It's not news that although some reality shows make for great TV, the genre also produces a lot of crap. This spring, there are three shows in particular that made me groan when I heard about them: I Can Make You Thin with Paul McKenna, I Know My Kid's a Star, and America's Prom Queen. These are three very different shows that are representative of the breadth of shows covered by unscripted TV, but unfortunately, they kind of represent the worst of what the reality genre has to offer.
I Can Make You Thin is like a non-competition version of The Biggest Loser. I was first put-off by the title. It seems a little egotistical, doesn't it? I've been trying to make myself thin for 17 years. What makes Paul McKenna (who, so far as I can tell, has never been overweight himself) think he can come along and fix everything? I suppose "I Can Give You Some Ideas, Tools and Techniques To Help You Make Yourself Thin, or Maybe Just a Bit Healthier" would be too long for a title. I watched the first episode prepared to throw Cheetos at the TV. (Well, they were Baked Cheetos. I have learned something in all those years of dieting.) The show is shot like an infomercial, with McKenna lecturing a studio audience in a dark amphitheater and occasional forays out into the homes of studio audience members. McKenna barks at the audience and comes off like he's selling something. For all he comes off like his approach is new and revolutionary, the actual diet tips aren't anything I hadn't already heard from countless Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers group leaders (I also wanted to throw Cheetos at them, by the way).
I Know My Kid's a Star is Danny Bonaduce's search for a stage parent/child performer team. Stage parents are creepy. Kids are easily manipulated and exploited. Is any of that a surprise? Do we really need to see a competition based around it? I could go on and on about the freak show pairs that make up all the parent/kid teams, and how the one normal father/son team was eliminated first, but I think it can all be summed up with this simple word of advice I have for Rocky, the mother of one of the girls: If you need to ask your daughter if your tampon is showing, you might need a longer skirt. (And some underwear. And not to be on television.) Okay? Seriously, you guys, the song Son of a Preacher Man is ruined for me forever.
America's Prom Queen is the most watchable of this trio, although that's not saying a whole lot. It's a competition between several teenage girls, most of them trying for a second chance after losing out on the prom queen crown at their own proms, vying for the imaginary title of national prom queen. If I remember correctly (I wasn't exactly Miss School Spirit in high school, unless the spring musical was involved), prom court was essentially a big fat popularity contest, and the competition challenges don't exactly dispel that idea. At least the contestant pool is fairly diverse in terms of personality, size, and ethnicity. So far it is fun and lighthearted enough, but I don't think teenage girls need encouragement to assign any more significance to the prom (which already can involve as much money and planning as a wedding for some girls), or to the superficial qualities that are usually associated with prom queens.
I would recommend watching a DVD or reading a book (or re-grouting your bathroom) over watching any of these shows. However, if you must, you can find new episodes of I Can Make You Thin on TLC, Sundays at 9pm EST, I Know My Kid's a Star on VH1, Thursdays at 10pm EST, and America's Prom Queen on ABC Family, Mondays at 9pm EST.
PS: Baked Cheetos? Delicious! I really don't understand why they ever made fried Cheetos in the first place.
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Amy Kane spends as much quality time with her television as possible, when she's not busy at her day job as a cube dweller.