I Like to Watch

On the third day, Bravo created "Top Design" and saw that it was not good. Plus: "The OC" goes down in flames.

Published February 18, 2007 1:00PM (EST)

God wants you to watch more TV. He told me that the other day, when we were having coffee together. "It's so weird how so many of My Children seem to think that I want them to write the next great American novel, or to spend more time with their kids, or to dedicate their lives to helping others," He said. "Honestly, I wish they'd just relax and throw their feet on the coffee table and catch up with 'Friday Night Lights.'"

"I feel you, Yahweh," I said, but I was only half listening. God really does ramble on sometimes.

"Why would I have made human beings slothful and gluttonous, if I didn't want them to sit on their fat asses and polish off a few beers and a bag of Salsa Verde Doritos while watching the premiere of 'The Amazing Race'? It doesn't make any sense." God stared out the window, tugging absentmindedly on His beard.

"Preaching to the converted again, Almighty Father." The Creator of Heaven and Earth can be more than a little self-involved on occasion. Sometimes I just want to say to Him, "It's not all about you, dude!"

"Meanwhile, My sons and daughters who do watch TV feel guilty every second that they're doing it, as if they should be out there feeding the hungry or lobbying against greenhouse gases or something, instead! Why can't the world just take a deep breath and eat some good cheese and turn on 'Battlestar'?"

"Well, God, if you want my honest opinion, it's because a lot of people live in the third world, where they don't have running water or electricity, let alone TV sets or good cheese..."

"Oh, stop it! You're depressing me. What's on tonight, anyway?" God said, picking up my copy of TV Guide. "Oh goody, the second-to-last episode of 'The OC'! Newport's about to get hit by a huge earthquake! I hope Seth and Summer get crushed by falling debris..."

Goodbye to yellow-brick McMansions
Yes, it's true. Even God was excited to see "The OC" (9 p.m. Thursdays on Fox) go down in a blaze of glory. In fact, He told me His secret hope is that the writers of the show would do the right thing and kill off every remaining character in one fell swoop.

I guess the last few years have made it pretty obvious that God loves a big, flashy disaster just as much as the writers of "The OC" do. And you have to admit, it wouldn't be so bad if Seth (Adam Brody) were crushed under a falling telephone pole and ended up wasting his last few breaths on some half-hearted wisecracking. Teasers for the show hyped the last two episodes of the series and seemed to indicate that one of these attractive humans might not make it through the big earthquake. But why would we care, when they're all about to disappear? Why not kill all of them, as the Almighty suggested?

But then, the fine writers of "The OC" have always been good at hyping terrifically empty plot twists, from Ryan's (Benjamin McKenzie) first halcyon days in Newport wooing models and squatting in model McMansions, to the present. Now I know most of you out there haven't enjoyed "The OC" since well before Marissa's (Mischa Barton) self-destructive pal Oliver held her hostage and then inexplicably pointed the gun at his own head, but I still think you should be informed of what's been happening in Newport since the almost-good old days.

Uncertain of how to wrap up the fourth and final season of a show that started to feel repetitive before the end of its first season, those tireless "OC" writers settled on a) pairing the two remaining singles, Ryan and Taylor (Autumn Reeser), and making them fall madly in love over the course of a few weeks; b) making Seth's mom Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) pregnant, then giving her sad, mopey eyes and whiny lines for the balance of her days in Newport; c) turning evil Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke) into some kind of saintly Wonder Mom in the wake of her daughter Marissa's death; d) giving her remaining daughter Kaitlin (Willa Holland) limp little mischievous-teen storylines, wrapping up each bit of bitchy acting-out with heartfelt pleas for more mommy-daughter bonding; e) having Summer (Rachel Bilson) accuse perpetual boyfriend Seth (see also: the only character on the show with any talent or driving inspiration) of being rudderless and disengaged. Oh well, I guess they couldn't repeat that old fisticuffs-at-the-prom trick forever.

We do have to give them a hearty shout-out for closing the entire series with a big old earthquake. What better way to leave all those McMansions behind than with a gigantic act of God? Has there ever been a more sublimely postmodern narrative choice than having the Big One hit "The OC"? It's like having Fonzie jump the shark and then get eaten by sharks!

And what does it look like when an earthquake says to Orange County, "Welcome to a 9.0 on the Richter scale, bitch!"? Well, it looks a little bit like the 1974 movie "Earthquake": You know, plastic foam beams falling all over the place, people with fake blood on their faces, panicking, big bookcases teetering unpredictably, "Howards End"-style.

It was all going swimmingly, in fact, until everyone started talking. Then we learned that Ryan had a gigantic shard of glass stuck in his back, but he was forced to hide it from girlfriend Taylor because she might faint or something. So, in classic "OC" form, Ryan calls Seth on his cellphone and tells him to come over to Summer/Julie Cooper/Taylor's McMansion immediately so that he can helpfully gape at Ryan's bloody towel and the enormous piece of glass sticking out of his kidney and announce that "it's baad!" But instead of calling an ambulance or going to a neighbor's house to get help, Ryan and Seth jump in the car and take some lonely back road that's supposedly a half-mile route to the hospital. On the way, they get a flat tire, and instead of riding on the rims to the hospital, Seth slowly attempts to change the flat while Ryan casually bleeds to death. But things are about to get even worse! An aftershock hits, knocking the SUV off the jack! Seth and Ryan don't know what to do! Finally, Seth scampers off, presumably to run the half mile to the hospital and get an ambulance, right? Wrong. Seth runs to the beach and trades the keys to his dad's Range Rover to a homeless guy for a shopping cart, at which point he runs back to where Ryan is, pushing the shopping cart.

Yes, that's right. Poor, dumb Seth is racing along the side of the road, pushing a shopping cart, when he's spotted by Julie Cooper and her irritating daughter and Ryan's dad. Even then, instead of seeing the one scene that might've been vaguely dramatic ("Oh my god, Ryan! There's so much blood! Wake up, Ryan!"), we cut straight to the hospital, where Ryan is recovering. We learn that Ryan has just had a blood transfusion, but he's totally OK now. That was a close call, huh? Minutes later, Ryan is walking out of the hospital with the rest of the family. Who knew that a pierced kidney and a blood transfusion constituted a simple outpatient procedure? Why did they even go to the hospital? I'm sure Summer could've performed the procedure herself, using a few well-sharpened knives from her father's kitchen.

So it turns out that, not only was Ryan's "close call" the near-death experience alluded to in teasers all week, but the rest of the episode was so unspeakably awful, I couldn't do it justice here without describing each implausible, idiotically cute scene in excruciating detail. Yes, I've been watching this show for four years now -- I know it's gotten worse and worse each year. Trust me, this episode was fifty thousand times worse than any other episode I've seen. The second-to-last episode of the entire series, and they bungle it that badly? God only knows what the writers were thinking (and believe me, I asked Him several times, but He wouldn't tell me -- something about a contractual agreement he has with Fox...).

Nevertheless, we're going to put last Thursday's hideousness out of our minds and try to remember you, "The OC," in all of your moody, magic-hour, strummy-indie-music-playing glory. You took "Dawson's Creek," subtracted the guy with the big forehead, added a little "90210," subtracted the guy with the big forehead, threw in a suicidal hot chick and a comic-book geek and a sullen pretty boy and a bratty popular girl, and you made it all seem vaguely interesting, an improbable yet heady pairing of terrible storytelling and reasonably snappy dialogue.

We'll miss you, "The OC," even though we shouldn't, the way we might miss an unreasonably hot but unbearably boring ex-boyfriend.

Feeble by design
You know what show is really disappointing God right now? "Top Design" (10 p.m. Wednesdays on Bravo). Like you and me, the Almighty enjoys both great reality TV and truly bad reality TV. He says it's like savoring a braised salmon one day and a fried Twinkie the next.

But while the extremes of the reality genre have the power to stimulate the most discerning (and omnipotent) viewer's palate, that doesn't make the mediocre, midrange reality fare go down any easier. And when it comes to reality shows, "Top Design" is a lukewarm, half-cooked chicken sandwich.

The third installment of Bravo's career-competition franchise lacks the obvious appeal of both the neurotic fashion mavens of "Project Runway" and the bitchy cooks who somehow managed not to spoil the zesty broth of "Top Chef." First of all, the contestants are so self-involved and affectless, watching them scamper to and fro searching for the perfect table lamp is sheer agony. Even when one designer, John Gray, announced that he was HIV-positive, the room full of designers stared at him blankly, as if he'd just delivered a lengthy lecture on Greek mythology. Here's what they had to say about it:

Michael: I think John telling the interior designers about his HIV was a shock, because you are shocked when anyone discloses something like that to you, because it's very serious.

Elizabeth: I just hope that he feels well. I hope that inside of himself, he can feel... less pain.

Such blandly self-conscious comments would be just fine if the first two design challenges weren't horribly unimaginative, dreary little projects that would make a first-year design student cringe. Design a living room for a client who owns these ugly tchotchkes? Design a bedroom for a kid who likes kitty cats? Blech. And instead of being given real rooms to work with, the designers are confined to what looks like a basement, forced to realize their designs in featureless white boxes. No doors, no windows, no moldings... It's no wonder the rooms they've come up with have been so weak -- I've seen better designs on "Trading Spaces."

Of course, that's part of the problem. There are so many design shows on TV, but career-wise, most of us care as much about interior design as we care about the deeply important work of dental hygienists. Fashion and food are exciting and fun -- we can watch and get a kick out of either, even if we're wearing sweats and eating bean dip straight out of the can. But watching interior designers compete is a little bit like listening to comparative literature grad students debate the relative merits of Hegel vs. Deleuze. We hate them a little bit more with each word.

At least last week's challenge to create a beach cabana was a little bit more fun, plus everyone got to go outside for once. Two more contestants revealed themselves to be serious jackasses -- you know, to pick up where John and Michael left off. Has there ever been a less appealing group of competitors on any reality show that you can think of? I'll bet the suitors on "I Love New York" are more charismatic than this lot.

And what in the hell is wrong with Todd Oldham? Why is his face bright orange? Has he been self-tanning, or did he hire the worst makeup artist on the planet? When he talks, why does he sound like a cross between a Speak & Spell and Kenneth, the geeky page on "30 Rock"? Would it hurt him to try to sound like a human being? The guy makes Padma Lakshmi of "Top Chef" look like a great orator.

And how about Jonathan Adler, chirping, "See you later, decorator!" at the end of each episode? Don't you just cringe for the poor guy every time you hear that?

With such a creaky start, Bravo should consider shelving "Top Design" and replacing it with "Top Accountant" or "Top Publicist." As long as the accountestants or publicestants or sales clerkestants are a little more colorful and less self-conscious than these interior designer mutants, I'm willing to give it a shot.

Closing remarks
Yes, I know you're still a little shell-shocked over the fact that I lunch with the Lord. But honestly, it's not a big deal. He calls me when He's passing through my neighborhood, we go grab a bite and chat. Nothing too heavy, of course, just idle gossip. Like last week, we talked about how much weight Britney Spears has lost lately, and then God mentioned that you've really been packing on the pounds this year, which is probably why your wife is sleeping with her co-worker -- you know, Sam, from sales? Apparently Sam's great in the sack (God's pretty proud of His work there). But don't worry your pretty little head about it. At least it's sweeps week and "The Amazing Race" is on tonight, and next week there are the Oscars plus a really great documentary on HBO called "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib." God won't watch that one -- he doesn't really like to concern Himself with such weighty fare, having given up on trying to punish the wicked and reward the righteous a long time ago. But hey, why don't I tell you something that you don't know?

Next week: Why do we listen to Oscar, when he has such crappy taste? And why aren't you watching "Friday Night Lights" yet?

By 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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