by Marty Demarest

Emeril -- Nobody else on television is as irritating as this gnome of a chef who continually talks to his audience like he's drunk and horny. Instead of cooking instructions, he shouts unhelpful words like "Bam!" and "Pow!," and then -- even worse -- he grins inanely and acts like he's cool and sexy for doing it.

Animal Cops -- This show is almost unbearable. At first I thought it would be good, or at least bizarre. A group of humane society employees goes out on their daily mission to find mistreated animals and bring abusive and neglectful humans to justice. It has animals, it has animals in distress, and it has caring authority figures. This should at least merit our sympathy. Instead, the show meanders from incident to incident, with the humans displaying virtually no passion for their work. There's no style, and no reality TV editing even to simulate the effect of tension or conflict. The advantage of reality TV -- that it combines reality with all the razzle-dazzle of television -- isn't used here, and the result is a show that's less exciting than both real-life and television.

Todd TV -- An average, good-looking bum with his life in a holding pattern agrees to give up his free will for seven weeks, allowing television audiences to watch his every move and decide what he'll do next in his life. There should be suspense here, as each show involves Todd being told what he must do in order to comply with the rules of the game. But Todd only whines when he's given decisions like "undergo colon hydrotherapy," and "quit your job now." Then he complies, and babbles to the camera about how it's the most difficult thing he's ever done. This happened in show after show, and in the end, Todd came across as so uninteresting that I didn't even want to see him suffer.

Dr. Phil -- I knew I had been watching TV long enough when a friend dropped Dr. Phil's name into our conversation, and I actually knew who the weight-loss, personal-assessment talk show host was. But as our conversation moved along, I discovered what I now call "The Dr. Phil Problem." I knew who Dr. Phil was, and I knew what his show and persona were about; but I didn't know if Dr. Phil was a dead-on satire of an obnoxious windbag or an actual obnoxious windbag. Thinking about this puzzle I realized that I didn't like him either way. Dr. Phil is either a miserable person, or he plays one on TV.

Extreme Makeover -- If I occasionally found Dr. Phil to be a joke, the reverse was true of Extreme Makeover. I couldn't help but take it seriously. I don't want to see people hating themselves this much. Yet in order for this show to work, the people receiving full-body transformations must dislike aspects of themselves so much that they're willing to undergo surgery and modification that merits the term "extreme." They also need to be someone we can identify with, whose journey we can comprehend. And the idea of a nation of people being told at the end of each episode that this is a healthy way to deal with a problem is the scariest thing I found anywhere on television.

Publication date: 03/11/04

Summer Parkways @ South Hill

June 14-20
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