Thursday, September 17, 2009

America's Next Top Model: Only Slightly Better Than Chewing Glass

On a rare night in, I decided to watch America's Next Top Model. This is exactly what happened.

7:57 p.m.
My girlfriend, HoneyButterMelt*, wrist-deep in salmon patty preparations, asks me to turn on the TV. A woman wearing very heavy eye shadow and a shirt that looks more like the idea of a tank top than an actual tank top cries and says she "loves people."

I am grateful that I have never seen an episode of So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

8:00 p.m.
America's Next Top Model begins. My excitement swiftly turns to mild disgust as a brief recap of last week's episode shows the models' childhood photos used as inspiration for creepy sexual pictures of them as adults. One of the models is in a clown costume, trying to look sexy. In an instant, everything I have ever thought about clowns, or sex, is not only challenged but metaphorically trampled upon. I fear my future enjoyment of both is severely compromised.

8:01 p.m.
Tyra struts and air-kisses her way through the intro music as we are introduced to the girls. Although I am immediately drawn to the bald Bianca, I keep this to myself, for fear that it makes me not only predictable but super gay.

still 8:01 p.m.
Commercials. Apparently, Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston are starring in an upcoming movie, along with that horribly grating "You Found Me" song. I try to imagine a pairing even more bland (Kevin Costner and Jennifer Love Hewitt? White rice and Pete Wentz? Saltines and Ben Affleck?) and find that I can not.

8:04 p.m.
A commercial announcer asks, "Do you think you have what it takes to get into the Coors Light Mystery Mansion?" I have to admit that if what it takes involves a desire to unravel the "mystery," the ability to stomach Coors Light, or an interest in actually getting into the Coors Light Mystery Mansion, I do not.

8:05 p.m.
ANTM is back.

I am introduced to Rachel, former Walmart cashier. It takes me a few seconds to decide, of all the bright-eyed woodland creatures she reminds me of, that she looks most like a fawn. The criteria are 1.), They have similar spacing of the eyes and 2.) They both look similarly incapable of succeeding at Boggle.

Forget bald Bianca. The Fawn is my favorite and the one I am rooting for.

The girls screech and run toward some kind of vault. The name "Tyra" is intoned. I have no idea what just happened.

8:06 p.m.
The girls meet with modeling agency bigwigs.

A girl with a severe limp attempts to catwalk.

One of the men inquires, "How much pain are you in doing that?" Limpy responds, "A lot."

8:08 p.m.
A girl who has a lazy eye walks into the room and is berated for having a lazy eye. She leaves.

The Fawn appears. She is asked to sing. Her mind goes blank, although this is difficult to tell, as her eyes remain precisely as big and shiny and vacant as they were before. "In this industry, you've got to be able to perform on the spot!" one man chirps, before sending her away.

The next girl walks in. "Five three?!" one of the men exclaims. "You are really pushing the boundaries." He says this spitefully, as if her height is a personal insult to him, as if the numbers 5 and 3 have recently tried to sell him a sub-par Caramel Macchiato and he holds her responsible.

8:10 p.m.
Bianca is on screen, briefly. The edits are made so quickly that I am starting to feel at risk of an epileptic seizure. I almost have a chance to form a thought about the fact that TV is not made for anyone with a reasonably healthy attention span, when it is announced that they are going to kick someone off the show. Right now.

The girls' hands fly up to cover their gaping mouths almost in unison. "This is real," one of the men says. He says this with rehearsed conviction.

8:11 p.m.
Commercials. I am called to the kitchen to help HoneyButterMelt.

I express my concern that I haven't yet seen the crazy Jesus-loving girl I heard so much about from last week's episode. HoneyButterMelt tells me that the crazy Jesus-loving girl is gone. Although I try not to be, I am visibly disappointed.

"There's another one that's kinda bonkers," HoneyButterMelt says, by way of consolation.

I decide the only way to get through the show is to wholeheartedly and 100% support The Fawn.

8:15 p.m.
One of the girls (it may have been The Fawn) explains how shocking this experience is. "I think I just like...everything just kinda like...what."

The Fawn is told to go home.

"I was expecting someone to pop out and go, 'Just kidding!'" She says, tearily adding, "Opportunities like this don't really come for girls like me." I picture her returning to Walmart, slipping on a blue vest, and resigning herself to a life of minimum wage and Big Grab bags of Lay's BBQ chips.

One of the men says, "The fact of the matter is this is a very harsh industry and we want to represent someone who has some kind of personality there."

I hate the men, and this show.

8:16 p.m.
The girls begin trash-talking The Fawn. The girl with the lazy eye is relieved The Fawn is gone. "Yeah I have this issue with my eye but I feel really, really good."

I decide that Lazy Eye is my least favorite. I hope she loses.

There is more screeching and running toward the vault.

A photographer named Jean-Michel appears, and screams at the girls. He claims he would rather "chew glass" than photograph them.

I wonder if Jean-Michel can imagine what chewing glass would actually be like.

Tyra bounds in dressed as a classic "nerd" and begins modeling while Jean-Michel yells at her. She takes her glasses off, flips her trench coat inside out and transforms into some kind of modeling super hero. She and Jean-Michel have a back and forth in what has got to be the most awkward role play I have ever seen.

I decide I would rather chew glass than watch Tyra Banks "act." I imagine what chewing glass would actually be like, and stick by my decision.

Super Tyra poses, while referencing the "smize." It becomes clear that "to smize" is to smile with one's eyes.

Tyra addresses the girls as the superhero Super Smize, and gets them to work on their posture. She asks them to think of something nice. "It could be a hot fudge sundae," she says. "It could be your boyfriend" (pause) "kissing your" (pause) "...neck."

I scan the room for glass.

8:19 p.m.
Tyra instructs one of the girls to "Give me the sound that the cat makes but continue smiling with your eyes. Now do it inside of your head." I consider the possibility that Tyra may be a Dadaist genius.

I look at HoneyButterMelt, who is now seated next to me on the couch. She is attempting to smize.

8:20 p.m.
One of the girls reveals that her secret to smizing is thinking about pizza. "Turkey pepperoni or real pork swine?" Tyra asks.

While I am struggling to understand the string of disconnected nouns that stream from Tyra Banks's mouth, HoneyButterMelt asks, "Can I smize?" She squints and purses her lips. She looks as if she has just eaten a lemon. I don't say this. Instead, I say, "Yes." HoneyButterMelt smiles.

8:21 p.m.
The girls are in weird, fencing-like body suits that leave only their eyes visible. They are going to have a smize off.

"You know who would have been excellent at smizing? The Fawn!" As I'm saying this, I realize I don't actually believe it.

I consider chewing glass as self-inflicted punishment for actually using the word "smize" aloud, in a sentence.

8:22 p.m.
Tyra reminds the girls that "Smiling with your eyes is not just squinting." I feel superior, having already figured this out.

Bianca beats Lazy Eye in the smize off. Big surprise.

8:23 p.m.
I remember that salmon patties are on their way. I am getting hungry.

8:25 p.m.
Bianca is in a black bikini standing over a dishwasher arguing with the girls about whether the dishes are clean or not. Her bald head looks less sexy than menacing. I don't like her.

8:26 p.m.
Commercials. I steal a small potato from the pot of potatoes HoneyButterMelt is mashing on the stove. I eat it over the sink, pretending I'm a poor Irishman from the late 1800s and this is all I have for dinner. In keeping with the fantasy, I think, "That was a right gud wee puh-tay-toe." Even in my head, I can't do a proper Irish accent. I head back to the couch feeling slightly defeated, but less hungry.

8:29 p.m.
The girls go to Santa Anita park, where they meet a man who looks like a photo negative of a regular human. He tries, unsuccessfully, to inject enthusiasm into his voice as he explains that for the next task, "You'll be up on the horse...nude."

The girls cheer and jump.

"You're going to take everything you learned from Supersmize and show us that you truly know how to smile with your eyes," he says.

A topless girl in a long, blond wig gets on top of a horse, elbows a jockey in the back, and smizes.

8:32 p.m.
Lazy Eye approaches.

"You look drunk," the photographer tells her.

"I have a condition of the eye," she replies.

Her horse freaks out.

8:33 p.m.
Photo Negative says of a model, "She gave me Italian Vogue...literally." I am certain he doesn't know what literally means.

8:34 p.m.
The word "smize" is spoken upwards of fifteen times.

Laura comes out and says in a southern accent, "I just like nudity."

She is my new favorite.

8:36 p.m.
Limpy is forced to wear a soft cast boot during the photo shoot. She is angry. It shows.

Photo Negative yells, "Smize! Don't forget!"

8:37 p.m.
Back in the house, there is a confrontation between Limpy and one of the girls. Someone in the room sings out "Awk-ward!"

8:38 p.m.
Commercials. HoneyButterMelt calls from the kitchen. "Sorry dinner is so late. I wish I was there eating and bitching with you!" I am happy to be in a solid relationship, one built on food and mutual judgment.

I stare at the commercials which, honestly, I barely understand. Someone asks me to, "Imagine the strength and flexibility of bamboo in a hairspray." I can not. I wonder if I really am out of touch with the rest of humanity, or if everyone feels this way while watching TV.

As if in answer to my question, a commercial for Dane Cook's upcoming concert at the Bell Center comes on. I decide I am out of touch with humanity.

8:41 p.m.
It is announced that the girl who wins this challenge will get a modeling contract with the bitchy men we saw earlier. I think how handy it is for them that this whole episode has been a commercial for their agency.

8:43 p.m.
The girls' horse pictures are judged by the panel, which includes Lauren Conrad (of whom I am only vaguely aware) and a black man with womanly lips, and sleeves that look as if they are eating his shoulders.

He critiques one of the photos by neighing like a horse, and then saying that the photo is lacking the particular horse noise that he just made.

8:44 p.m.
Lauren Conrad says of Lazy Eye's photo, "Your eyes almost look uneven."

"No, I have uneven eyes," she answers.

I wonder why she is even in the competition, but I start to admire her perseverance.

I ask HoneyButterMelt how to spell "perseverance." We sound it out.

"Oh! Not per-ser-ver-ance," I say, "but per-se-ver-ance."

"Gets you every time," HoneyButterMelt says.

"Actually, that's the first time it ever got me," I reply defensively.

I wonder if this onset of spelling difficulty is karmic payback for me making a wordnerd crack about Boggle earlier.

8:45 p.m.
Tyra tells Bianca that there is too much tension in her mouth. "Your mouth looks like 'Who farted?'"

Everyone agrees that Laura's photo is great. I am happy my new favorite is doing well.

8:46 p.m.
"Because it's so strange, it's not hooch," Puffy Sleeves says. I have no idea what he's referring to or what this means.

8:47 p.m.
The concept of "a melancholy smize" is introduced.

8:48 p.m.
Commercials. I wonder if we find out right away who will be eliminated, or if we get to see the worst three girls humiliated first.

I hear HoneyButterMelt banging spoons in the kitchen. I'm starving.

I search Craigslist Montreal's furniture section for a floor lamp.

8:52 p.m.
The judges deliberate. "She's not smizing." "She is giving us an angry smize." "She can smize."

Tyra literally (literally, Photo Negative) smizes a guy right out of his chair.

8:54 p.m.
A steaming plate of salmon patties, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, and arugula salad is placed before me. I have the best girlfriend in the universe. I am smug.

Tyra hands photos to the girls. I am pretty sure this means they continue to the next round.

8:56 p.m.
Bianca and Limpy clasp hands and step forward to dramatic music.

The problem is, as Tyra sees it, that Bianca complains and Limpy gave up on her shoot. Desperate for meaning, I decide to make this the show's moral. Be cheerful. Don't give up. Smize though your heart is aching.

Suddenly, Bianca wins.

"But Bianca looked like a man!" I protest. I am surprised, in the wake of The Fawn's demise, that I have any feelings at all about the outcome of the show.

"Who's going home?" HoneyButterMelt asks. "The limpy or the bald one?"

"Limpy," I answer. The girls cry.

A picture of all the girls dressed in rope flashes on the screen.

The preview reel for next week's episode shows a child strutting like a diva, and an altercation over Bianca's eyebrows.

Commercials. The show is over. I would feel empty inside, but for my salmon patties.

*not her real name

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Punky Brewster or, Refrigerators Can Kill You!

DISCLAIMER: I will, in this blog about Soleil Moon Frye, known best for her portrayal of TV's young and plucky Punky Brewster, refrain from mentioning gigantomastia (extreme growth of the breasts). If, my friends, you're looking for cheap jokes about gigantomastia (bilateral benign progressive breast enlargement), look elsewhere. If you'd like to see images of gigantomastia (I recommend it), you have come to the wrong blog. Even if you'd simply like a medical definition of gigantomastia (seriously, it's like EXTREME growth), this blog will be naught but a disappointment to you. While easily exploited for both humor and shock value, gigantomastia (the largest recorded weight per breast was 67 lbs!) will not be mentioned even once in this blog. If gigantomastia (Google it) is what you're after, I suggest you move along. Thank you.

Here we go.

Soleil Moon Frye ranks up there with Nancy Reagan and Garbage Pail Kids as oddities from the '80s I have not thought of in a very, very long time. She came back into my life and consciousness much the same way the depressing theatrical works of Sarah Kane or the benefits of omega-rich flax seed oil or use of the word "perv" as a verb ("I was totally perving on that girl") came into my life: thanks to my girlfriend.

My girlfriend, who hereafter will be referred to as HoneyButterMelt,* has recently developed a weakness for celebrity Twittering. (Is that even the correct way to say that? Celebrity tweeting? Celebritweet? Mind-numbingly boring psuedo-newsfeeds?) In any case, it was a short-lived hobby of HoneyButterMelt's, but a relatively intense one. In the time she was into it, HoneyButterMelt learned everything there is to know about Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson (either a lot more or a lot less than you would imagine, depending on whether you have your own life), which led to her Nicole Richie's page, which led her to Sara Gilbert's page, which led her to Soleil Moon Frye. (Really, I'm not going to mention gigantomastia, so quit waiting for it.)

Soleil Moon Frye, it turns out, has gone from this:

To this:

Back to this:

Horrifying, isn't it? But not nearly as horrifying as the video I will link you to at the end of this blog (and no, it's not a video about gigantomastia).

Apparently, the only thing of consequence Soleil Moon Frye has really done in her life is portray TV's young and plucky Punky Brewster. Punky Brewster was great, but unless I'm drunk on tequila in a seedy strip club in Chicago, I really do not want to see a 33-year-old woman dressed up as her, flashing me a thumbs up. Excuse me while I shudder.

I got to thinking about the show, and I'm disturbed by how many details I remember. The main set up, as I recall, was that Punky Brewster (having been left in a shopping center by her mom) was a resourceful and courageous orphan who, along with her faithful dog Brandon, befriended Henry and taught the old codger to love again. I credit the show Punky Brewster with teaching me three important lessons I've carried in my heart throughout my life. 1. Quick wit and determination can get a girl out of a jam. 2. Friendship is the most valuable thing in life. and 3. MY MOM COULD ABANDON ME IN A SHOPPING CENTER.

Way to shatter my innocence, Punky Brewster. That little backstory detail, mentioned perhaps once in the first episode, stuck with me like the bittersweet memory of Samantha Ronson's loving touch sticks with Lindsay Lohan (which is to say, deeply). If Punky Brewster's mom could leave her in a store, my mom could leave me in a store. Why the heck wouldn't she? I was cute, sure, but not nearly as freckled or adorable or full of pep as Punky Brewster. Compared to the awesome Punky Brewster, I was totally expendable. Thanks to that show, my mom never had to tell me twice that we were leaving a store. I would be up and away from the Cabbage Patch doll display faster than Samantha Ronson can delete Lindsay Lohan's increasingly desperate tweet-attempts to win back her heart (which is to say, as hastily as possible).

A friend, who hereafter will be referred to as Diane Smithers**, suggested that as far as backstories go, the whole mom-leaving-you-in-a-shopping-center thing wasn't a horrible one. Diane Smithers said that the show's writers probably thought it was better than other possible explanations for why a kid would be orphaned. Imagine the brainstorming session: "How about Punky's mom is a crystal meth addict? Maybe her parents died in a fire? Her dad killed her mom and is now in jail? What if Punky's Chinese and her country has a one-child policy and seeing that her culture traditionally values sons over daughters, her parents felt the social pressure to produce a boy and abandoned her on a rocky hillside?" "...Or, maybe, her mom just left her in a shopping center?" "Yeah, that's good."

The other notable thing about Punky Brewster was that all the episodes had a message. Does anyone remember when the kids were playing hide-and-seek outside and one of them decided to hop into an abandoned refrigerator? Holy Macanole, that kid almost died! Inside a refrigerator! Unlike Lindsay Lohan getting the message when Samantha Ronson does not reply to her exclamation-point-heavy tweets (which is to say, not at all), I got the refrigerators-are-death-traps message loud and clear. Thereafter I eyed our refrigerator at home knowingly, with suspicion and contempt. You won't kill me, chilled place where we keep our produce!

Remember the episode where the illiterate girl who lied about being able to read had to face her ignorance when her little brother drank some cleaning solution and she couldn't read the poison control instructions on the back of the bottle? Or when all the picked-on kids ganged up against the school bully, Moose? I'm telling you, Punky always had a message. "Refrigerators will kill you. Punky Power!" "Don't lie about if you can read. Punky Power!" "Try not to drink stuff under the sink. Punky Power!" "Don't be a jerk to other kids. Punky Power!"

I'm tempted to go on, both about Punky Brewster (really, the amount of trivia I've retained about that show is troubling; I could write a thesis on the bleak theme song alone***) and the sad and shattered lovelorn LiLo, but I'll get to Soleil Moon Frye's video (which is definitely not about gigantomastia). Be warned, it is extremely disturbing. But be heartened, it is also extremely affirming. It will probably make you feel really, really good about the choices you've made in your life, seeing as those choices-- whatever they were-- did not lead you to make the following video. Enjoy. HoneyButterMelt, this video is for you.

*Not her real name, but a psuedonym designed to protect Sarah's anonymity.

**Not her real name, but a psuedonym designed to protect my ego and reputation from the fact that the "friend" I was talking to was me.

***"Maybe the world is blind (do do do do do do), or just a little unkind, Don't know...Seems you can't be sure (do do do do do do), of anything anymore...Oh no..." Those are the opening lines to a kids' show!
Well, they can't say they didn't prep us for a world in which moms shuck off their kids in shopping centers and refrigerators stalk and murder 8-year-olds.