Since the major networks and basic cable alike have all but abandoned the idea of programming much beyond reality contests over the summer, and since I'm too much of a TV addict to turn the damn set off, I'll be dedicating every Friday for the rest of the summer–or until I get fed up with the whole project–to recapping the week in reality TV. Only three shows on tap this week, though next week the output doubles!

On The Lot
I wrote about the first two episodes of this show on Monday, but there's a lot I didn't get into, like the mysterious missing challenge–whatever happened to that "shoot a one-page script in an hour" deal?–and the rapidly rotating hosts and celebrity panelists. No one seems to be able to confirm whether On The Lot's conversion into American Director was planned all along, or whether this is a deck chairs/Titanic situation. Like Fox's annual summer reality hit Hell's Kitchen, On The Lot apparently beams our way from a concrete bunker buried on an island in an alternate timeline. No one's really out front, taking responsibility for this baby–maybe because the ratings are quickly sliding down to NHL levels. (It was definitely a bad sign when the already ridiculously prolonged results episode on Tuesday ran nearly five minutes of commercials for future Fox shows before the opening credits aired.) There's not much else to talk about until the next round of Bud Lite ads–I mean "films"–comes our way, but I did want to note the entertainment value of judge Garry Marshall, constantly making reference to "my sistah Penny" and insisting that every female contestant hoist the flag for womankind. Anything to distract attention for Georgia Rule, I guess.
Line Of The Week:: "You made fancy farting!"

The Next Best Thing
ABC is almost as bad as Fox when it comes to extra-dimensional reality shows, though ABC's seem to transmit from the deck of a dimly lit spaceship. And when they fail–which they nearly always do–ABC isn't shy about jettisoning the dead weight. (Just ask William Shatner and Donny Osmond.) A quick hook might well be the future for The Next Best Thing, which applies the American Idol formula to–wait for it–celebrity impersonators! It's touching the way the first episode lays out the plans for the next few weeks of audition shows and upcoming live performances, but NBT may not get that far, since the series has been fundamentally misconceived in a manner similar to NBC's America's Got Talent. (Which is not on my docket this summer, incidentally.) Once you've seen someone do their big trick–be it a quick-change act or impersonating Robin Williams–what more do you need to see? Even the bad impressions on NBT are entertaining only for a second or two, and then interesting only on a philosophical level. (How important is it for a singing impersonator to be a good singer? Should an impersonator try to be funny? Etc.) Anyway, it's obvious from the first episode that the ones who do this professionally–the available-for-parties Lucille Balls and George Bushes–will make it the furthest, even though it's hard to imagine what they'll do in front of a live audience that they haven't already done for our not-quppy-enough host comedians. Speaking of which, I enjoyed Elon Gold's snarky "You've made a lasting impression" tagline, especially as counterbalanced by Jeffrey Ross's can't-be-bothered "Later babe." Both of those are more meta than reality show catchphrases get. Also it's sweet, in an old-school showbiz way, how Gold and Ross clearly get off on the impressionists with real command of their craft. Anyway, there's not much here, but I'll give it another week if ABC will.
Line Of The Week:: "Who sent you, The Make-A-Wish Foundation?"

Pirate Master
This one I was really looking forward to, because I prefer reality series with some element of physical challenge, like Survivor and The Amazing Race; and after a typically awkward "in medias res" Mark Burnett opening–in which a bunch of goofily costumed contestants board a ship in darkness and try to set sail–Pirate Master quickly rewarded my expectations. As day breaks, the crew is split into two and sent ashore on a race for treasure. Then the real twists come, as the winning crew elects a captain, that captain elects two officers, and both their treasure and their ship duties subsequently get divided unevenly. There follows the usual folderol about voting someone off, but with a different kind of hierarchy from Survivor–one that allows open mutiny. Really, this is one of the game-ier of the reality game shows I've seen, more like one of those crazy big-set game shows of the late '70s–The Money Maze, writ large. But it sports ample reality trappings too, from the chesty, barely clad women stumping through mud pits to the outsized rebel personalities. The standouts in episode one include Zach Galifianakis look-alike Louie, with his wounded thousand-yard stare, and "scientist/exotic dancer" John, a.k.a. the first to be "cut adrift" (despite his superior pirating skills and weird hand gestures). Yes, this is all fairly ridiculous, but it's more honestly fun than what passes for summer filler on the other networks. (At least until Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen and American Inventor start next week.)
Line Of The Week:: "I've stolen both compasses!"

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