Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fix It: Duets

The original title of this post was Don't Duet! Which was my feeling after the first outing of what I thought to be a complete reality competition TV fail.  I'm not saying its a success after viewing its second offering - but I'm saying its fixable.  I had high hopes for it.  I mostly like the mentor/judges/celebrity dueters - whatever you want to call them.  I really love Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Nettles.  I can appreciate John Legend, but have never understood nor enjoyed Robin Thicke and his music. So, I was curious, interested and hopeful going in.

My first reactions in short- the judging system is terribly flawed and doesn't work, the established ground rules are unclear and  this show is not even trying to help amateur  unknown singers- just promote its Celebrities.  I've already detailed how much I dislike the over-celebrity promotion of the judges/mentors/whatevers on these shows - and I really like to see that each one has a purpose and can offer something that benefits someone other than themselves.  But, this show is set up as self-promotional in every way - when each musical number is announced - the host, Quddus (the fantastic, nicely human and best part of this series) - announces "Celebrity with their duet partner ________"  Which sums up one of the shows greatest flaws - it always puts the stars first - it in no way enhances the strengths of its contestants - and so far serves only to promote its celebrities.  Even the first week, where the contestants were forced to sing a hit of their celebrity - had an undermining effect on these contestants - as there was no way a worked up 'duet' version of (i.e.)Kelly Clarkson's Stronger is going to sound better than the bona fide hit itself---starring just Kelly Clarkson.  All of the numbers were far less enjoyable than the originals- save Robin Thickes.  Because I don't care for his style, his singing or songs - I thought his stuff was much improved by his duet partners- who both sounded better to me than him.  All this belly aching aside - there is hope for this show.  I am really enjoying the banter and interaction between the celebrities and the host. And I was happy to learn that not every week required songs by the mentoring celebrities - which served to help - but here is a short list of ways to REALLY fix this show.

1. Fix the scoring.  The non-performing three judges give each contestant a score out of 100 and the contestants are ranked after each performance.  There is no way I can be convinced that a celebrity mentor will not have a natural bias for their even though they don't vote for them - if they know they are in first place- they will be more conservative in their scoring with the other contestants.  Additionally 100 possible points gives way too broad a spectrum for there not to be problems.  I think Kelly Clarkson is the nicest of the bunch and consequently would naturally give the highest scores in when she is NOT voting (on her contestants) they are already at a disadvantage...and it showed in week 1 as her 2 contestants were the bottom 2 (though they were the most amateur of the bunch-more on that below).  Give the performing judge a score - that is equal to their highest score for any other contestant.  Or give the studio audience a 50% weigh in score.  Give the celebrities a scale of 1-8 to vote on. Have them rank everyone at the end.  Many options - just fix it.
2. Clearly establish the ground rules.  I think each judge looked for a different level of amateur - Kelly sought out the most amateur, Robin sought out the ones that most effectively went with his overall 'vibe'.  Jennifer Nettles went with the best singers she could find regardless of past recording contracts and John Legend sought singers who sounded best with him and sounded most like him.  Perhaps this is supposed to be the draw of it- how effectively can these celebs find contestants...but that is revealed in the first episode.  Kelly's 'diamonds in the rough' inexperienced amateurs can not compete with Jennifer's established singers nor John's mini-mes.  I think they need to have a group meeting on what to look for...if there is another year of this.  I like the fact that they didn't show audition rounds and they made each celebrity find contestants with no established way to do this- but I think some advising would help.  I get that leaving it in the judges hands makes it more like a competition for the judges - and The VOICE does this in some fashion - but still finds a somewhat equal level of talent to compete with.  Find amateurs - or find established singers who are merely unknown and use their celebrity to make them know.  I think the latter would work best - but ultimately uniformity in this regard would make for a more competitive environment.
3. Make the show about the contestants and not their duet stars.  Quit introducing the contestants as secondary.  Help the audience know their names.  Give the contestants more of a say in what they are singing.  (I know Jennifer Nettles picking "You're the one that I want" was unconventional and because J Rome is a natural performer - it worked and was a win - but, it did nothing to help him - it didn't show his range - and it wasn't at all the kind of artist he will be- but she sure looked and sounded like Olivia Newton-John and the duet really worked for her) I think it would be interesting if the celebrities had to sing a duet of the contestants choosing...and see how these 'stars' adapted to that - instead of the other way around.  Let the contestants shine - make it about them.
4. Change up the set.  The set with each celebrity having their own entourage lounge behind them for their contestants to sit in - is awkward- its just another way to show off the stars and make their contestants play second fiddle visually.  Its a weird Godfather-like set up.  Let the contestants stay off stage or sit on either side of the celebrity - equal to them.

It can be fixed.  Jennifer Nettles is awesome.  John Legend is wonderfully critical and I think right on the money with some of his comments.  Robin Thicke is a character and fun to watch - even if I don't like to hear him sing.  Kelly Clarkson is more sweet and silly than I expected...but still very likable. And it has Quddus as host - a human and interactive host - yay! Ultimately though, all I know of this show is its celebrities - I can only tell you the name of 1 contestant - J Rome - because its unique.  I need to see how this  can benefit the contestants.  Because right now, it doesn't.  Fix it, please.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Judging DWTS

A few friends and I have taken to judging Dancing with the Stars right along with the judges. Sometimes we agree (typically this season with Len), and many times we do not. We this season almost being over, we did a little judging of the show on our own.
                                   Jed                                       Koko                                 Rachel
Judges                          8                                            8                                          7
Stars                             7                                            7                                          8
Pros                              9                                            9                                          9
Outfits                           6                                           5                                          7 (for humor)
Dances                          8                                            7                                          8
Tom Bergeron              10                                          10                                        10
Brooke Burke               6                                             5                                         6
Spray Tans                   9                                              6                                          7
The Orchestra               9                                             7                                          8
Theme Nights               9                                             9                                          9
Overall Season             7                                             8                                          8

So overall a good season. Our consensus is more Tom and Len, less (or no) Brooke and Carrie Ann, and we love the pros, especially Tristan, Maks, and Peta Murgatroyd (who we feel might have one of the greatest last names ever). Though none of us know anything about dancing, we could be good replacement judges.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Basketball and The Voice

This week is the finale of The Voice. I confess that I have not been into Idol or any of the singing competition shows before so this is a first for me.  I was, in fact, one of the people who watched The Voice after the Super Bowl, was entertained, and kept watching.

A few weeks ago my brother wrote this on Facebook about the show:  "The Voice is a lot like March Madness. The first round is by far the most exciting with each round becoming less and less interesting." I'm pretty sure I hit the like button when I saw that he wrote this and did so for two reasons--1. it's funny and 2. it's true.  The most entertaining part of the show is when the Judges spin their chairs around. It's interesting to see the audition, which Judges turn around, who it's for, the bantering over which Judge should be picked, and then seeing who the singer picks.

What I have found is that while I agree with the statement, the show has still been interesting enough to keep me watching--even more so then happens with March Madness. I attribute this to many things...the singers themselves (I'm rooting for Tony Luca), the show format, Carson Daly (he's not quite Seacrest but he's quite good), and in particular, the judges. Adam and Blake alone are a reason to watch (see: the post below). CeeLo is quirky and I like him on it. And Christina--well, I don't think she's very likable (see: Tony Luca), and yet, it works for the show.

So the post-Super Bowl time slot got me to start watching the show, but the show is good enough to keep me watching. So good, in fact, that I'll be watching again next season. Well done, NBC.

The Voice Grade:  B+.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Judging the Judges

Whats the difference between a judge and a mentor?  How about a mentor, a judge and a team leader? A celebrity judge? A permanent judge? New Judge? Old Judge?  Fired Judge?  Hired Judge?  I have no idea.  When I sat down to write about reality TV judges, I came to realize how the role of judge (or mentor or whatever) has become a vast sea of different talent, purpose and intent.  The length of the list of names of current reality tv judges, past ones, ones from shows that aren't on any more - revolving chairs on ones that are - is astounding.  Reality TV judge has become a full-time casting gig. The bigger the paycheck, the bigger the name - all the producers trying to find the one name that draws the most viewers in the demo - by offering controversial, yet acceptable insite to the talent/task at hand.  I don't want to talk quantity of judges fame - I want to talk quality of judges of judging.

 Different shows want different things from the judges - Dancing With the Stars wants judging and scoring and knowledge of dancing.  The Voice wants big name, willing to perform and promote themselves and their 'team'.  American Idol wants someone to keep Randy company while enduring all those hours on the road weeding.  Project Runway wants someone with some sense - perferrably the fashion kind.  Top Chef requires someone with great taste...buds, and an expansive foodie vocabulary.  The Sing Off wants someone with a good ear to tell the viewers when 1 voice singing with 20 is off key.    X Factor wants someone who can make it seem like its not American Idol 2.0 - and who won't fight with Simon. Americas Got Talent wants...I'm actually not sure...someone who speaks, maybe?  That said - I've compiled a list of my favorites and why...past and present.  I did take into account the intent and expectations of the show they are one - but mostly - I just care about the judging.

********************************My Top 10*************************************

9/10. - Adam Levine & Blake Shelton, The Voice- This bromance works. They are both really good at what they do - great to watch perform and great to hear them talk about their profession. Adam is better for the male contestants than the women. And Blake is better for the women. Adam needs to connect to his team members - in order to offer his best insights. I think he doesn't like to navigate the world of emotional artistic women. He is plenty nice to them - but does better for the men. He bears Queen Christina's incessant critiques and constant fight picking well. He picks great songs and is a 'mentor' and a bonafide talent worth listening to. Blake judges on emotion - down home, southern - I-liked-all-ya'all- emotion. He's the only judge on this list to be an emotional judger. He's on this list because he is the yin to Adams yang. He does better with the women because he is supportive and by the end becomes the truest and most endearing fan of each of the members of his team. This really appeals to the women - even the women in the audience (we all want to be on his team!) His emotional conversation does little to help the male contestants - even the country ones. But, he still a favorite. He's so nice and so darn cute and buoys up his contestants in the best way to help them truly shine - so I just love him - how can I not?

8. Gail Simmons Top Chef -I love Gail in the same way that I love PR'sNina & Michael - for her strong, mostly not positive opinions of everything. She is a culinary expert and she knows it...and she shows it with every bite.

7. Kara Dioguardi, American Idol & ? - I don't think she is judging anywhere currently (and yes she still gets a place on this list) - she was judging a song writing competition - but I never saw it. She is still my favorite Idol judge to date - she knows about songs - and it was a great idea to have her judging singers. She is really qualified to do it. Not in the 'I used to be a pop artist - and I can dance - Paula Abdul' kind of way...but in a 'I write songs and look for people to sing them and I know what to look for' kind of way. I thought her critiques were most helpful. I miss her on Idol.

5/6. Nina Garcia & Michael Kors Project Runway- they aren't really a team and are often times not on Runway together or at all. But both are vocal about what they like and don't like and don't mind standing on their own to express it. I love when they really disagree. I love when they just tell designers how horrible their creations are. I mostly love that they know why something works (or doesn't) and they can totally back it up. Fashion and Style aren't exactly universally objective. So, it is helpful to hear Nina & Michaels firm, if not oft times catty, opinions.

4.Simon Cowell X Factor- I didn't fully appreciate Simon until he left Idol. I always thought he was too mean - and sometimes ridiculously so. Did he have to say it in such extremes? Awful. Dreadful. Horrible. I The guy is the original British curmudgeon. Grumpy, moody - but discerning. When he left Idol - there was no discerning voice - and America needs to be told whats what - when emotions are high. His arrogance seems staged on X-Factor. They amp it up. But, he still knows what he is talking about.

3.Nigel Lithgoe So You Think You Can Dance- I'm not sure if he's in this group because of his judging or because of his show. He has been the most consistent on the SYTYCD panel - he has endured all of Mary Murphy's screaming, is British (a seeming requirement for every show), has doubled as Executive Producer to Idol- all the while offering actual dance insight and appreciation. He is also the one to fill the revolving judges chairs on that panel - and I love him just a little bit more for this. Neil Patrick Harris, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Debbie Reynolds, Christina Applegate were great in their guest spots. I simply LOVE the revolving guest judge chair! The choreographers are great fill-ins on this panel. I just really like the whole lot of them. So - Nigel is number 3 - Nigel and his show and his panel, really all that is SYTYCD. (Except Mary Murphy's screaming and Tyce DiOrios smugness - those I could do without.)

2.Len Goodman Dancing With the Stars- One of the least notorious of the British curmudgeon judges, Len is the hardest to please, the least emotional (but he can get there) and is the most properly discerning dance judge on TV. He calls himself an old fuddy duddy - and his refusal to accept more modern versions of ballroom classic dance - proves that he is. But, DWTS is best served by this grumpy gus and his funny metaphors.

1.Ben Folds The Sing Off- He is by FAR, one of my favorite judges ever. He knows music so well, can identify what is good in a performance more specifically than anyone -and  he can be down right critical without being mean.  He may not be the most controversial judge - but I really think he can help in ways no one else can.  His immense communication and knowledge of music and structure make him an expert - and he's fun and funny too.  **Side note - I'm not judging these judges based on their 'real careers' clearly - Ben Folds is an amazing musician - who can't sing very well.  His performances are fun - but his singing is not good - and he sings every season.

In summation:  I like the British grumpy guys and the ones I think are actually experts in their field and who aren't JUST trying to jump start their 'real careers' or get in the limelight once again.  Excellent judging comes from knowledge not name.   There is a plethora of reality tv judges and more to come. What about the new mentors for this summers Duets?  I think Kelly Clarkson will be a fast favorite. Is it possible that Howard Sterns or Britney Spears could be good at this? They both seem more name than knowledge...and who else will X Factor pick?  I say go with someone who has something to say - not something to promote.

PS - The worst of the judges can be summed up in 2 words: Nicole Scherzinger.  More discussion on this and her worst of this field cohorts another day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Tale of Two Halves--The Good Wife

Sunday night was the season 3 finale of The Good Wife.  For me, TGW is one of the best shows on television.  Great acting, great writing, great characters, great show. Seasons 1 and 2, though, were better than this season. Don't get me wrong--still amazing, just not quite as amazing. I think it's because the second half was better than the first half of the season.

First half:  The Alicia/Will relationship--while I like them  both I don't think that they have a lot of chemistry and don't love them together. Too much Eli--I really like the character but in small doses, and for sure just working with on Peter's campaign or talking to teenager Becca, not at the firm. So-so cases--at times I thought that the lawyers were stupid for the direction the cases went, and I'm not even a lawyer. Weird stuff with the kids--Grace's tutor? Need I say more?

Second half:  I read somewhere that the Kings who created/produce/write for the show read reviews and blogs and take the feedback. This seemed to be the case. Alicia and Will split, Eli wasn't in it as much, Cary's side ponytail girlfriend left (I didn't even mention that above, but I didn't love her either), etc.  It was just better and more TGW like.

What I hope to see next season:  More Diane, Kalinda, and Cary, all of whom I always like to see more of. (I've been a Matt Czuchry fan since he was Logan dating Rory Gilmore, so the more he's on, the better.)  Continuing with good story lines from this season, like Kalinda's husband and dirt on Peter. More interactions of characters, which I think is one of the show's greatest strengths--Will and Diane, Cary and Kalinda, Alicia and Kalinda, Cary and Alicia (people seemed to be fighting a lot this season...real-life like, but it's time for people to get along again). More great guests, with Mamie Grumer and Martha Plimpton being my favorites.

I loved the season finale and thought it was one of the best episodes of the season.  I look forward to Season 4.

The Good Wife Season 3 Grade:  B.
The Good Wife Series Grade:  A-.