Until a cure for cancer comes around, TiVo is the best invention in the history of humankind. If a genie offered me either the ability to fly or the ability to pause and rewind live TV, I'd gladly take the latter.
Aside from being able to zip through commercials and the typical reality-show filler (do we really need to watch 14 contestants slowly enter a room and hit their final marks?), my TiVo has created a new phrase in the Cantiello household: "Pause it." Whenever my wife and I are watching TV and something happens that is so overwhelmingly bizarre, hilarious, scandalous and/or irresistible, one of us will scream, "Pause it!" to whoever is manning the remote that night. Sometimes you just need an extra few beats to let it soak in, analyze or review the absurdity of what you just witnessed.
So rather than offering up a generic top 10 TV shows list (whaddup, "30 Rock"!), I've decided to focus my attention on the top 10 reasons I kiss my TiVo before I go to bed each night. (And — spit — I really need to dust more regularly.)
10. Jen Talks Trendsetters on "Hell's Kitchen"
Summer '07 was all about cooking competitions, and while "Top Chef" was classy and "The Next Food Network Star" was low-rent but addictive, it was the genre's redheaded stepdaughter, "Hell's Kitchen," that delivered its standout quote. Toward the end of the season, Gordon Ramsay alerted the remaining contestants that they'd be cooking (beef Wellington, no doubt) for important "trendsetters." Cut to chef Jen in a confessional flipping out. "If it's Mariah? Or the Rock? I will pee my pants!"
Last time I checked, using a Stairmaster while wearing stilettos or raising one eyebrow wasn't a trend. So the fact that Jen immediately thought of Mimi and a wrestler — and implied that their presence would result in loss of bladder control — is a moment worth stopping and relishing. (P.S. Said "trendsetters" turned out to be high school students. No wardrobe change necessary.)
Before Russian bride Natasha stole my heart, the eighth season of "Top Model" was all about Brooklyn girl Kathleen. We didn't get to spend much time together, sadly, as she was the first to get booted. But the little time we did share was special. Because she was special. No, really. I think she's "special."
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How else to explain her zany quotes peppered throughout the season premiere? When the Tyra Mail hinted about the next challenge, "One woman's trash is another woman's treasure," Kathleen pontificated, "I know, like, I'm gonna have to do something wit', like, crap. Not crap literally, but, like, somethin' that someone threw away." (Side note: You just know Evil Genius Tyra Banks is gonna make them do something with feces in a couple of cycles.)
But the best "pause it" moment came at judging. When photographer Nigel Barker complained that Kathleen "didn't really understand the concept" of her anti-fur photo shoot, the clueless model responded with honesty. "I know, right? I didn't!"
Sigh, Kathleen. You had me at "crap."
8. "Pirate Master" Challenges
Mark Burnett's disastrous "Survivor"-on-a-pirate-ship summer offering was a big ol' pile of hooey. It featured fake mythology (the Chest of Zanzibar!) and contestants with pirate-ready names (Azymyth, Jupiter and Nessa!), and it introduced me to a new occupation I'd never heard of before (see: John, the scientist/ exotic dancer). However, I tuned in every week for one moment: the explanation of that episode's "expedition." Host Cameron Daddo would work his hardest to explain the rules of the challenge. What pushed it into "pause it" territory was the fact that each and every week, the challenges were exactly the same. Seriously. By episode four, the "get in a boat, row out to shore, race through the woods and dig up a treasure" speech had me roaring with laughter until I started to worry that I was living in some weird "Groundhog Day" alternative universe comprised of subpar Burnett productions. (At least it wasn't "On the Lot.")
7. Too Slutty for PCD ("The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll")
"The Search for the Next Doll" had everything I look for in a reality show: drama, desperate girls and self-important middle-age she-beasts. PCD mastermind Robin Antin and "choreographer" Mikey were like the Wilhelmina and Marc of reality television, spouting platitudes like "Being a Pussycat Doll is all about self-confidence" and "Pussycat Dolls are classy, not sassy" while forcing the girls to dance half-naked in a glass box at a restaurant. (Hey, at least it wasn't a strip club. Like they said, classy.)
The show was one giant clusterf---. (Why focus so much of the competition on singing when essentially all they were looking for was a backup dancer? And why was Mark McGrath hosting?) In one of the show's biggest oh-no-they-didn't "pause it" moments, the judges kicked off Brittany because she was — get this — too sexy. Is that the Pussycat Doll equivalent of being overqualified for a job?
6. Paula Deen Almost Kills Oprah Winfrey
All of the arguments I've had with my wife about Oprah clogging our TiVo Now Playing list were worth it for this nugget of TV gold. On a February show, Food Network personality (and butter addict) Paula Deen aw-shucked her way through a cooking segment with the Most Powerful Woman on the Planet. But when it came time to add vanilla to her KitchenAid mixer, Ms. Deen accidentally dropped a glass bowl into the actively mixing machine. Batter went everywhere, the audience screeched and Paula dove in front of O like the Secret Service. Awesome. This one warranted both a "pause it" and a "slo-mo it" as the glass bowl flew out of the mixer and hit the Southern chef on her elbow.
It was Effie vs. Effie at the 2007 BET Awards, where original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday sang her signature showstopper "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" alongside Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. What was supposed to be a gesture of solidarity between divas quickly turned into a riotous pissing contest of melisma and overacting.
"Being Paula Abdul," er, I mean "Hey Paula" was a show made for the TiVo pause button because each episode raised a host of questions. Did she just feed her dog jewelry? Why is she having coffee at 4 in the morning if she's an insomniac? For the love of all that's holy, why won't her assistants feed her? The most memorable sequence involved a late-night e-mail, a live-action movie adaptation of a doll line and a flood of tears. Poor Paula got ousted from the "Bratz" movie, and within seconds, the loopy judge went from questioning God's existence to weeping to chewing out her assistants. "Please, guys. I'm tryin' to tell a goddamn story!" has been my ringtone since July.
For years, the winner of "America's Next Top Model" has starred in a weekly interstitial called "My Life as a CoverGirl," in which she shows viewers what she's up to while hocking CoverGirl makeup. Lately, though, the life of a CoverGirl has been looking pretty dreary. The recent ads featuring Cycle 8 winner (does that make her America's Next Next Next Next Next Next Next Next Top Model?) Jaslene started out promising enough. She walked an awards-show red carpet and a Fashion Week catwalk. (Take that, CariDee!) But soon things started to smell desperate. Actual quote: "What's better than doing a cover for Seventeen? Being asked to do another shoot for Seventeen!" I guess?
Faster than you can say "Wetslicks Fruit Spritzers," Jaslene is at a Wal-Mart signing autographs! Jaslene is hanging out with homely middle-age contest winners! Jaslene is handing out free makeup in the parking lot of an underattended baseball game! What kind of jank life is this, anyway? At this rate, we'll be accompanying Jaslene to the clinic to pick up hormones in no time.
2. The Semi-Charmed Life of "Idol"
"American Idol" semifinal shows are usually the pits. They're on three nights a week, they're overcrowded and they're way too long. But something magical happened this year. Before we were down to the top 12, the episodes were completely off-the-wall entertaining. In fact, I could make a separate top 10 list of "blink and you missed 'em" bizarre moments from these semifinal shows alone. Right off the bat, Nicole Tranquillo offered one of the most deliriously unhinged performances in "Idol" history (all the while looking like Kristen Wiig of "SNL" fame). Then, Jared "Eyebrows" Cotter dedicated "Let's Get It On" to his mother. During the final seconds of a results show, ousted singer Leslie Hunt ad-libbed "Why did I decide to scat? America don't care for jazz!" Forget Ashley Ferl or the pony-hawk: For sheer WTF-ness, I'd gladly take Sanjaya's hula announcement any day. Plus, there was Sundance "Red-faced and Puffy" Head and Antonella "Naughty Pics" Barba keeping things endlessly watchable (if not terribly in tune).
And then there was Seacrest in top form. One week he called out Kellie Pickler's newly enhanced, uh, shoes. And another time he introduced music legend Quincy Jones in the audience only to abruptly cut him off and move to the next item of business. Classic! But my favorite random "pause it" moments always involved the contest winners, who never ever looked television-appropriate. Whether they were toothless dudes from Wisconsin or plus-size women wearing unflattering patterns, you just know the "Idol" producers smacked their foreheads every time a winner stepped off a plane. "You mean I have to put that on television tonight? Can't we pick a new one?"
Love her or hate her (full disclosure: I'm obsessed with her), you can't deny that Rosie O'Donnell's stint on "The View" was brilliant television. She opened many viewers' eyes to issues that weren't being addressed in the media, pushing her co-hosts (and interchangeable bland guest hosts) out of their comfort zone of makeup tips and celebrity gossip. For the first time, Hot Topics actually sizzled with robust debates about President Bush, the U.S. invasion in Iraq and women's rights.
But sometimes when you play with fire, you get burned. And on May 23, after a heated exchange turned personal, Rosie O'Donnell made her final appearance on the show.
It was the end of an era, and all it took was six minutes and one split screen. In one corner you had "big, fat, lesbian, loud" (her words, not mine) Rosie O'Donnell, and in the other there was "innocent, pure, Christian" Elisabeth Hasselbeck. The two had quarreled on "The View" before, but it had never gotten this intense. Months of pent-up frustration and misunderstanding led to an epic explosion, and both Rosie and Elisabeth's true colors showed brightly. Rosie was upset that Elisabeth hadn't defended her to right-wing talk show hosts, and Elisabeth was furious that Rosie had carelessly implied that our troops were terrorists. And the more Rosie pushed that she was personally upset that her "friend" Elisabeth didn't defend her, the nastier her "friend" Elisabeth got, eventually culminating in Hasselbeck hissing, "It's much easier fighting someone like Donald Trump, isn't it?"
You can see it in Rosie's face. She sees the split screen in a monitor, and she's reeling from Hasselbeck's low blow. And in that instant we all knew that Rosie would never appear on "The View" again.