Guilty Pleasure No. 45: Utopia


Utopia ended on a Halloween.

Now, I’m not talking about utopia as a concept.  I imagine that there are still people out there who think that the idea of creating a utopia is a a viable one.  (I’m not one of those people but that’s mostly because I think living in a perfect world would be hella dull.)  Instead, I’m talking about a reality television show that premiered in September of 2014 and which was canceled one month later.

Though it’s pretty much forgotten today, Utopia was a pretty big deal in the months leading up to its first episode.  It’s estimated that Fox spent 50 million dollars to develop and promote the show.  Not only would Utopia air twice a week but, much in the style of Big Brother, audiences would be able to watch the show’s participants interact live online.  The commercials, which were inescapable that summer, explained that 12 people with radically different philosophies would be expected to come together and form a new society on a California farm.  An atheist would live with a minister!  A libertarian would have to work with a socialist!  An attorney would have to find common ground with an ex-con!  A huntress would eat at the same table as a vegetarian!  The show was an experiment that would last an entire year and it would answer the question: Can different people come together to start a brave new world?

I have to admit that I was kind of excited for the show.  Utopia started just as the 16th season of Big Brother came to an end.  That season was one of the worst in the history of Big Brother, largely as the result of the show’s producers putting the insufferable Frankie Grande in the House and then trying to rig the show in his favor.  After a terrible season of Big Brother, I was actually had hope that maybe Utopia would be everything that Big Brother had ceased being.

Of course, I was wrong.  From the first episode of Utopia, it became obvious that we would never learn whether people could come together to start a brave new world because, for the most part, no one on the show was interested in doing that.  There was a lot of drinking, of course.  There was also an entire episode devoted to one of the Utopians, a pastor, worrying that he would lust in his heart for the female Utopians unless they started wearing more clothes.  For two episodes, a redneck named Red announced that he wanted to start his own society in the woods but eventually he changed his mind.  The Utopians lived on a farm but only doomsday prepper Bella seemed to have any farming experience and, as quickly became obvious in her case, having experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what you’re doing.

It was a weird show.  I’m assuming that Fox thought that there would be instant conflict if they put a libertarian and a socialist together but, for the most part, no one on the show ever discussed their differing philosophies.  In fact, it was hard to see that any of them had any philosophy as all.  Hex was regularly described as being a “huntress,” despite the fact that we never saw her hunt.  Rob was described as being a libertarian but we never actually saw him discuss what that meant and he acted like just as much of a petty authoritarian as the other members of the cast.  The show tried to create the appearance of conflict but, like most Americans outside of Twitter, the cast dealt with their differences by not really discussing them.  So, as a result, we ended up with entire episodes devoted to doomsday prepper Bella getting upset because veterinary assistant Bri wanted to have some say in how the farm animals were fed.

The one thing that kept all of this from being unbearable dull was that the show’s perpetually optimistic host, Dan Piraro, described every minor event in breathless detail.  When one of the Utopians got too drunk and acted like an ass, he was put on a trial.  The end result of the trial?  Everyone asked him to please not get drunk and act like an ass again.  “And so the Utopians have created a legal system!” Piraro exclaimed.

As the show progressed, the Utopians started to get bored.  Some of them voluntarily left Utopia, largely because they just wanted to find something better to do with their time.  After the show’s producers tried to turn attorney Mike Quinn into the star of the show and centered a few episodes around his relationship with “polyamorous Dedeker,” he abruptly left.  (“And so Mike leaves Utopia….”)  Whenever an old Utopian left, two prospective new ones would be brought in and would explain why they should be selected to live in Utopia but the new Utopians soon proved themselves to be just as boring as the old ones.  The Utopians attempted to raise money for food by opening up their farm to the general public.  Huntress Hex gave hunting lessons and revealed that she wasn’t really sure how to use a bow and arrow.  One of the new arrivals attempted to create a website for the farm, just to have the site besieged by online trolls.  Ratings crashed and the show soon went from airing twice a week to only airing on Fridays.

And yet, the worse the show got, the more fascinating it became.  Utopia offered audiences the opportunity to watch a month-long train wreck as it unfolded.  It was so bad that you couldn’t look away and each attempt by Fox to somehow spice up the show only made it more of a disaster.  I would watch each episode just to see how much more pointless the show could become.

The final episode aired on Halloween and it featured the host wearing a cape and, if I remember correctly, plastic fangs at one point.  By this point, Fox had changed the show’s concept.  Now, the viewers would vote each week on who they wanted to banish from Utopia.  (“But I’m an atheist!” Hex wailed, “America’s going to hate me!”)  Or, at least, that’s what the show’s producers said was going to happen.  Instead, Utopia was canceled before America ever got a chance to vote.

Interestingly, the only people shocked by Utopia‘s cancellation were the people living on the farm.  Apparently, the day after Halloween started out normally for them and for whoever might have been watching them on the live feeds.  Sometime in the afternoon, the feeds abruptly went down and never came back up.  From what I’ve read, the Utopians were called into a meeting and told that they were going home immediately.

Utopia has never been tried again but I fondly remember watching it.  The Utopians failed to create a brave new world but they kept me amused for 12 episodes.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State

Guilty Pleasure No. 44: Paranormal State


“We are students…..we are seekers…..and sometimes we are warriors. And each time we help someone, I feel like I’m one step closer to finding the truth…”

The words opened up all 86 episodes of Paranormal State, a “reality” show that ran on A&E from 2007 to 2011.  They were delivered by Ryan Buell, who was the head of the Pennsylvania State University Paranormal Research Society.  Buell also narrated every episode of Paranormal State and perhaps the most memorable thing about the show was the strangely robotic sound of his narration.  Buell delivered his lines in a memorably flat monotone, one that rarely betrayed a hint of emotion while talking about the spirits that the Team supposedly dealt with in each and every episode.  Even when Buell talked about the demon that had supposedly been stalking him since childhood, he did so with all the emotion of Alexa confirming a grocery list.

Paranormal State was one of those shows where people would around in a dark house with an infrared camera while randomly saying stuff like, “Did you feel that?  I felt a suddenly cold wind in this room.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.”  Occasionally, a light would get knocked over or a door would close on its own.  Along with asking each other if they had felt anything, the members of the Paranormal Research Society were also fond of asking, “Did you hear that?” and “Oh my God, did you just see that?”  I always liked it when they would review the film in slow-motion and point at a barely visible smudge on the image and say, “There it is.  There’s the spirit.”  Ultimately, it would usually lead to a medium being called in and wandering around the house and going, “It’s time for you to move on, spirit.  Whisper something if you’re here.  Oh my God, did you hear that?”

It was all pretty obviously staged and kind of dumb but I still enjoyed the show because I liked the idea of a bunch of college students skipping class so that they could spend the night in a deserted barn while waiting for the ghost of a angry farmer to push over a pitchfork or something.  I mean, if my college had given credit for ghost hunting, I totally would have done it!  The show may have been fake but it was fun to pretend that it was real.

After the show ended, Ryan Buell had his personal difficulties, which I’m not going to dwell on.  As for the show, it actually lives on.  I recently came across reruns on the FYI network and I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve met who, like me, can recite that opening narration by heart.  Seriously, it just gets in your head.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

Guilty Pleasure No. 43: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (dir by Dallas Jenkins)


Well, we’re halfway through October and the annual Shattered Lens Horrorthon and what better time than now to review a …. faith-based comedy about an irresponsible actor who pretends to be a Christian so that he can star in a megachurch’s Easter play?

Embrace the unexpected!

The 2017 film, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, tells the story of Gavin Stone (Brett Dalton), a former child star who is now better known for his stints in rehab than for his acting.  After a trip to his hometown ends with Gavin getting arrested for public intoxication and apparently firing a catapult off the top of his hotel, Gavin is sentenced to do community service.  He has to live with his estranged father (Neil Flynn) and he can’t leave Ohio until he’s completed his hours.  What about Gavin’s career back in California?  What career?

Anyway, Gavin ends up doing his community service at the local Protestant megachurch.  The well-meaning pastor (D.B. Sweeney) suggests that Gavin just do maintenance work until his hours are up.  Gavin would rather try out for the lead role in the church’s annual Easter play, both because he wants to act and because he has a crush on the play’s director (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), who just happens to be the pastor’s daughter.

“Well, the play is a part of our ministry,” the pastor explains, “so we do ask that everyone involved be a Christian.”

“I am a Christian!” Gavin announces, even though he’s totally not.

Naturally, Gavin gets cast in the role of Jesus.  Along with learning about his role, Gavin spends rehearsals shaking up the church’s somewhat stodgy play and, slowly but surely, becoming a better human being.  However, when Gavin is suddenly offered a role on a television series, he must decided whether to do what’s best for the play or what’s best for his career.  You can probably already guess what’s going to happen.

Obviously, a lot of people are going to be turned off by the film’s Christian origins but The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is actually a surprisingly sweet movie and, compared to most faith-based films, it’s not particularly heavy-handed.  Unlike a lot of Christian films, Gavin Stone actually has a sense of humor about itself and it’s hard not smile a bit when Gavin, after spending a night with Google, shows up for church on Sunday with a Jesus fish on his bumper and loudly greeting everyone with “Blessings!”  Brett Dalton (who we all know as Grant Ward on Agents of SHIELD) is sincere and likable in the lead role.  Anjelah Johnson-Reyes is stuck with the underwritten stock role of being the preacher’s daughter who loosens up over the course of the movie but she actually does a pretty good job of bringing some spark to the character.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone has its flaws, of course.  There’s a few times that the dialogue gets a bit clunky and you never quite buy the film’s positive conclusion.  But what this film’s does very well is that it captures the excitement of being a part of a production.  The best parts of the film are the ones that just focus on the characters rehearsing.  Anyone who has ever been involved with a community theater will be able to relate and it’s kind of fun to watch everyone progress from stiffly reading from the script to delivering their lines like fully committed amateur thespians.  The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is at its best when it celebrates the joy of performing.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island

Guilty Pleasure No. 42: Harper’s Island


Oh my God, do you remember Harper’s Island!?

Way before The Walking Dead and American Horror Story made death and gore safe for mass consumption, Harper’s Island was the scariest show on television.  I have to admit that, when I first heard about the show, I wasn’t expecting it to be.  Way back in 2009, whenever the commercials for the show would air and that little girl would go, “One by one,” I would roll my eyes so hard that I once nearly gave myself a concussion.

“Really?” I would say, “A slasher television show where at least one person dies every week?  And it’s going to be on network TV?  There’s no way this is going to be bloody or scary enough to be worth watching.”

However, I did watch the first episode because I figured that I could at least be snarky about it on twitter.  (I had joined just a few months before the show premiered.  Harper’s Island was the first show that I ever live tweeted, even though I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as “live tweeting” way back then.)  The episode opened with a man tied to the propeller of a boat, screaming as the engine started.  The episode ended with Uncle Marty (played by special guest star Harry Hamlin) getting chopped in half by an unseen assailant.

“AGCK!” I said.

I was hooked from that episode on.

 

Believe it or not, Harper’s Island wasn’t just killings.  It actually did tell a story, about a young woman named Abby (played by Elaine Cassidy) who returns to her childhood home, on Harper’s Island, for her best friend’s wedding.  Many years ago, Abby’s mother was among those who was killed by a serial killer named John Wakefield.  From the minute that Abby arrives, she feels that something bad is going to happen and it turns out that she’s right.

Of course, Abby’s not the only one on the island.  There’s the other members of the wedding party.  There’s the island’s inhabitants, the fishermen and the deputies and the cafe owner and the local reverend whose destined to lose his head in the woods.  They’ve all got their quirks and subplots.  Boisterous Malcolm (Chris Gauthier) is in desperate need of money.  Local fisherman Jimmy (C.J. Thomason) is still in love with Abby.  The groom, Henry (Christopher Gorham), has issues from his past that he needs to deal with.  Some of them are likable.  Some of them are annoying.  Some of them, like spoiled Chloe (Cameron Richardson), are meant to be annoying but become likable as the series progresses.

And, in the end, none of their hopes and dreams really mattered because, by the end of the show, everyone was pretty much dead.  The ads for Harper’s Island promised a bloodbath and that’s what the show delivered.  It wasn’t just that at least one person died per week.  It was also that they usually died in the most macabre and disturbing ways possible.  This was the type of the show where the most likable groomsman ended up getting chopped into pieces and then tossed into an incinerator.  Another wedding guest chose to drown herself rather than be attacked by the killer.  Sometimes, the killers didn’t even have to be around for someone to get killed.  Who can forget poor Booth (played by Sean Rogerson), accidentally shooting himself in the leg and bleeding out while America watched?

And yes, you did watch every week because you wanted to see who would be the next to die.  (That’s where the guilty part of the pleasure comes in.)  But you also watched because the show was produced and directed so well.  The island was a wonderfully atmospheric location and the cast really committed themselves to bringing the show’s morbid reality to life.  At the time, it was the darkest show on television and it could have been even darker because, originally, the plan was for the killer to get away with it.  In the end, karma caught up with the killer but not before we were all traumatized upon discovering just who was responsible.  Harper’s Island‘s mystery was as intriguing as its deaths were bloody.

Being ahead of its time, Harper’s Island struggled in the ratings and it was never a big hit with critics.  But, with the help of Netflix and the the occasional marathon on SyFy, Harper’s Island‘s reputation has improved and grown over the years.  Looking back, it’s easy to see that Harper’s Island was not only the forerunner to American Horror Story but it was also a far better series.  American Horror Story tends to condescend to the horror, keeping the genre at arm’s length through misdirected pretension.  It’s a show for people who think that they’re too good for horror.  Harper’s Island, on the other hand, fully embraced both the horror and the melodrama and it did so without apology.

Seriously, what Halloween is complete without a trip to Harper’s Island?

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me

Guilty Pleasure No. 41: The Dead Are After Me (Raiders of the Living Dead), performed by George Edward Ott


If you watched Raiders of the Living Dead earlier today, you heard this theme song:

The dead are after me….

We are the Raiders of the Living Dead….

Seriously, how can you not love that!?  Yes, the song is totally mid-80s and it’s kind of silly but it’s also kind of perfect.  Certainly, it’s the best thing about the film and the song has even gone on to achieve a life outside of the movie that it was written for.  There are bands that regularly cover this song.  It’s a permanent part of my Halloween playlist.

Seriously, you can ask my friends and they’ll tell you that, every October, they’re forced to listen to me sing this song in my off-key way.  The deeeeeeeead are afterrrrrr meeeeee….

Many sites incorrectly refer to this song as being called, like the movie in which it appeared, “Raiders of the Living Dead.”  The actual title is The Dead Are After Me.  It was written and performed by a musician named George Edward Ott.  I did some research and I came across some comments that Ott left on another site, in which he discussed how this song came into existence.  From Morgan on Media:

In 1986, after viewing early outtakes of the film with Sam Sherman and Tim Ferrante, I went home and wrote the song in about 15 minutes. Cheesy song for a cheesy movie! 

Yes, it is a cheesy song but it’s also rather brilliant in a cheerful, no apologies sort of way.  Just try to get out of your head.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars

 

Guilty Pleasure No. 40: Parking Wars


Strange show, Parking Wars.

Between 2008 and 2012, A&E aired 104 episodes of Parking Wars.  Even though the show’s no longer in production, episodes still seem to air on nearly a daily basis.  If you can’t find it on A&E, check on FYI.  If you can’t find it on FYI, check WGN or TBS or any of the true crime networks.  Nearly seven years after it stopped producing new episodes, Parking Wars airs so frequently that one could be forgiven for thinking that it had never been canceled.

It was an odd show.  It was a reality show, one that allowed viewers a chance to see what it was like to be a part of the parking authority.  You read that correctly.  This show was devoted to perhaps the least useful members of law enforcement.  The first two seasons focused exclusively on the employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.  Since the members of the PPA were all municipal employees, I’m going to assume that the show’s producers had to get permission from the city to follow them as they worked.  One assumes that the hope was that the show would improve Philadelphia’s image.  That’s why it’s interesting that the main lesson to be learned from those first two seasons of Parking Wars appears to be that everyone should stay the Hell out of Philadelphia.

Seriously, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would book a flight to Philly after watching an episode of Parking Wars.  Not only do all of the traffic cops come across as being assholes but so do most of the citizens that they meet over the course of their day.  Everyone comes across as being a jerk.  On the one hand, you have the motorists who regularly ignore posted signs and who often have no hesitation about double parking or blocking traffic.  At the same time, the show’s parking cops tend to the biggest bunch of self-important pricks that I’ve ever seen.

Each episode is usually divided into three sections.  In Ticketing, we follow some civil servant in a uniform while they walk up and down the street, looking for anyone to whom they can give a ticket.  While they do this, they talk to the camera about why their job is important and why people shouldn’t hate them.  It usually only takes a minute or so to realize that we’re not exactly dealing with the most eloquent or witty group of people here.  Typical words of wisdom: “People think I’m picking on them but ….. I’m just doing my job.  If they hadn’t broken the rules, I would not be writing them a ticket.”  Never mind that, half the time, the parking meters are broken or that the “No Parking” sign has weathered so much abuse that it can barely be read.  Whenever someone asks a legitimate question about why they’re getting a ticket, the show responds with a silly sound effect.  “Only dummies question authority,” the show is saying.  On those occasions when someone actually proves that they’ve been wrongly ticketed (and it happens more than a few times), they’re told to call a number or go to court and get it dismissed.  “Once I start writing the ticket, I can’t take it back,” the parking cop explains, as if that somehow excuses any inconvenience that anyone else might suffer.

The 2nd section of each episode often took place at the impound lot, where the citizens of Philadelphia would go to get their cars after they had been towed.  The impound lot sequences basically highlight everything that intelligent people hate about bureaucracy.  I’ll always remember the woman from Delaware whose car was impounded in Philadelphia, due to a mistake made by the Delaware Highway Patrol.  Even after the woman got a signed letter from a judge in Delaware exonerating her and saying that her car shouldn’t have been impounded, the lot supervisor said that the car couldn’t be released because the state of Pennsylvania still had her on its impound list.  When the woman was told that she could hire a tow truck (at her own expense) and have the car towed to Delaware, the lot workers were shocked when the woman angrily announced that she wasn’t going to pay any more money just because of someone else’s bureaucratic snafu.  When Pennsylvania finally did get its act together and announced that the woman could have her car back, one of the lot workers had the nerve to say, “Y’know, my supervisor went to a lot of trouble for you.”  (From what we saw on the program, it appeared that the supervisor made one phone call, mostly to get confirmation that she should refuse to release the woman’s car.)  The look the woman from Delaware gave that worker pretty much said it all.

Finally, an episode would usually wrap up with a sequence about booting.  The booting sequences dealt with the people who drive around and randomly search for people with multiple unpaid tickets, so that they can put those big yellow locks on people’s tires.  On the one hand, the booting sequences were a bit less annoying that the ticketing and impound sequences because most of the people getting booted did owe several thousands of dollars in parking tickets.  On the other hand, it wasn’t hard to notice that the boot crew usually only seemed to search for cars in lower-class neighborhoods.  It was rare you ever heard anyone suggest maybe going to a rich neighborhood and seeing if anyone there needed a boot.  Instead the people being booted were often the very people who would need a car if they were ever actually going to get the money necessary to pay their tickets.

Throughout it all, the show punctuated every action or comment with a combination of zoom lenses and silly sound effects.  If someone declared that they needed their car for work, we’d hear someone dramatically go, “DAMN!” on the soundtrack.  If the parking cop pointed out a sign that said no parking, we’d get a zoom to the sign along with a smack-smack sound effect.

Even though the show is less than ten years old, watching it can be strange today.  Parking Wars was clearly made before the era of #MeToo.  If the parking cop is a woman, one can be sure that we’ll get at least a few interviews with the citizens of Philadelphia talking about how cute she is.  If the parking cop’s a man, one can be sure that he’ll take the time to leer at any passing women while the camera zooms in on what part of her body has drawn his attention.

Eventually, it would appear that the city of Philadelphia figured out that being advertised as being one of the worst cities on Earth was perhaps not the boon for tourism that they thought it would be and Parking Wars started to focus on other cities.  When they started to film in Detroit, we were introduced to a parking cop named Pony Tail.  Pony Tail was perhaps the most obnoxious character to ever be unleashed on the brave viewers of A&E.  Pony Tail was the type of creep who would brag about how he was punishing evil doers (because being parked at an expired meter is a sure sign of evil) but who would then spend his entire segment pouting after a random passerby yelled out, “Parking Authority sucks!”

Things got even worse once the show expanded to New York and started to feature “independent” towing companies.  If it could be said that the parking cops were at least enforcing the law, the independent towing people were just straight-up assholes.  Whenever they towed a woman’s car and responded to her complaints by calling her “sweetheart” or “honey,” you just wanted someone to jump in and smack the Hell out of them.

And yet, oddly enough, Parking Wars was (and is) addictive viewing.  I can’t speak for everyone but for me, it’s a show that I almost hatewatch.  It confirms everything negative thing that I’ve ever felt or suspected about the people in authority.  If you believe that most people will let even the slightest bit of power go straight to their head, this is the show for you.  If you distrust the government and think that most bureaucrats are petty tyrants, Parking Wars is a show that will confirm your every suspicion.  The best moments of Parking Wars are the ones that suggest that maybe the show’s producers were secretly poking fun at the parking authority’s delusions of grandeur.  I’m talking about the moments when the ticketed got their chance to yell at the ticketers and the ticketers, for the most part, were reduced to weakly saying, “I’m just doing my job….”  Could it be that Parking Wars was one of the biggest practical jokes in reality show history and perhaps Pony Tail and the folks at the Impound Lot were being punked without even realizing it?

Probably not but it’s fun to think about….

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer

Guilty Pleasure No. 39: Ghost Whisperer


Once upon a time, there were two shows about women who could speak with the dead.

One show ran from 2005 to 2011.  It starred a future Oscar winner and, over the course of its run, it was nominated for a bunch of Emmys.  It may have never been a huge hit but it received decent ratings and, even more importantly, it was a critically acclaimed.  The show claimed to be based on fact and it took a low-key, procedural approach to its stories.

The second show ran from 2005 to 2010 and it starred a multiple Golden Globe nominee and it was never nominated for any major Emmys.  (The first season, however, did receive a Teen Choice nomination.)  Like the first show, it was never exactly a big hit, though it did have a loyal audience.  Whereas the first show was acclaimed by critics, the second show was routinely dismissed.  If the first show was subdued and low-key, this second show took the exact opposite approach.

The first show was called Medium.

The second show was called Ghost Whisperer.

I watched both of them and I can tell you that both had their strengths and their weaknesses.  Medium was, at time, genuinely creepy and Patricia Arquette gave an admirably serious performance.  At the same time, the show was often so serious that it was a bit of a drag to watch.  You may have believed that Arquette could talk to the dead but you never really bought into the idea that they would want to talk to her or anyone else on the show.  In short, Medium was good but it wasn’t much fun.

Ghost Whisperer, on the other hand…

Listen, I’m not even going to pretend that Ghost Whisperer was a great show.  It was a frequently silly and over-the-top show.  Jennifer Love Hewitt played Melinda Gordon, who lived in Grandview, New York and who owned an antique shop called — I kid you not — Same As It Never Was Antiques. The dead would come to Melinda because they still had feelings that needed to be resolved on Earth before they could cross over into the afterlife.  Sometimes the ghosts were in denial.  Sometimes they were rude, violent, and scary.  Sometimes they were just mildly quirky.  But they always ended up happy that Melinda was able to find a way for them to move on.  Over the course of five seasons, the show developed both the quirkiness of the town and the mythology behind the ghosts themselves.  We learned about the Watchers and the Shadows and the Shinies and the Book of Changes.  We also learned a bit about Melinda’s history.  Season 3 ended with Melinda helping her deceased father go into the light and you better believe I cried.

If Medium was an often dour, somber, and deliberately frumpy show, Ghost Whisperer was bright, fun, and unapologetically glamorous.  While poor Patricia Arquette always seemed to be carrying the entire weight of the world on her shoulders, Jennifer Love Hewitt always appeared to be having a blast playing Melinda.  While she may not have been as good as an actress as Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Love Hewitt always brought just enough natural enthusiasm to the role that she could make even the most hackneyed of dialogue believable.  When I looked over some of the reviews of Ghost Whisperer’s first season, the immediate thing that I noticed was that many of the critics (in particular, the male critics) were obsessed with pointing out that Jennifer Love Hewitt was continually dressed and filmed in such a way to emphasize her breasts, as if there’s some sort of crime in being proud of what you have.  But for me, as someone who shares the struggle of trying to find cute clothes for big boobs, it was empowering that Melinda didn’t hide her body, her personality, or her beliefs.  As played by Hewitt, Melinda was confident,  outspoken, and unapologetic.  Yes, she dressed a certain way.  Yes, she looked a certain way.  Yes, she believed that she could help ghosts cross over.  And if anyone had a problem with it, so what?  Melinda was a role model who never really got her due.  If I ever find myself speaking to ghosts, I hope that I handle it half as well as Melinda did.

Ghost Whisperer ended in 2010 and Medium ended in 2011.  Medium may have been nominated for more awards but guess which one I’ll always make a point to watch in syndication?

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars