Category Archives: opinions

31 Lamest Reality TV Back Stories

Talent will get you nowhere in a reality TV talent show.

It’s not even about how you look.

It’s all about the back story.

Have a great back story and you’re halfway there to the shopping centre showcase tour of your life.

Being blind. Fantastic.

Losing your cousins in a house fire. Brilliant.

Going to war in Iraq, surviving an improvised bomb explosion, coming home to find the explosion made you impotent and then miracle upon miracles, you get your wife pregnant and then I want to do this power ballad for my miracle baby. Incredible*.

But some back stories don’t cut it. I was inspired to write all this when I saw a kid on The Voice who couldn’t sing. Her back story was that her grandmother died a few years ago. And last year there was another girl whose back story was that she used to have a big nose. No really. She used to have a big nose.

So coming up after the break, exclusive to Boxcutters, here’s The 31 Lamest Reality TV Talent Show Back Stories I Could Think Of.

(Note: I’ll happily take three points of your first recording advance if you want to use one of these back stories for your own TV appearance) Continue reading “31 Lamest Reality TV Back Stories” »

Foreign shows are not for local networks.

The huge audience drop for Homeland raises serious questions about the challenges facing traditional TV. The brutal reality is this: content that has screened in other parts of the world is increasingly subject to online piracy and other platforms that allow internet browsers to get around ‘geo-blocks’ on content.

From ‘TV isn’t broadcasting impressive numbers’ in The Age

The answer to the networks’ problem lies in this paragraph from The Age.

Local networks can no longer compete by showing TV shows from overseas if they are not offering a day and date option.

The truth has been for some time that they were never really competing anyway. They were just ignoring their own fate.

Years ago the networks should have prepared their stakeholders for a few years of losses while they invested in the local industry, developing great story-tellers, characters and a unique perspective that the rest of the world would want a piece of.

We saw it this week with the US purchase of ABC’s Rake. They’re remaking it, but it means more money coming back into our industry. It’s a return on investment that regards the entire world as a potential audience, rather than a tiny population in a very large country.

This is as much about the short-sightedness of our television networks as it is about our own pride and conviction in our stories. It’s about having goals and allowing those goals to guide decisions based on a playing long game. It’s about taking some risks and aiming for innovation rather than gentrification.

The Australian free-to-air commercial television networks balked at the first sign difficulty. It’s not too late but it’s going to take some hard work, some pay cuts and some sacrifices to learn to make local television for a global audience.

Rethinking The Big Bang Theory

Back in episode 295 we had our own ürbernerd, Ben McKenzie, talk about The Big Bang Theory and its poor portrayal of nerds on TV. Listener David Lay sent in his thoughts and we present them here in a slightly edited form.

I recall having a first look at The Big Bang Theory when Channel 9 first started airing it (whenever that was), and not liking it enough to regard it as ‘appointment television’. My initial impression was that the show was very much laughing *at* nerds rather than *with* them. But some time later, when the hair was on fire at Channel 9 and they were all about repeats of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory around the clock, I began watching it more regularly.

I studied maths, physics, and computer science at University during the 1990s, so I felt like this was a show pitched squarely, if not, alarmingly narrowly, at me.

When Channel 9 went nuts with TBBT repeats I came to enjoy it. In the later seasons, the balance seemed to have tipped more towards “laughing with” than “laughing at”. I enjoyed it in much the same way I enjoy The Simpsons and Futurama.

And then I listened to Boxcutters episode #295 and heared it spoken of in some confronting terms like “misogyny” and I was startled. There was an initial shock of one’s personal sense of taste has been maligned, and an impulse to fly off the handle into half-cocked, HeraldSun-esque moral outrage. I’ve listened to that segment again several times over the course of the last two or three months, and it has made me re-evaluate my thoughts.

In probably more of a “the scales fell from my eyes” moment. I realise that I’ve been letting some things on TBBT slide.

Like in that episode where Howard and Koothrappali put on fake tattoo sleeves and eyeliner and go to a club to hit on goth girls. It’s easy to picture a macho-jock type date-rapist and say “now *that’s* misogyny”, but Howard and Raj preparing for a night of trying to lie their way into a one night stand isn’t materially different now that I think about it.

I managed to overlook things like this in TBBT because you know they’re so socially inept that they’re doomed to failure. I guess there’s something in the power dynamics: one tends to picture misogyny as being perpetrated by confident and powerful macho types. When perpetrated by sexually inexperienced socially awkward nerds with low self-esteem, it seems less obvious.

Although it’s taken a while for me to get to this point, I agree with what Ben McKenzie has said, and I can see TBBT from more of a distance now.

Something that still surprises me, though, is that I was so readily able to identify the misogynistic humour in other Chuck Lorre productions: specifically the Ukrainian cook in 2 Broke Girls and pretty much every facet of Two and a Half Men.

Somehow the misogyny in The Big Bang Theory ;escaped my immediate attention.

There are degrees of TV show love. ;The Big Bang Theory was “record on DVR and erase after watching”, but now it’s bumped down to “watch it if it’s on”. Community, for contrast, is “record on DVR and keep it until I get it on DVD” love.

You can send your letters to Boxcutters so we can know what you think.

Beyond the Golden Zone of Good

Shows that are too good to watch

Like the depression that follows finishing a really good book, receiving technically faultless oral sex, or meeting someone with visible abdominal muscles, true excellence makes my heart sink.

As a rule, I will only watch shows which fall into the Golden Zone of “good enough that most people don’t like them (reinforcing my belief that I’m better than they are), but not so good that they make me feel bad about myself”.

Of course there are shows that are unwatchably bad: so bad they mysteriously become watchable again. Though shows in this category should only be approached with extreme prejudice and a pharmaceutical exit-strategy.

Breaking Bad

I watched the first episode and turned it off after the scene in the car wash. It marshals the incredible skills of many talented people for the sole purpose of making me miserable. Every character is wretched right from the start and it was clearly going to get a lot worse. The poo I did after watching it made a frowny face in the toilet.


I made it through four seasons before they introduced dogs. I will happily watch murders, beatings, rapes and the psychological annihilation of new inmates but I can’t handle anything bad happening to dogs. Yes, I am a ridiculous and awful human being.


So universally recommended, I somehow feel it’s pointless to actually watch it.

Freaks and Geeks

Ok, this isn’t my one. But my boyfriend refuses to watch the last episode of this show so that it’ll never really be over. He prefers to live in a universe where there’s always one more Freaks and Geeks episode out there. It makes him happy.

Eastbound and Down

I don’t like the main actor because he is this generation’s Rob Schneider – devoid of talent and only gets acting work because he has influential friends. Apparently it’s quite good. But I enjoy disliking this actor and refuse to give him a chance to redeem himself.

Doctor Who

Ha! Got you. This is actually a shit show made for children and the senile. Liking Doctor Who is this year’s Reading Comics On The Train so you can stop being so proud of yourself. The only exemption is for people who never stopped liking and watching this show since childhood. I can’t fault your endurance. Regardless, it’s not a valid conversational gambit in mixed company.

The Gritty European Crime Drama Glenn Peters Keeps Recommending*

I don’t have the time to allow Scandinavian greatness into my life. It would be opening the floodgates. Then I would get even less done than I do now. Just in case, I have forbidden myself from remembering its name.

(* It’s called Spiral – Ed.)

Girls: A review

New Hollywoonderkind, Lena Dumham is behind the HBO series, Girls: a look at four 20-something women in New York trying to make sense of their lives and relationships.

Dunham plays Hannah, an aspiring writer who is forced to quit her internship when her parents cut off her allowance. She’s in a relationship with a guy who asks for some very particular things in the bedroom but will never go out with her in public.

Her friends are: Marnie, a gallerina who is over loved but unsatisfied by her boyfriend; Jessa, a precocious and affected free spirit who has just returned from London; and Shoshanna, reserved and younger, she looks up to Jessa and wants to be as outgoing but doesn’t know how.

The comparisons to Sex and the City are obvious: to the point where Shoshanna had a poster of the HBO series on her bedroom wall.

But the portraits of the young women in Girls is so much more real than anything we ever saw in Sex in the City. There’s subtext here: a feeling of so much more beneath the surface but not knowing how to come out.

And there’s also a big understanding of the awkwardness of sexual compatibility that we haven’t seen before.

There’s a lot of honesty in Girls. It’s a world that I would probably be a stranger to, but it is so recognisable from the friends I had in my 20s. It contains the emotional excitement and shame that is part-and-parcel with being a 20-something. I’ve never seen that portrayed so accurately on television before.

Also contained within the honesty of the show is an explicitness in the depiction of sexuality. It would be pornographic but for the ordinariness of it.

Girls, in a nutshell, is this constant masturbation with other people watching: a sense that the characters need to explore more about themselves but they are also confined by what society is expecting. Everything is an exploration and handled with a humour and drama more mature than most stories that get to the screen.

A version of this review of Girls appeared in Episode 306 of Boxcutters.

TV Where the Sun Don’t Shine

I’ve moved to Amsterdam. Yesterday it got to a balmy -4 degrees and my partner Todd and I got all excited. Not so excited that we took our gloves, hats, coats, thermals, scarves or sheepskin boots off… but still.

The best part of being in a new country is watching locally-produced TV. In Japan I watched celebrities applaud women who looked young for their age. In Mongolia I’ve seen soap operas with a lot of horses in them.

In Amsterdam, I’m all about 020 Live. Imagine an entire channel where there is only one show on. A single cameraperson walks or drives around Amsterdam, constantly filming, and it is all live. They wander the streets looking for news.

Yesterday a houseboat was sinking so we got to watch the fire department pumping water out of it back into the canal. Today some youths were sweeping the ice over another canal in preparation for a speed skating race. I suspect they were not there of their own free will, as they kept hiding their faces from the camera. That’s what delinquency gets you in the Netherlands – an 8am appointment with a frozen canal.

Sometimes the camera falls over in the car. It takes a long time for the driver to notice this as he or she is busy avoiding stoned Canadians and fearless cyclists. Sometimes the car gets stuck behind a cyclist – not the lycra-clad speed freaks of Melbourne, Amsterdam cyclists sit upright and pedal gently because the world can wait. They have the right of way in every imaginable situation, including our hotel hallways and cinema aisles. They are the Hindu cows of Amsterdam.

You can call the show to tip them off about an exciting pothole situation on the Marnixstraad. Todd has been threatening to alert them to the frozen pasta salad he left on our windowsill overnight.

The Dutch invented Big Brother, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that they have again pushed the boundaries of reality TV while no one was looking. Considering the Big Brother model, it’s only a matter of time before this format takes off all over the world. Every country will have its own 020 Live.

Big Brother replicated the sensation of having friends over at your house. 020 Live replicates an ordinary life which takes place outside your apartment. Essential for the old, the frail and the woefully unprepared in minus 17 degree weather. The Dutch think of everything.

Oh, and there’s a show called Plop. If I had any doubts about the move to Amsterdam, they were silenced by Plop. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about, consider it my gift to you. Ik hou van Amsterdam. Ik hou van Plop.

Inside the Colbert Audience

A couple of years ago, while in New York, I went to see a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman. I detailed the experience in an episode of Boxcutters.

To precis, the audience ticket and loading procedure took twice as long as the taping itself and the overall event was hand-clappingly cultish.

During this latest visit, I managed to obtain tickets to the Colbert Report. This single act is no mean feat. Trying to get ticket through the website itself presents a page that apologises and promises to email when tickets are available. I don’t know if the emails are ever sent out or if the addresses are even collected. I’ve never received one and I’m reminded of that Simpsons scene in which the message tubes are used in beaver dams.

The excellent Rilestar pointed me to a Twitter feed that announces when a few extra tickets become available. Sometimes these are very short notice: as in, for that day’s taping. There are no quiz questions to answer and no other hoops to jump through. Being at the right place at the right time is, apparently, difficult enough.

There are still a number of steps from being on the audience list to getting into the studio. Names are checked off lists, queues are formed, names are checked off more lists, tickets with numbers are handed out. People wait in the cold for over an hour. Less bureaucracy and checkpoints are required for entry into government buildings.

Once inside the building and through the metal detector, there was more waiting. The entire audience is only about 130 people strong and we were packed into an antechamber featuring portraits of Colbert, propagandist posters and a video-screen showing highlights of previous episodes.

A staff-member/intern jumped up onto a table to tell us all to remember to laugh, turn off mobile phones and not take any photos. Then another staff member yelled, from near the doors, instructions on how to hand back the numbered tickets when she counted up to that number.

Listening to someone else count up to 130-something is not as fun as it sounds.

Once we were finally admitted into the studio, we found, under each seat a copy of Richard Branson’s latest book about why he’s the best person he knows and how he is single-handedly saving the world by being friends with Peter Gabriel. Branson was to be the guest that night.

After the warm-up comedian, Pete Dominick did a tight fifteen minutes to get the audience laughing and happy. Colbert came out to answer questions out of character. And then they started the show rolling.

It wasn’t just the smaller audience that created the intimacy of the event. There was a very real feeling of us being a part of the Colbert Nation. We were in on the joke. We were witness to a very talented man doing his job exceptionally well and we were also witness to the bloopers and the humanity behind the show.

The Late Show audience is indoctrinated upon entry and treated like ignorant TV viewers, to an extent. To make a taping of the Late Show successful, the audience has to believe that David Letterman is the funniest and best host on TV and that the CBS Orchestra is the greatest collection of musicians who never tour (and never change their hair-styles). The lengthy audience-loading procedure works to dumb-down the audience and fill them with awe at what they are about to see.

The Colbert Report encourages its audience to be smart. It has to be smart to follow the news and get all the jokes. So the show approaches the audience members differently. It builds up a confidence in them that the jokes will not go over their heads. Rather than an awed response to the host, the crew pushes a supportive role onto the audience. The repeated theory is that the show is intelligent, its audience is intelligent, and television needs the show to be successful so that television provides more intelligent content. By the end of this, the audience in the Colbert Report is not filled with followers so much as co-conspirators.

Everything that happens inside the studio is designed to make the audience members feel like they are part of something special. This is their chance to help make a difference.

The set is constructed to keep the audience on-side with Colbert. During the interview portion, which takes place stage left, Colbert sits largely facing the audience, able to gauge whether or not they are with him in a particular line of antagonism. The guest, or subject, is left entirely vulnerable, their back almost entirely to the audience, with no idea of whether or not they are winning. And yes, an interview on the Colbert Report is almost always a competition and it is very definitely rigged. Watching someone like Richard Branson, unaccustomed to losing, enter this arena was almost Roman in its inherent Schadenfreude.

In a way, for the Colbert Report to have a live audience is strange. The programmes it parodies (The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity on Fox News) do not have live audiences. They say outrageous things without any audible response from within the TV set. People watching at home are forced to either think for themselves or just accept what the angry voice in the box just said.

The Colbert Report’s live audience is the knowing wink that the programme requires to make the people at home realise they are watching a comedy show and not just another right-wing polemicist. It’s a compromise that the programme makes to the medium and it’s a lot of responsibility to entrust to 130 strangers.

I’m an audience member, get me out of here.

I’m watching I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and wondering what happened to Britain. These people used to run the world. Now they spend their evenings watching Z-list celebrities participate in quizzes – about themselves.

The show takes place in the jungle. The jungle has never looked so much like the smoking balcony of a minor Asian airport. The setting allows the two hosts, chirpy leprechauns staggering around under the weight of their own foreheads, to pretend to be real people.

If only there was a standard British box hedge in the background, the audience would have a frame of reference, realise that these men are damaged and get them the help they so desperately need. Their names are Ant and Dec, being too small to operate under the weight of real names.

They must be complete arseholes, because their hairdresser hates them. Instead of trying to mask their bulbous foreheads with a polite curtain of hair, it is styled up to the sky to add 2cm to their stature. The effect is experimental frigate chic. The wardrobe department has so far avoided pinstriped suits, platform shoes and tiny dogs, but who knows how long they can hold out.

With those powers combined, the Irish pre-teen boy band/Morecambe and Wise mash-up may be able to one day walk among us in defiance of god’s will. Here’s a zucchini from my pants – oh, he’s not eatin’ it! What are ya like? I don’t know Ant and/or Dec, what are you like? I don’t think either of us really wants to know the answer to that question.

Their biggest fan sent them a crude drawing which they criticised because it was coloured outside the lines. Alan, 46, from Cheshire, hanged himself three days later. He is survived by his wife, which his mother knitted for him from drain hair. Amazingly, this event fails to make the show any sadder.

The campers or celebrities or whatever they are, go through challenges designed to make them throw up. Tonight they sent a camp ex-soap actor down a dark slimy tunnel filled with cockroaches, frogs, worms and filth, looking for cheap plastic stars nestled in piles of shit. A stirring recreation of the casting process for the show itself. Meta.

These challenges are all foils for the most difficult task, which is the brutal chit-chat each contestant is dragged through by Ant and Dec. They strain to find the larrikins as delightful as middle Britain apparently does. They laugh too late, too hard and stop whenever they sense an impending close-up, aping the joy that eludes them.

I was going to write a bio for each contestant to inform the Australian audience of what the show assumes we know about them. But I realised that this would be pointless: You know as much about them as anyone else does.

The girls under 30 take a lot of long, giggly showers together. I’m so glad they’re raising awareness of the burden that women under 30 must suffer. Years of my life were wasted taking joint showers, up to 40 minutes at a time, at least three times a day. My doctor informs me that most of my skin is gone and that the giggling has done irreparable damage to my diaphragm. It really is crippling, all that involuntary tit bouncing and ass soaping. Their mouths are smiling but their eyes whisper, “Where is the cure for this disease?”

Tonight, an ageing DJ tried to watch them shower by offering to ride the shower bike (a Gilligan’s Island-style bike that makes the shower water flow). He said it was OK, like an uncle thing. Meanwhile, in London, his niece and nephew take turns stapling their underpants to their bodies in preparation for his return to civilisation.

The ranks of celebrity have swelled to an army. One day there will be more people on TV than actually watching it. On this day, every Nielsen box will simultaneously explode, showering us all with prizes and we will have a nice party where we will talk endlessly about ourselves and our feelings and the attractive people will shower to great applause.

Why boring TV rocks

I’ve just spent two days trying to write my next Boxcutters thing on why I think the Brownlow Medal is not only Football’s Night of Nights, but  Television’s Night of Nights.  I wrote a bunch of funny stuff about dumb blokes, cleavage and relentless montages but I couldn’t nail it.

Then late at night, well after they’d cleaned up Lateline Business set, the bigger idea thudded into my mind. The real reason I love the Brownlow is that it’s boring. Then I thought back to other monumentally boring things on TV, and realised that the more producers start messing around with their perfectly working show to make it less boring, the more the show fails.

Whether it’s the Oscars or the Logies, every awards show tries really hard not to be boring. But the very reason they hold an awards ceremony, that is, to justify lucky though irrelevant people’s lives, killing that boredom is almost impossible. Not even Baz Luhrmann, with a cast of 300 monkeys shooting firecrackers out of their arses to the tune of Hello Dolly, could do it. But we’re into the stuff they award show’s rewarding, whether it’s sports, movies or the Air Conditioning Industry’s Night of Nights, the Captain Caveman in us wants to know who will win.

At the Brownlow Medal we’re transfixed to the monotone of the AFL boss reading the votes. Because that’s all he does – after announcing that the show is “an officially sanctioned meeting of the AFL”- he just reads the votes. This is just like the incredibly long bit during the Eurovision Song Contest when all the countries read their votes. But Eurovision has 25 representatives reading for a minute or two. The Brownlow just has one balding bloke, reading the names of vote winners in each of the season’s 194 games.

But to an obsessed football fan stricken with Finals Fever, this is all we want. We think back to Round 17 and wonder how Chris Judd could get votes in a losing side. This is very important to us.

Notice all the things we really hate about The Brownlow? The hideously sexist “This-is-really-the-girls’-Grand-Final” Blue Carpet bullshit. Voice over guys reciting ridiculous chest beating amateurish bush poetry over endless super-slo-mo action montages. These are things the producers reckon will break the supposed boredom of a balding man reading votes. But they don’t get it. These (marketing-tards call them..) “features” are just tedious. And yes, there is a difference.

Let’s look at Big Brother. I think it was the first series that had a daily up late show where the cameras would just sit in on a bedroom for hours into the early morning. If you watched hard and long enough, you could be lucky or unlucky to catch a hellish cat fight or a housemate having a toss under the covers. But most of the time, the household was asleep. Things happened. Very slowly.

This was genius to the power of Eno. Turning on the TV to see that nothing’s happening on TV. Man…dude….professor…that’s art. But once Mike Goldman came in with his cynical 1800 number word games and tooth-brain talkback interaction to make it less boring, the show got tedious and died. The less said about Hot Dogs, the better.

What I’m probably trying to ask people making these things on TV is, please let your story breathe. There’s no need to chuck brainless shit in just because you think you’re losing your audience. With the new ways we’re watching TV now, as talked a lot about in the podcast lately, you’re already losing your audience to a growing number of shiny lounge room distractions. Be confident. You’ll hold our attention if the story’s strong. It’s okay, real footy fans are losing their minds, waiting for round 22’s votes.  Maybe think of making captivating TV as slow cooking. Is there anything better than when the meat falls off the bone?

Cue monkey firecracker montage.

When One Wedding Is Too Many

Last week I stared into the depths of human inanity and saw what I can only assume was propagandist displays promoting misogyny.

Yes, I watched Four Weddings. Actually, to be correct, I watched it twice. Once was the UK version on a channel I barely knew existed: Lifestyle You. The other was the Australian version on Channel 7.

The premise is to take four of the whingiest, most self-centred and borderline pathological brides-to-be available and send them to each other’s weddings to judge and score them.

At the end of the show, the bride with the highest score wins a trip to the cheapest international destination without a current civil war (or an annulment to equal or lesser value).

If you’re thinking: Hang on, is this really a show in which four women get to judge each other’s celebration of love and commitment, taking something personal, making it public and then metaphorically beating it until it metaphorically bleeds all over the hired, starched, linen chair covers? You’re right.

I’ve always had a problem with the concept of “Reality Television”. It’s always been either documentary or game show to me. Reality has nothing to do with it. Four Weddings, for all its glimpses into other people’s wedding receptions, is just a very boring and low-stakes game show. The only attempt at entertainment value comes from how horrible any of the women can be about other women’s dreams.

Men are either forgotten in the entire process or made to look like useless appendages who have added nothing to the concept of the celebration. So maybe it’s not just misogyny. Maybe it’s an exercise in full-blown misanthropy.

Nobody leaves Four Weddings with their dignity. As soon as people opened their personal dreams to the concept of performance and competition, they sold the specialness of their day and will need to wear that as a memory of their lives together for as long as that lasts.

Forget Wipeout. Four Weddings is the show that brings us closer to Stephen King’s Running Man than ever before. It’s not car crash TV. It’s the mass-slaughter of societal decency.

Is that too dramatic?