Early Thoughts: Platinum Hit

I’m not willing to write a review of a competitive reality show after one episode. If I did that, I might do something stupid like praise a horrible dance show to the heavens for being better than expected. Oh wait, I did that. I don’t know where I wrote up that review of Live to Dance, but I distinctly remember loving it far more than I should have.

Platinum Hit is Bravo’s newest reality show trying to follow the Project Runway/Top Chef model of creating compelling TV out of a specialized skill. 12 singer/songwriters are competing for a publishing contract (that’s music industry speak for songwriting), a record contract with RCA/Jive, and a fabulous cash prize. They are judged by former Nashville Star host Jewel and former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi.

On the first episode, the contestants were broken into four teams to write songs about Los Angeles. The teams were determined by who won a quickfire challenge of writing a hook in 30 minutes. Since we as the audience didn’t even get to see all of the hooks in their entirety and only saw Kara’s feedback for three contestants, it was hard to reason why some of the contestants were chosen as team leaders.

The editing of the songs for the judges didn’t help matters, either. We saw one team talk about building to a powerful bridge to punch into the final chorus but the bridge was edited out of the episode. We saw another team not even record one lick of music for their performance and suddenly there was a minimalist backing track in front of the judges. I’m not suggesting any kind of behind the scenes funny business; I’m merely pointing out where the editing is doing a disservice to the contestants and the show.

Despite what Jewel said on her first blog, the judges did not give a very specific critique. This happened during Work of Art as well. The production company is so afraid of alienating viewers with actual terminology that they excise the specific critiques that probably made sense to the contestants on stage. If Platinum Hit follows the same path, we will reach the point where no one watching the show has any idea why one contestant was eliminated over another. If everyone gets light praise or light criticism, who did the best and who did the worst?

What’s going to make or break this show is the music itself. I think there are some talented songwriters in the contest who might have more to offer. At the very least, Jackie Tohn is great for a one-liner during the talking head interviews.

Will Platinum Hit be a successful reality TV competition? I hope so. It would be nice to expose a wider audience to the songwriting process. I already learned, for example, that some of my stranger ways of writing aren’t that strange. Many of the contestants approached the task with the same tools and methods I use when working on shows and concerts. If Platinum Hit keeps the songwriting content high, I think it will work.

TV Review: Oddities

Oddities is a candid reality TV show about an antique and oddities shop in downtown New York City. Every episode, clients come in to buy, sell, and order strange things. One episode saw an artist bring in her original toenail sculptures cast in resin; another person put in a special request for a budget mortician’s table for a photo shoot.

The shop is run by Evan and Mike. They seem to have a rather simple business model. The show room is covered floor to ceiling with all sorts of antiques and oddities leading to a checkout counter. When someone walks in, they greet the customer by saying “just ask if you have any questions.” Oddities suggests the customers always do. From there, they will describe the object in great historical detail and be open to bartering for a lower price or store credit.

The cast of the show is surprisingly strong. Evan has a great presence about her, finding the beauty and joy in even the most disturbing objects that cross through the store. Mike takes a bit more of a dry approach, joking with the customers about their objects in an attempt to subdue his excitement about the find. Their bone expert, Ryan, actually scares me a little, but I think it’s because he’s a similar breed of nerd. He’s all wide vocabulary and a mouth that doesn’t stop talking. The difference is his area of expertise is articulating animal skeletons (that’s drilling holes through the bone, running wire through the holes, and staging the skeletons for display) and appraising bones. There are also regular customers who are just the right kind of strange to be entertaining and not off-putting.

If there is a flaw to the show, it is the formula that is used every episode. Certain events happen every week. A customer walks in with an odd request, so some combination of Evan, Mike, and Ryan have to track down the rarer oddity; they will make two stops, one successful, one not. Another customer walks in with something to sell that needs to be appraised to see the real value. And, more often than not, a returning customer comes in to expand their collection. It’s a special episode if that returning customer is Amy Sedaris and/or Paul Dinello.

The difference from other shows that follow a similar formula is that Oddities manages to rise above the formula with interesting content. Where else are you going to see a girl trying on a Victorian medical corset or a sword swallower shop for and test out a new prop for her stage show? No where else on series TV, that’s for sure. Even with the formula, the show doesn’t feel staged. I don’t have a hard time believing it’s difficult to find a working piece of Victorian quack medical machinery or a complete unbleached human skeleton. It’s not like you can pop on over to the local department store and grab a stuffed and staged three-toed sloth for a bartender’s private collection, either. The production company has simply created a structure that allows the viewer to feel more comfortable with the stranger content.

If you have The Science Channel and are interested in bizarre collections, it’s worth giving Oddities a try. It’s creepy, funny, and charming, even when people are cradling a mummified hand from Egypt.

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

I’ll start with full disclosure here: I did not like the original Pirates of the Caribbean. I didn’t like the second or third film, either. I felt like there were major pacing problems and the film would suffer when Johnny Depp’s compelling Captain Jack Sparrow wasn’t present in the action. A lot of the humor fell flat for me and the action sequences–though impressive–felt superfluous to whatever greater narrative arc the films were trying to tell. In a word, I found them boring.

Then why did I see the new film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides? Because my brother wanted to go and I like Rob Marshall films.

Did I enjoy the new Pirates film? Yes I did.

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The Joy Factor: Jo Ann Castle

There’s something to be said for a musician who makes even the most complicated music seem fun and effortless. The amount of practice to memorize such songs is mind-blowing for non-musicians. To then perform it with great style and an unforced and unflinching smile is even harder.

Meet Jo Ann Castle. She was a regular performer on The Lawrence Welk Show from 1959 to 1969 on accordion and ragtime piano. She actually started with Lawrence Welk a year before becoming part of the Musical Family with this staggering accordion performance in 1958.

“The World is Waiting for Sunshine” is a short and sweet song from around 1918. Even so, Jo Ann Castle plays it very fast without missing a note. For comparison, here’s famed guitarist Les Paul’s duet of the same song with Mary Ford at a more traditional speed.

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American Idol Season 10: Who Will Win?

It’s down to the final 2 tonight on American Idol.

Wait, tonight? Yes, tonight. Fox doesn’t dare miss out on the last night of the spring television season with the ratings bonanza that is the 2 hour season finale, so the performance/voting show has been moved back to Tuesday.

Anyway, the final two are 16 year old country singer Lauren Alaina and 16 year old country singer Scotty McCreery. No, I’m not joking. Two teenage country singers made the finale.

Here’s Lauren:

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What’s Changed: Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1

Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 is the new Adult Swim series from the creators of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Actually, it’s the same show with a new name. Meatwad, Frylock, and Master Shake are back to solve crimes and fail miserably.

If you know anything about Aqua Teen Hunger Force, you know the crime-solving aspect introduced in the pilot was very rarely picked up on again. I can think of one other episode (the leprechauns scamming people out of their belongings) that involved an actual investigation. The rest of the time, random things happened to talking food products. It’s funny because of the absurdity.

Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, if the creators stay with the premise, takes place nine years in the future. Master Shake freezes himself in the hopes of waking up to a world of bountiful crimes to solve for all detective levels. Instead, he wakes up to a world where everyone is on the honor’s system. If you do something bad, you’re vaporized.

I don’t think the practically perfect in every way world or the time traveling will be canon. What does seem to be a permanent change is the quality of animation. The series has never looked this good before. There are textures and lighting effects that other animated shows have used for years while Aqua Teen Hunger Force stuck to flat graphics and spliced in explosions.

If Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 is just a better animated version of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, it should be a good show. May it run for another hundred episodes.

You can watch the two-part series/season premiere at the Adult Swim website.