Email Roundtable #19 – Reality TV Homework Challenge

Remember two weeks ago when I assigned us some homework? No? Well, I did. I asked us to find a reality show that was interesting/different so that we could attempt to discuss them. The assignment was entirely selfish but hopefully the shows below interest some of you too!

David Chang

What is the name of the reality show you discovered?

Kerri: The Mind of a Chef

What is the show all about?

Kerri: It’s a bit of a cheat to pick a cooking show for this reality show challenge but hear me out: The Mind of a Chef is ostensibly a cooking show that aired on PBS in late 2012. More to the point, it is a show about chef and mastermind David Chang who founded the Momofuku empire in New York. The show is pretty much what I’d imagine Chang’s personal notebook looks like: a bit of travel, a bit of science and a lot of food. The show is produced by Anthony Bourdain and there is some of that No Reservations/The Layover vibe going on but it’s a lot quieter than those shows, a lot less showy. Each episode surrounds a topic and Chang goes from there. In an episode on ramen, say, Chang will go visit some famous noodle houses in Japan, go to a noodle factory to see how the noodles are made, talk about the specific science of the ramen noodle (something to do with alkalinity) and then come back to New York to make his own ramen at Momofuku. The show is great because it is not one specific thing: It’s not really a travel show, it’s not really a cooking show, it’s not really a science show. It’s all of those things but most of all it’s David Chang. It is a show about Chang’s personal passion and desire and drive and experimentation. It helps that Chang is a pleasant persona, incredibly charming and always seemingly slightly stoned (though, I’m sure he’s not). You may have seen Chang on No Reservations or on Treme as (what a stretch!) David Chang the head chef, and Janette’s Boss, at Momofuku. But, it is here on this deeply personal show that he really shines.

How did you find the show?

Kerri: Graeme (my partner) started watching it one day. It was really a fluke that I had assigned us this as homework and the show fit. 

Who would you recommend it to?

Kerri: Foodies; People who enjoy Anthony Bourdain, People who like Top Chef, People who enjoy shows that explore passion; Katie and Jane; Human Beings.

Will you keep watching?

Kerri: Absolutely. There are 16 episodes in the first season and at this point I’ve seen them all. The nice thing about this show is that, if it continues, I can see them changing it up by choosing a different chef to follow for a season.

What is the name of the reality show you discovered?

Jane: Welcome to Myrtle Manor

What is the show all about?

Jane: Welcome to Myrtle Manor showcases the everyday goings on of a five-star resort trailer park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its colorful cast of characters are a handful of the park’s 120 residents. I’ve only seen the pilot so far, but it seems like the show’s focus will be on its quirky residents. Our narrator Jenna, has just returned to the trailer park after a messy divorce. She seems to genuinely love the residents she introduces us to, and that for me is crucial for my enjoyment of the show. She never looks down on the residents and because the show is from her point of view the viewer doesn’t either. When Jenna describes Anne, as “a very unique person who loves flamingos and cats,” I didn’t feel like she was making fun of the lady we see spinning around her living room putting on a dance show. It would be easy for the show to mock her but it doesn’t. The same is true for all the people Jenna introduces us to. She seems like a reliable narrator and because she cares about these people it was easy to invest in this new cast of characters.

What’s different about the show is that the characters are all hyper aware that there are cameras on them. It is obvious that they are showing off and the results are hilarious. As we follow Marvin, the parks head of security, on his rounds he is clearly hoping that something exciting will happen. When nothing does he makes something up. Kicking at an old piece of cardboard he fears “looks like someone is trying to hide some blood or something,” while giving the camera a meaningful look.

How did you find the show?

Jane: Channel surfing. I’ve been searching for a reality show to fulfill my homework assignment and after a few duds I landed on the pilot episode of Myrtle Manor.

Who would you recommend it to?

Jane: I’m not sure at this point. I would be hesitant to give a glowing recommendation based on one viewing of the pilot episode. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed most of the characters but the show could develop a number of ways. Right now it isn’t mocking its characters, but because it is on TLC my fear is that it could easily slip into Honey Boo Boo territory.

Will you keep watching?

Jane: For now, yes. I’m curious to see how it develops. However, if the line between laughing with and laughing at the characters gets any more fuzzy, then I will probably stop watching.

What is the name of the reality show you discovered?

Katie: Face Off

What is the show all about?

Katie: Face Off is your standard Project Runway/Top Chef style competition show about make up artists. The grand prize is money + a boat load of makeup + a car + the opportunity to become a guest lecturer at the Make Up For Ever Academy in New York and Paris.

The competitors are mostly graduates of make up school and most work in the film industry. In other words, they are already professionals. That means they are hella skilled at what they do. That’s what makes the show so incredibly watchable. Every episode features amazing feats of creativity and skill. Also, it’s an older bunch than most other competition shows (many are in their 30s and 40s) so there is less bitchiness as a result of insecurity. They know they are awesome at what they do.

The focus on talent is what makes the show entertaining, to me. There is nothing new about the format (in fact, the production looks like an exact copy of Project Runway) but instead of cattiness between contestants, there is more time spent explaining how different effects are done. You get to learn how they mould silicon! You get to see how they airbrush a person’s face! Nowhere else will you hear a contestant say in a testimonial, “I still have to finish my tentacles and my chest piece.” These folks are fun to watch.

How did you find the show?

Katie: I googled “reality TV shows” then clicked on a link to an IMDB page that was called “The best reality shows” or something like that. Face Off was that person’s number 1 pick.

Who would you recommend it to?

Katie: Watchers of Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist; People who are into art, movies, fashion, fantasy, comic books; People who like to watch people work with their hands; People who like to stare at gorgeous and talented models (of both genders!); Nerds.

Will you keep watching?

Katie: Periodically. It’s a very entertaining show, but it’s not something I can’t live without.

Image of David Chang by dumbonyc

2 thoughts on “Email Roundtable #19 – Reality TV Homework Challenge

  1. Pingback: Too Much Reality: Why I Don’t Dig Fashion Star | The Golden Age of Television

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