Watch, Then Wait 

By Ben Taylor

May is here, and the TV season is drawing to its usual hyperbolic conclusion. While some shows will rise to the occasion by bringing involved plot lines to a head or leaving us with a tantalizing cliffhanger, other shows running on fumes will rely instead on stunt casting and ludicrous plot developments. Here are highlights for the upcoming end to your couch potato season:

♦ It all kicks off in earnest this Thursday with the season finale of Survivor II: The Australian Outback. I think it’s fair to say at this point that the second edition of this reality sensation hasn’t been nearly as satisfying as the first. Except for the shallow Jerri, the mood among contestants has been genial, which unfortunately makes for rather dull television.

But that’s not going to stop CBS from turning the show’s closing installment into an overbearing three-hour extravaganza. After the two-hour finale, Bryant “please God kill me” Gumbel will once again enjoy the dishonor of interviewing the entire cast on live television. This time, though, to heighten the excitement, the winner will be announced on the live broadcast. Boy, you could cut the tension with plasticware. If that isn’t enough, the following week CBS will air an episode detailing the contestants’ return home.

♦ Over on NBC, old ratings stalwart Friends has taken a beating from Survivor. But that’s probably not due solely to Survivor’s immense popularity. Friends is wrapping up its seventh season, and the age definitely has started to show. That’s not to say the program went completely down the tubes this year; it just suffered from a more distinct hit-and-miss feeling.

All the same, the saving grace has still been the cast, which still appears to enjoy working together and gamely tries make the weakest scripts work. It takes a great group of comedic actors to make me look forward to an episode like next week’s, whose plot description reads: “Joey discovers the pleasure of wearing women’s underwear.” The season will, of course, culminate with the wedding of Chandler and Monica on May 17. This plot line has always been one of the show’s most satisfying; let’s just hope it lives up to the anticipation and doesn’t suffer from the casting of Kathleen Turner as Chandler’s transsexual father.

♦ NBC’s other ratings blockbuster The West Wing will continue to follow its interesting but somewhat ill-executed plot about the president’s multiple sclerosis being hidden from the public. Aaron Sorkin seems to want to draw a parallel to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and to make a statement about just how much the public has a right to know. But multiple sclerosis and hummers from twentysomething interns aren’t remotely comparable.

♦ Other than these two big hits, NBC will be relying on carpet-bombing you with its new hit game show, The Weakest Link. Please do not watch this incredibly stupid program. There’s nothing entertaining about an arrogant Brit insulting people for being smart enough not to know the name of the straight-to-video sequel to Lady and the Tramp.

♦ Although NBC once ruled the ratings, its foothold has eroded in the past couple years. One reason might be the upstart WB network. When Fox boldly challenged the major three networks over a decade ago, it did so with mainly lowest-common-denominator programming. It eventually succeeded, largely through cheap melodramas populated with bimbos (90210, Melrose Place).

WB seems to have taken the very opposite approach, developing shows centered around smart female characters—generally a rarity on television. Which is why I am really stupefied by the network’s decision to let Buffy the Vampire Slayer jump to UPN this coming fall. Sure, it’s in its fifth season, but rarely do shows that have been around so long hit such an artistic high; this year has been a particularly good one. A February episode, in which Buffy and Dawn’s mother unexpectedly died of natural causes, was one of the most intelligently handled hours of television all year. The show’s May 22 season finale on WB will surely find the plot of Dawn as “the key” coming to a head, as will Buffy’s burgeoning romance with Spike.

Way before that, on May 10, you can catch the season finale of WB’s Gilmore Girls, the best new program of the year. Both mother and daughter head into the summer reigniting old flames. If you haven’t been watching the show due to Survivor or Friends, then skip the Gilmore Girls season finale and start watching the following week, so you can catch up with reruns. It’ll be like having a brand-new show all summer.

Star-suck

You’ve got to wonder what it’s like to be a superstar, to be the center of the universe for everyone and everything around you. You think it would be the perfect thing for a severely insecure human being. Then you see someone like Robert Downey Jr. getting arrested for the umpteenth time, and you realize there’s a downside to all that unchecked self-indulgence. Because the bigger a star and his ego become, the more his own life becomes the source of entertainment. Which is just fine by me, as long as it leaves me fascinated or giggling my ass off. And if you don’t think a drug-addled Robert Downey Jr. is funny, you obviously haven’t seen Less Than Zero.

The king of fame-induced dementia, Michael Jackson, is attempting to make a high-profile comeback this year. I remember, at the beginning of Thriller mania, when the weirdest thing about Michael was how greasy his hair was. Since then, he’s turned white, taken up with animals, tattooed eyeliner to his eyelids, and conspicuously settled out of court on a pedophilia charge.

All the while, his records have become less and less fun. It seems obvious that his career is long past the defibrillator stage, but then again, he does live on a ranch called Neverland. So along with releasing an album later this year, this September Jacko will participate in a tribute concert at Madison Square Garden for, well, him. The self-organized “Michael Jackson: The Solo Years 30th Anniversary” will feature, ironically, a reunion with The Jackson 5. In addition, Mike will try and update his “hip” quotient by duetting with ♦NSync, Whitney Houston, and the perpetually vocally challenged Britney Spears. (What, Paul McCartney’s not on the speed dial anymore? Maybe you shouldn’t have licensed all of his songs for commercial use, jackanapes.) Adding to the production spectacle will be Marc Anthony, Shaggy, Jill Scott, Mya, a 300-member gospel choir, a 200-member children’s choir, a 48-piece orchestra, 40 dancers, 12 background singers, and a show-ending denouement that will unite, and I quote, “40 pop, R&B, and country legends singing together.” Top that, Garth Brooks!

My suggestion to MJ is to come back down to earth, listen to Off the Wall, call Quincy Jones, ditch the weird military clothes and the sanitary mask, and try returning to the smooth, infectious R&B that made you famous in the first place. Everybody’s sick of all that other horseshit.

Quotidian Challenge

“Yeah that team sure sucked last night. They just plain sucked! I’ve seen teams suck before but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked!”

Be the first to e-mail the origin of this useless bit of trivia to poplife the shame of your name printed in the paper and some free useless crap from the Nashville Scene!

Previous week’s answer: “The Fly” by U2.

Winner: Nels Noseworthy.

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