if a dog barks in Duluth, I expect somebody in this office to know about it!" Brian Dennehy is really angry about the weather!


"Doesn't he realize that this is a crucial point in history, not just for the people of Chicago or the country, but the planet!" Jo from "Facts of Life" is really freaked out by the weather!

"Isn't anybody as worried about the weather as I am? Whoa, whoa, whoa, young lady, you're not going out of this house dressed like that!" Greg from "Dharma & Greg" is super worried about the weather -- and about his daughter's skimpy outfit!

When it comes to made-for-TV movies, it doesn't get any better than this. Even though Jo (Nancy McKeon) has lost her signature little ponytails, even though Greg (Thomas Gibson) appears to be heavily sedated, "Category 6: Day of Destruction" is the kind of televised entertainment that's just so absurdly goofy, and so deliciously dated before it even hits the airwaves, that it's impossible not to fall prey to its digitally manipulated charms.

From the gaggle of stereotypes to the obligatory destruction of national landmarks, there's so much to enjoy in this two-part series. What could be more relaxing than seeing every single cliché of the past 20 years of Hollywood thrown together without heed for the big picture? The result is sort of like making a stew with everything in your fridge ... if your fridge is filled with mac and cheese and hot dogs and pudding cups. Yum!


And there are fun games to play along the way, like "Pick the Most Overwarmed Character of All." Who will it be, the potty-mouthed, renegade storm chaser (Randy Quaid!) with a van full of Japanese tourists, the wildly ambitious underling at the weather center who just uncovered a disturbing weather trend that her mean intellectual co-worker keeps discounting, the frustrated reporter (McKeon) kept down by her unenlightened boss, or the concerned city official (Gibson) with a slutty teen daughter and an emotionally distraught wife?

But the fun doesn't end there! Each clich´ has a few more clichés heaped on top of it for good measure. Thus, the concerned city official is having an affair with a smutty little blonde who also happens to be the publicist of a greedy power company, a power company with a CEO so corrupt it would be subtler if he were wearing a big black hat. Yeah, baby! And, not only is Jo a frustrated reporter looking to get at the heart of the story, she's also a 30-something single woman longing to have a baby of her own! Mmmm. Is that making you hot, too? How about the crazy ex-boyfriend of the slutty teen daughter who, just as the power shuts down and the massive storm is approaching, decides to hold his ex and his mom hostage in a bank?

What happens? How does it all turn out? I'm guessing the Sears Tower explodes into flames, but you'll have to tune in on Wednesday for your next naughty rendezvous.

Change the Chanel
Speaking of a naughty rendezvous, did anyone else see the epic Chanel ad starring Nicole Kidman that aired Thursday night during "ER"? In this short, very romantic film, Kidman plays -- gasp! -- a big, bright, shining star, one who falls in love with your average, slightly disheveled male model -- an everyman! -- and then leaves him because she's late for a big premiere, one that looks just like the last scene of "Star Wars," where Princess Leia puts medals around the necks of Luke and Han. The whole thing goes on forever and ever, and mimics the style of "Moulin Rouge," with very dark, gothic shots of the big city to contrast creamy, delicious close-ups of Kidman's pretty porcelain features. Kidman is quite convincing as a massive celebrity, breathing such lines as, "Everything seems so peaceful!" and "I love to dance!" and "I don't care about tomorrow!" and "No one can steal our dream! No one!" There's no doubt this performance puts Kidman firmly at the center of the Oscar race.


And that's not to mention the stirring achievement of the disheveled male model. "Has she forgotten? I know I will not," he growls. "Her kiss. Her smile. Her perfume."

Her agent's phone number. The address of her vacation home in Fiji.

Why does anyone think that a melodramatic two-minute-long ad with silly dialogue will sell perfume any better than the usual 30-second black-and-white montage of Christy Turlington whispering about true love while straddling a disheveled male model?

When it comes to sleazy affairs, isn't it wisest to keep things short and sweet? Chanel is like a prostitute who lights a hundred little white candles and scatters rose pedals around the room before she takes your money and shoves her hand down your pants.


O.C., you came and you gave without taking
Now that I've got you all hot and bothered by conjuring up hookers with big bags of tea lights, it's time to bask in the countless pleasures of a brand new season of "The O.C." (Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Fox).

Sure, last season devolved into a holding pattern, with Seth wisecracking to Summer and Marissa blinking blankly at Ryan and everybody squeezing on sequined gowns just long enough for someone to get a black eye or fall in the pool, "Dynasty"-style.

Banish such images from your minds, pork dumplings, because this season, everything has changed. Marissa is doing the yard guy. Hot. Sandy and Kirsten are fighting. Super hot. Summer has a new boyfriend who's just as cute and funny and quirky and sweet as Seth, if not sweeter and cuter and funnier. He's even into comic books, which is really Seth's only calling card, beyond his little plastic horse and his love of Emo. Red hot! Best of all, the counselor at school pronounces architect like "arky tect." I'm on fire!

And the Harbor School Carnival? Mmm, yeah! Last year the kids went to extravagant gala events; this year they're riding Ferris wheels. How adorably retro! And instead of brutish meatheads screaming "Welcome to the O.C., bitch!" we've got nice boys named Zack asking Seth, very politely, to step off. Zack even said please. Somebody buy me an egg cream, before I faint!

My faith is officially restored. The writers are stirring things up a little, even if the scenes between Marissa and The Yard Guy are about as compelling as Kidman hissing "I don't care about tomorrow!" to her scruffy sidekick. Actually, the dialogue in the Chanel ad is a little better. But still. I love "The O.C.," vodka-swilling mannequins and all!

The king of Spader
But you know who I'm already sick of, even though we just started seeing each other? Denny Crane. I mean, I like William Shatner just fine, and "Boston Legal" (Sundays at 10 p.m. on ABC) seemed like it had to be an improvement on the self-righteous monologues and impossible ethical dilemmas of "The Practice." Tired of high-minded public servants, fighting for what's right? Of course you are. So, call in James Spader and Shatner and some hot girls, and replace the high-minded with the corrupt, the greedy, the lustful and the envious.

But while "Boston Legal" trots out deadly sins like there's no tomorrow (and there is no tomorrow, gentle spring rolls -- just an FYI), the show is already spiraling downward, into a hopeless abyss of Shatner acting insane and Spader saying dirty things to his colorless hottie co-workers.

Is anyone else out there sick of watching Spader get all lascivious and drooly in every other scene? Did anyone else roll their eyes and groan when his dumb crush put her lace G-string in a file and handed it to him? Are we supposed to find this craven bimbosity appealing? OK, maybe it's fundamentally appealing in real life, but on TV, on a drama created by David E. Kelley, it just feels tacky.

Why do I feel like I'm watching "Ally McBeal," except without the slow-mo shots of Skeletor, looking lonely as she walks through the snowy streets while that awful woman sings the same growly jazz-lite ballad over and over again? Isn't Spader's character just a little bit like Robert Downey Jr.'s? Isn't Denny Crane straight out of that "McBeal" office, with its whimsical un-PC dilemmas and its "Three's Company"-style triple takes and its little lost frogs? Next thing you know, Spader is going to start imagining licking his buxom coworkers from head to toe with a massive, pink, digitally rendered tongue.

My advice? Put Spader to work with something a little more complex than lace G-strings, or change the name of the show to "Boston Barely Legal" and start featuring guest spots by Lindsay Lohan and Mary-Kate Olsen and other teen dreams, each of whom can have pervy run-ins with a bedroom-eyed, cgi-enhanced Spader. Afterwards, Spader wanders the streets looking lost, while Vonda Shepard belts out jazz-lite versions of "Cypress Avenue" and "Aqualung."

Next week: Bad boyfriend matures into bad husband on "The Amazing Race," 30-something freakjobs dish on why they wanted the Creepiest Bachelor Ever to be their bad husband, and PBS touches the void and describes the feeling as somewhere between a hug and a sneeze.

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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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