Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reality TV - the good, the bad, the unbelievable

I have a couple of guilty TV pleasures – Top Chef and Survivor. I got on the Survivor bandwagon late; I watched the first season but didn’t watch again until we moved to Michigan. Three of my bestest buds back home watched, so I started watching again; it was a weird way to feel connected, but it worked. Feeling like I was still in touch was important and if I had to sit through an hour of a stupid reality show to feel a bond I’d do it. Little did I know I’d fall in love with the show and I’ve been a faithful fan the past four years.

Unlike Survivor, I didn’t watch the first season of Top Chef, and quite honestly I’m not entirely sure how I came to watch it. But in those first few years after the move I watched a lot of television – way more than I’d ever watched because before the move I had friends and a life, which, thankfully I have again but holy smokes, 2005 to 2007 were rough – so I assume that’s when I picked it up. I’ve been hooked since season two. I have no idea how the “cheftestants” come up with all those dishes in such a short period of time. Sometimes I stand in front of my pantry and think, “If a Top Chef contestant were here right now I wonder what he’d cook up for dinner?” And then I make macaroni and cheese from a box.

Wednesday had been a really long day and when I sat down to watch Padma and Tom and the cheftestants I was enjoying not thinking about anything. It was the Restaurant Wars challenge and I was flabbergasted all over again at how even the dishes that fail are better than the best thing I can cook. I was pretty zoned out until the first commercial break. There they were, in all their fake-hair glory: the “real” housewives of Atlanta.

How can a television network so prominently display people pursuing excellence and in the very next minute feature some of the most mindless women I’ve ever laid eyes on? Honey, I lived in Atlanta for 35 years. My mom was a housewife. I was a housewife. Most of my friends were housewives. I never met any housewife like the five Bravo features on their supposed reality show.

It’s a bit like a train wreck, of course, and I couldn’t avert my eyes, especially since I recognized several of the places featured in the ad. I know one of the women lived in a subdivision down the street from my parents’ sub (until the bank took the house), and another is from John’s Creek, a mere 15 minutes from where I used to live. Lots of the shots of restaurants and shops are familiar because I’ve driven by them hundreds of times.

I was getting a bit hot under the collar, thinking people would assume women from Atlanta were like these crazy people. But then I realized nobody’s going to think that! These are the fakest women around, just like all the other “housewives” who allow cameras to film their every move. There is something seriously wrong with television networks when nutjobs are heralded as “TV worth watching.” (But, of course, Bravo wouldn’t air it if it didn’t get ratings…)

Thankfully the commercial was short and the cooking resumed. Real people with real talent doing something useful and productive and amazing. Top Chef may not have cat fights and hair extensions and way too much cleavage, but it does have a lot of fine cooking. That’s what I call TV worth watching.