Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gentlemen Don't Tell All (Bachelor 13 WTA)

Most of us accept the fact that the Women Tell All show is filler. This year’s version had filler within the filler. From the three whole minutes of scenes where Jason and Molly actually looked like a couple (they had so much of this footage, they showed the bathtub scene twice) to a Bachelor reject reunion party (I know Jesse Csincsak actually won, but it just never felt that way), you just got this feeling that they weren’t going to let the women talk much expecially not to Jason.

The first fifteen minutes were actually Jason Tells All. I’m pretty sure that was Jason doing some sort of impression of Beavis as Chris Harrison brought out our “Right Reasons” Bachelor’s inner frat boy. “Okay, Jason, how far did you really go with Jillian Harris and Molly Malaney? You can tell me. It’s just us and a few million viewers.”

Jason feigns shock, rolls his eyes, breaks out his man giggle, then tells. Supposedly he only went to first base on the overnight tent date with Molly. He didn’t leave any doubt about his time with Jillian, “A night to remember.” I’m sure he went back to his room after the interview and nailed a pair of maple leaf panties to the wall next to his collection of forty ounce Foster’s cans that he chugged consecutively in 1998. Later, Chris prods Jason into telling America exactly what happens in the fantasy suites. This time he’s a bit more diplomatic, but again doesn’t leave a whole lot of doubt that single Dads can run with the wolves too. In the meantime, I’m sitting there going “Some day, Ty’s going to get older and see this. Worse yet, Mom's going to see this and she's going to get custody. God forbid, imagine Jason does really meet his wife on this show. She's going to see it and Ty's going to ask her about it."

I’m not a hearts and flowers Bachelor fan, but I thought I was supposed to be rooting for Jason. I mean it’s okay for the Bachelor to enjoy the Fantasy Suite (to be honest, I probably would have too if given the opportunity), but no, you don’t tell national television cameras that you um made full use of the fact that these women were locked up with no one else to date, flirt with, etc. for six weeks. Ewwww! Next season, does Chris ask the Bachelor “Okay, you’ve gotten it on with the three of them. Which one was the best?”

I forgot that we already went there. Jason went on a radio show and in view of three other ladies admitted that Molly is the best kisser. So can you be a nice guy and not be a gentleman? It’s possible, but where’s the sweet guy who cancelled a night on the town with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader because he needed to put his son to bed? It was so cute watching Jason read that bed time story to Ty. It’s just that I didn’t know there was a children’s book version of The Girls Next Door.

It’s part of the genius of Mike Fleiss that all this got turned into a great reality show moment that almost made the two hours worth it. Jillian gets to ask her question of the Bachelor (though what happened to the sit down with the guy part?) and she zings him, “You went out on night one and kissed me, then you go out the next night and kiss Melissa and tell her that you’ve never felt that way about a kiss. What’s up with that, eh?”

Jason, looks nervously at the camera, breaks out the man giggle again, and does the damage control thing, “I was just saying what I felt at the time. I’m an honest sort of guy.”

Fleiss, however, has edited the show in such a way that you know that Jason’s ignoring the back half of the question. Jillian’s real question was “How could you let me straddle you in the hot tub like some scene from one of those movies behind the beaded curtain at the video store then talk about some night to remember, when you were already saying things like that to Melissa?”

The question was not “Were you being honest with Melissa when you said that?” It was “Were you being straight with Jillian (your alleged best friend) after that?” At another point, Chris deftly punctures Jason’s whole “Just friends” thing with Jillian, by showing him the videotaped proof of the “benefits” part of the friends with benefits proposition. Not only do the producers leave this in for broadcast (who wouldn’t?), they then make a point of showing both how popular Jillian is with the studio audience and having Chris ask if she’d be willing to be the Bachelorette. Of course, anyone as smart and centered as Jillian appears to be would say “Absolutely not!” She doesn’t.

In the meantime, we get these oddly frantic bits of Melissa fighting off bugs, shrieking, and appearing to fail the “parent” test once again in New Zealand. We’re only missing bits like her cleaning up Jason’s kitchen, saying that she didn’t notice New Zealand because she was so focused on Single Dad, and most of the body language between the two that’s been so hard to ignore.

What little we do see of the Women Tell All portion of the Women Tell All show….I think the “Women” got maybe 20 minutes out of a two hour show doesn’t exactly move the plot forward. Shannon barely gets to say anything beyond acknowledging that she knew a lot about Jason. They don’t even bring up “kissing the dog”. Stephanie doesn’t get her own interview. She had a bit softer look and I thought she looked great. Yes, Lauren, Megan, and Erica got into it a little bit, but mostly we got a whole bunch of Natalie Getz, the season’s answer to Paris Hilton. We’re reminded that Natalie has a high opinion of her own attractiveness and that a lot of the other ladies didn’t like her. Wow! Big shock there. At the same time, there was something a bit Jerry Springer about Natalie’s WTA appearance. It was like she was really enjoying all the hooting and the jeering. Pair that with the rumor that she’s dating Satan, aka Mike Fleiss and….

We often forget that Bachelor is descended from Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, the show where the millionaire was actually in debt and had once been on the wrong end of a domestic violence restraining order. Anyway, take a look at this Business Week interview with the guy and note what he has to say about the Brad Womack season.
Other than Jillian who along with Stephanie may be the only real winners from this season, the best parts of the Women Tell All came from the filler that didn’t include Trista, Ryan, and their baby factory (though it was fun to hear that Trista was rooting for Melissa- ex-cheerleaders stick together I suspect). While Fleiss considered Charlie O’connell’s season the low point of the show’s run (likely because of the ratings), I’ve often thought it was one of the better seasons largely because the show laughed at itself a bit and underneath it all there was a real love story with Sarah Brice. Charlie turned out to be interesting because he was seriously flawed (all the dates were at bars so we saw the issue), yet also very likeable. They paired him with some truly goofy ladies and he managed to pick the one who really seemed to center him in Sarah Brice, who had a career, owned her own house, and wanted a real relationship that didn't include Charlie worship. As the two discussed their “journey”, in this case it doesn’t feel like a cliché, there was something genuinely romantic about it because the show didn’t do the whole fairy tale thing. Most of us watching aren’t perfect catches either. While there’s been a lot of snark about Byron and Mary (including from me), I simply wish them well in real life.

I think the energy from the Bachelor reject reunion was actually better than the show and I wondered briefly if they were using the footage to spawn a spinoff of some kind. One, the audience got to indulge in a favorite past time of mixing and matching various men and women from the different seasons. I still say that Jason and Kelly Jo Kuharski would have worked, though I guess Kelly Jo is already married. It made perfect sense to me that Amanda Rantuccio would have a crush on Graham Bunn. I just wish they would have shown the bit where she hired two actors to let him know about it and he responded with a letter to be read away from the cameras. I don’t know what the “threesome” talk was about, I figure it was Erica Rose, Doctor Rotting Eggs, and the French guy from Jenn’s season (the installment I consider the show’s true low point).

How do I put this? When Holly Durst announced that Jesse was taken I don’t think that many women across America were all that sorry, though I like Jesse well enough. I’m not sure that many women are all that excited by the prospect of Justin Guarini (Holly’s ex) being on the loose either. There was, however, something genuinely endearing about Fred Greif, Ellen Degeneres’s favorite bachelor, and Noelle Drake, one of my favorite bachelorettes, pairing off. Unlike many winners on the show, they appeared to be an actual couple (compare it to Matt and Shayne on the last reunion show, and was that really Shayne on this one? Yikes! I may have been right about Zombie Mom and Dad). When Noelle said, “Here we are a couple reality show rejects” I actually almost forgave her for not returning my hundreds of e-mails offering to leave Mrs. Chancelucky for her. Did they let Jeremy talk during that Bachelor reunion? I figure they’re punishing him for talking to Reality Steve.

Next week, we get to the choice between Molly and Melissa. Sad to say, hardly anyone’s talking about it. Instead, everyone’s obsessed about the choice between Reality Steve and Chris Harrison. I’ve always rather liked Chris Harrison. He’s funny, he doesn’t overstep the bounds of his role (are you listening Ryan Seacrest?), he’s remarkably restrained and let’s us in on how hard that can be at times just enough. I’ve also enjoyed his blog this year. It’s been a little sad to see how the show has put him in the awkward position of carrying water for the producers in its attempts to deal with the Reality “this is my last post on this at least until next week” Steve thing.

Right now, it all seems to hinge on how scripted is scripted (Where’s Bill Clinton when you need him?) Last season, one of my frustrations at the end was that the show had a perfectly good story to tell about Jesse and Deanna, but they hid it so they could have a surprise ending. I’m all for surprise endings, but I still think they only work if you actually care about the characters. I’m just not sure why they’re working so hard at making us like Jason less this late into the show.

Anyway ( btw there is some obscure sect of Jillian believers out there who still think she figures into the ending) after reading all the possible scenarios for the final rose, Deanna, the AFTR, AFTR2, and the various ABC as American Broadcast Conspiracy network theorists, this year’s WTA suggested strongly that all the principals in the Final Rose thing don’t exactly win. Who would want this Jason?
Even those guys on from G's to Gents know better than this. btw It's not Reality Steve who edited Jason this way for the WTA.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dupree Bolton (Fireball) music review

Even though I've been a jazz fan for thirty five years, I'd never listened to Harold Land's album “The Fox” until about five years ago. The date is fifty years old and not exactly obscure, but Land, the leader and tenor player, probably remains the best known soloist on the album and he never came close to being a household name in jazz. In 1959, the year the Fox was recorded in Los Angeles, jazz critics liked to divide the music into East Coast and West Coast. East Coast was driving, harmonically challenging, and full-throated. West Coast was cool, melodic, wispy, and to put it bluntly “Whiter”.

“The Fox” was East Coast music cut on Contemporary, a west coast label and that may be the simple explanation for why it never got the attention it deserved. Had it been on Blue Note, it would have fit right in with classics like Hank Mobley's Soul Station, Dexter Gordon's Doin' Allright, and Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder.

Technically, the Fox was as much an Elmo Hope album as it was Harold Land's. Hope wrote four of the six compositions. This is one of the few instances where the pianist who both influenced Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk and whose own style seems to split the difference between the two was both playing well and got recorded cleanly. Still, most everyone I know who has heard “The Fox” seems to have the same reaction- “Who the heck is that trumpet player?”

When Dupree Bolton solos on tracks like Mirror-Mind-Rose and Sims a Plenty, he dominates what many consider Land and Hope's best album. Bolton's conception on the instrument was both mature and fully-realized. It's big-toned, confident, clear, and agile and after you listen to the album, you both can't forget it and you just want to hear more of the guy. The Fox was Bolton's first appearance on an album. He later appeared on Curtis Amy's “Katanga”-- another underrated album-- and was equally impressive (listen to him on the title track) . Mysteriously, that was the trumpeter's entire commercially-released output at a time when hundreds of jazz albums were issued by dozens of labels on both coasts.

Go up to some hardcore jazz buff and say the name “Dupree Bolton” and you'll either get a shrug or hear something like “What a waste!” The simple answer was that Bolton had a lifelong drug habit that resulted in multiple long term incarcerations. Still, that doesn't explain it completely. If you read about virtually any of Charlie Parker's progeny, you quickly realize that hundreds of musicians from the period had serious drug problems and dozens of them recorded anyway between prison and rehab stints. In fact there are stories that musicians used to show up for recording sessions at one fairly well-known label, get their twenty five dollars, then head straight out for a fix. Based on the recorded evidence, here was a trumpet player who appears to have been on a par with Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, and Kenny Dorham (a couple of these guys were hardly paragons of sobriety or virtue) whose complete discography consisted of about ten tracks.

Equally strange, Dupree Bolton lived into his sixties(1929-1993) and apparently never stopped playing. One of the stories was that during much of the eighties, he played on the sidewalk by Ghiradelli and Union Squares in San Francisco as a street musician. It's said that he'd lost something, but his sound was still recognizable. I lived in San Francisco during that period and still wonder if I might have heard him.

When “Fireball”, a posthumous album of Dupree Bolton's lost tracks appeared a few weeks ago, I was very excited. My friend Tony, a fellow jazz afficionado to whom I'd introduced The Fox, heard about it he ordered a copy immediately. It took a couple months and he had to deal with two different outlets, but he was very excited to get the thing and we both figured that the ghost of Dupree Bolton had simply been responsible for the delay.

Fireball is clearly a labor of love. In addition to fourteen previously unreleased tracks of Bolton's playing, the CD includes fifty pages of liner notes (mostly by Richard Williams who wrote an article in Granta about Bolton) with everything that is known and probably will ever be known about the trumpeter's mysterious life including several surprises. The biggest of those is that I had assumed that Bolton was very young when he recorded The Fox. He was actually already thirty –I'd just never done the math. The real story was that he'd left home after dropping out of high school and toured with Jay McShann (who once hired Charlie Parker) among others, but literally no one much noticed or remembered him, something that suggests that his playing wasn't all that special at the time. My guess is that if the Dupree Bolton of Katanga had played in those bands, he'd definitely have stood out. Somewhere in his early twenties, Bolton did the first of many long prison stints. He seems to have reappeared in Los Angeles in the late fifties as a fully-formed musical presence and was playing club dates when Land brought him into the recording studio.

The simple answer was that even though he was getting noticed, he couldn't hold it together. The bio explains that he was signed to a recording contract to do at least one date as a leader, for which he was given a substantial advance, but for various reasons (almost all of which appear to have to do with Bolton), the album never got made and there don't seem to be any tapes from it.

To many fans, the possibility that there was some magical lost Bolton recording is second in forgotten trumpet lore to the generations old rumor that Buddy Bolden (the New Orleans trumpet player who supposedly influenced Louis Armstrong) made at least one recording late in his career. This “lost session” phenomenon is one of the pleasures of being a jazz fan. Three years ago, a very good live concert of Thelonius Monk playing with John Coltrane appeared from some State Department-sponsored concert. In the late sixties, A.B. Spellman's “Four Lives in the Bebop Business” sparked an interest in the music of pianist, Herbie Nichols, who was almost as obscure as Bolton. Nichols recorded three albums for Blue Note in the fifties which were re-released in the seventies and brought more attention to his music than he'd ever enjoyed when alive.

Sadly, the music on Fireball doesn't exactly uncover lost jazz treasure. The material consists of air checks from the 1962 tv show, Frankly Jazz (Frank Evans) where Bolton plays with Curtis Amy (it's good, but compromised by indifferent audio quality and Curtis Amy arguably sonds better than Bolotn here), two lost tracks/outtakes from a Pacific Jazz session with Amy (good again, but one can understand why they didn't get included on an album-- this material also includes solos by Earl Andeerza a sax player whose mystique as a lost jazz genius almost matches Bolton's) and most intriguing of all several tracks from 1980 of Bolton playing with an Oklahoma prison band (to me this was the saddest of all, it might have been that the other musicians couldn't push him, but there's a subdued and slightly broken quality to Bolton's playing on it that all but destroys the fantasy that the trumpeter of The Fox and Katanga's music continued to progress and grow).

I'm not saying that Fireball is bad. It's actually quite listenable, especially the two tracks from Pacific Jazz. It is, however, simply not up to the standard that Bolton so intriguingly set with his two long ago commercially released albums as a sideman. Instead of extending that legend, the music on the Fireball merely echoes it and while the liner notes don't say that they more or less imply it with their lack of superlatives in discussing the music.

The project itself was clearly a labor of love. If you've ever wondered about what happened to Dupree Bolton, whatever answers we're ever going to get are probably in this album. Sadly, though it all but smothers my fantasy that the man somehow kept playing and the genius that was so briefly evident never slipped away. I probably set my hopes too high.

One of the most fascinating parts of the materials is an essay by someone who knew Bolton from the trumpeter's time in prison in Oklahoma. The author reveals that he knew Bolton as an intelligent, thoughtful, and sensitive individual who for various reasons was more drawn to getting high than to maintaining his very real gifts as a musician. He speculates that Bolton had some anti-social psychological disorder and shares a story about Bolton, out of prison, being invited on stage by Dexter Gordon (a sign of respect and generosity), playing creditably, then trying to pressure Dexter into giving him a job, insulting the man so intemperately that Gordon went from trying to lend a hand to angrily writing the trumpeter off.

In any case, Dupree Bolton's story deserves to be told and remembered. Fireball completes that story. In some ways, it's the quintessential bop story. A man plays a couple thousand notes on his instrument so well that those who get to hear him can't forget them, but the tradeoff seems to be that he's not allowed to accomplish anything else in his life and we can't remember him as a person. If you want to know about the story of Dupree Bolton, pick up a copy of Fireball, make a point of reading the liner notes, and enjoy the music on the CD. If you want to understand the legend, you need to go back to the Fox and Katanga, sit back, turn up the volume, and revel in dreams of what might have been and the fundamental mystery at the heart of the jazz experience. It is, after all, the music that lives in the moment and even the best attempts to preserve or record it never do it justice. With jazz (like the blues), what is forgotten and can't be reconstructed feels every bit as vital to the experience as what we can hold onto.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Girl You Know It's True (Bachelor 13 round of 3)

What does “Girl You Know It’s True have to do with the Bachelor? In case you missed the early nineties, it was Milli Vanilli’s biggest hit. For those of you who don’t remember, Milli Vanilli won a 1990 Grammy as best new artists until a mishap at a concert exposed the fact that Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan didn’t actually sing on their own album. Apparently, they were performing at a concert and a technical glitch caused the tape to keep playing the same lyric over and over. The audience didn’t notice and the performers didn’t really change their act. A couple journalists did notice though and Milli Vanilli rapidly faded from the public eye because the public felt “betrayed.” They probably weren’t the first pop singers to get “dubbed” and it remains very common to process, splice, and use various effects to enhance a commercial singer’s recorded voice. The really interesting question isn't why did they fake it (oddly both guys could sing a little), but just what put this so much more over the line that the public got genuinely pissed off.

Rob Pilatus overdosed in 1999. Amazingly, Fab Morvan stayed in the music business and made his own album in 2003. Tellingly, the producer Frank Farian kept making music and money with more fakeo groups. I remember Milli Vanilli well because my son, not much younger than Reality Steve, was a fan when he was in 6th grade. One day he listened to the cassette constantly in our car, the next he was smashing it in half with a hammer. The music was the same, but he’d had too much of a glimpse of what’s behind the curtain in the pop music industry and he felt like he’d been taken.

For the last couple weeks, Reality Steve (probably the most read Bachelor blogger- I doubt that I’m in the top ten, how pitiful is that?) has been teasing his readers with a major revelation about the Jason Mesnick Season. Several thousand comments later, Steve posted his revelation on Youtube and it comes down to his claim that this season’s “dramatic” ending was essentially scripted so that Jason would choose one woman, Melissa, then realize after the final rose that he was truly in love with another, Molly. Rather than deny it, ABC/Mike Fleiss productions has lent credibility to Reality Steve by starting to play up their dramatic finale and by adding a second After the Final Rose show. Those who follow the show and post about it on the various Bachelor message boards appear to believe Reality Steve for the most part or they're sure acting like it.

In the fifties, there was a huge scandal about the “reality” of early tv game shows. It turned out that the 64,000 Dollar Question’s star contestant , Charles Van Doren, was being briefed on the type of questions he was likely to be asked on the show as he moved closer to the big prize. Just before the emergence of “Reality TV”, Robert Redford made a very good movie about the scandal, Quiz Show.

I don’t think any sane viewer has ever sincerely believed that Reality Television is “real”. Heck, we know wrestling and Jerry Springer are fake, and some of us still find it fun (not me). We’ve come to expect a certain level of manipulation, editing, and planting of contestants and for those of us who follows the shows closely that’s honestly always been part of the fun. We ferret it out, howl at it, and pat ourselves on the back for picking out what standard definition tv America either misses or ignores. Favorite Bachelor questions include things like was Matt Grant told that he could only choose Shayne? – Did they reshoot the ending during Deanna’s season? – Was Travis Stork interested at all in his final two choices? Still, even when Bachelor fans know perfectly well how far the show goes to edit and manipulate, a lot of us (me included believe it or not) dream of the real thing. We insist that the ultimate installment of the Bachelor is when you really get to see romance unfold on the show. We also believe (I’d argue rightly) that such an event would be the ultimate ratings winner. There’s a similar thing with American Idol, hardcore fans frequently talk about the Messiah, an actual contestant who is iconic enough to be the next Sinatra, Streisand, Mick Jagger, or Aretha. Actually, they’d settle for Freddie Mercury (no disrespect to Queen fans intended). When it comes to Bachelor, we'll put up with a lot as long as the choosing itself is vaguely real (fwiw we get it if the Bachelor just isn't into anyone and more or less fakes the final choice) and there is some actual possibility of romance every third installment or so.

So in the midst of learning that Alex Rodriguez did steroids and that our banks lent trillions of dollars to individuals who really didn’t have the means to pay it back, Reality Steve has shouted “Enough, this season is Molly Vanilli!”

It’s not that surprising that someone would do this. There’s a whole sub-hobby in spoiling the show or gossiping about how far they’ll go to get TV moments or statements from the contestants. The fascinating thing is that so many people are paying so much attention. In fact, no one’s talking about anything else and many of the bloggers have stopped even recapping the show. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the producers of the Bachelor decided that cliffhangers bring in more viewers than romance. The Bachelor’s always been part game show and part soap opera. In the end, all successful soap operas get increasingly ridiculous until they become parody. Between the third and fourth season of any show, all of the characters have had romantic flirtations with each other, had three or four life threatening diseases or discovered some lost relative. By the time the show plays out, the original viewers are just saying “This is stupid!”

Anyway, this season resembles the last episode of the Prisoner. Where Patrick Mcgoohan spent the entire run of the show trying to get a face to face meeting with Number 1 only to find that Number 1 was either a chimpanzee or a fantasy, the Bachelor has been an endless series of ecstatic proclamations in Chris Harrison’s voice about the wonders of finding true love and romance. We come to the end with the guy some believed to be there for the proverbial right reasons and the show reveals that not only is it not interested in romance, it has no heart at all. That nice Jason fellow who had his heart broken is just an actor whose status as such may date back to when he first told Deanna Pappas about Ty. Was the Deanna Pappas trilogy really just a way to write season endings that would build audience for the next installment ad infirosem? Make the thwarted romantic in the last show the star of the next and have that person break someone else’s heart until all of America has been the Bachelor or Bachelorette?

Worst of all, people worry that Melissa Rycroft was led to believe that Jason’s interest in her was on the level when it was really just part of some complex deal to reel in viewers. If you notice, recent Bachelor leads seem to fall in and out of love awfully easily, so much so that Brad Womack, once the most hated Bachelor in the show’s history, has become Bachelor world’s Jose Canseco, the former slugger and steroid user who appears to be the one guy who’s telling the truth about everyone else. Is the show and is Jason so heartless that he would play Melissa Rycroft just for the money, notoriety, etc.?

So what are the ethical limits of reality television? If they exist then this season, if you believe Reality Steve, crossed them all. While we love to make fun of the whackier contestants on the show, this one became some version of the Millgram experiment, where the college professor finds that students will torture someone as long as they’re told that they’re expected to do it. Did we just watch someone kill puppies on national television, albeit one with a great body, in the guise of entertainment?

We’ll all know a lot more in a couple weeks and as interesting as this is, it’s pretty trivial stuff. One of the joys of reality tv is that it’s a much more participatory sport than traditional scripted television. We watch, we chat online, we try to guess the outcome and see all the strings holding up the puppets. If true (and I’m willing to wait and see), this is the biggest Fuck You imaginable from the producers. One of the sadder aspects of it all is that Chris Harrison, maybe the one participant on the show who’s universally popular, got in on the act by more or less covering for the producers.

Since no one else is recapping:

Part way into that hot tub scene with Jillian, I was convinced that I’d tuned into Emmanuelle-New Zealand instead. In several of this year’s episodes, there have been clear signs of Fleiss going the Mary Hartman Mary Hartman route. There was Molly Bair talking about making out with her dog. There was that bizarre home visit with Naomi Crespo’s family. Now, you have Jason (America’s nice guy) making an adult movie with the Bachelorette that he was going to dump in a couple days. Of course, just last week we got to see how her family had survived a serious mental illness. There was something really disturbing about this combination. My sense that someone’s telegraphing some sort of “joke season” was tweaked even further by Jillian’s fantasy of watching little Ty cross dress while cuddled up in connubial bliss with Jason. Did you notice that they took the Canadian lady on two different dates to wineries, eh? Talk about your stereotypes.

Equally weird, Jason never really says anything this episode. He asks a bunch of questions, reads body language, then waits for each of the ladies to tell him how they’re falling love with him. Molly does reverse this some by giving him the world’s dullest quiz (like mother like daughter I guess) after their bungee jumping experience (Chris Harrison tells us, notice how interested Jason is in getting Molly’s approval.) We learn that Jason’s favorite meal is a hamburger, his favorite car is a Mustang, and his favorite singer is Elvis. Wow! My guess is that Jason’s an alien pretending to be a “regular American guy.” Mmmm, maybe that’s the dramatic reveal at the end. So if this really is who he wants, I can’t imagine what’s on the editing room floor given some of the acting he did with Melissa.

With Melissa, I think the big puzzle is that Jason and Melissa are clearly terrible actors, yet they’re doing such a good job of faking actual attraction. You watch the segments and there’s no question that he just wants to get with her even if it has to be a threesome with Winston Churchill’s ghost and Jason in the middle. There is the whole silliness about Melissa’s family that does seem like yet another test of Bachelor fan gullibility. Jason asks “Have you talked to your parents yet?” Melissa shakes her head know then tells him how actually close she is to her family. Why’s it all like a really badly acted and written soap opera? Melissa keeps saying, “I’m always the dumpee” , Molly asks “gee what if you pick the wrong girl and figure it out later?” , Jillian makes a speech about being really really in love while Jason acts more tortured than necessary after her departure. At the end of the second AFTR is Jason going to rip his own head off and reveal that he’s a trained Chimpanzee, the Bachelor’s version of Number One and that Ty is an animatronic puppet?

Many many years ago, my parents lectured me about the difference between getting attention and actually making friends. Sure this whole thing is going to attract viewers for the same reason that people rubberneck at five car collisions. Getting my attention, however, is not the same thing as entertaining me. Again, I’m willing to see how this all works out, but right now I’m willing to bet that I had better parents than Mike Fleiss.

P.T. Barnum is often credited with saying “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Right now, I feel like one of them. Here I thought my silly more or less innocent weekly diversion of a tv dating show was just good fun, instead we’re getting a reminder that American popular entertainment is at heart just one big freak show and a scripted one at that. I now fully expect the final credits to say “No professional cheerleaders were actually injured or abused in any way during the filming of this sad excuse for entertainment.”
Chris Harrison's blog

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

You Marry the Family Too (Bachelor 13 Round of 4)

Allegedly, the last advice Aunt Stephanie Hogan shared with Jason Mesnick before departing in the limo of shame was "You marry the girl, you marry the family."

Move over Meredith Phillips, Jason Mesnick just stole the title for weirdest set of home visits yet. If you remember, Meredith, Microsoft software model and dating show cookbook author, survived two of the odder visits in Bachelor History. First, can you imagine a home visit where the happy couple inspects insemination devices and that’s not the weirdest thing about the date? No, Meredith then got to listen to one of the scarier speeches ever about wifely duties from Lanny’s mom, a woman who had been placed in suspended animation back in the 1870’s then was suddenly revived by Mike Fleiss. Along with that, Meredith learned from one of her beau’s aunts that he just happened to be unemployed. Of course, Ian simply decided that his parents weren’t the right sort of people for a home visit, so he didn’t include them. Instead, we got to see Ian’s brother spend most of the time talking to him in some stairwell instead of visiting with Meredith. Ian, the pride of St. Paul’s Academy, got the final rose anyway.

So, how did Jason manage to top that? Well, there’s this moment when Molly’s entire family is sitting around in weird party hats (Dad gets a beer stein) without either laughing or speaking to one another. Maybe to deal with the awkward silence, Mrs. Malaney whips out a not so well disguised version of the Goodenough-Harris (Draw a Person) test and compares Jason’s drawing of her daughter to Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker. If I told you that was one of the more normal moments during Jason’s home visits? At one point during that same visit, Molly’s Dad who we learn for the third time didn’t approve of Molly’s last boyfriend, Adam “Pacman” Jones, for some reason, he gives her the sage advice “If you don’t happen to win this, don’t you dare cry in that limo.” (when Molly gets eliminated, do you think they might reference this?)

It’s the sort of thing Barbara Bush would inflict on one of her sons and look how that turned out. The most normal part of that visit was Molly dressed up for a round of golf, something her family does every Sunday, bringing Jason the right clothes for the Grand Rapids Country Club. Gerald Ford represented Grand Rapids for many years. This is a match for Jason? Did you catch the polite silence when Jason mentioned Ty as he tried to explain that he doesn’t play as much as he used to. On the other hand, you’re in Michigan guy. Your kid knows Joe Dumars not Michael Jordan. In case you were wondering why they never exactly mention what Jason does for a living other than appear on the Bachelor, I wouldn’t bet on commercial artist.

Once it moved forward from Jillian Harris stepping on the back of Canada’s version of the Loch Ness Monster, the Canadian home visit was genuinely touching. In a long run of parents who looked alcoholic, possibly mentally ill, or just plain strange, this was probably the first time any contestant’s acknowledged not only mental illness in her family, but mentioned a parental suicide attempt. Fascinatingly, Jason mentioned a history of depression in his own family. We have our own share of non-idyllic experiences in our family so it was nice to see evidence of such a thing on a Bachelor home visit. In Bachelor world, the only bad thing that had ever happened before this had been divorce or parents who died at some point. Well, Estella Gordimer’s father had been deaf, but he had already died. Noelle Drake also had facial reconstruction surgery. Beyond that, there’s been no autism, horrifying auto accidents, cancer, retardation, schizophrenia, missing limbs, PTSD from the war, etc.

The weird thing, in Bachelor terms, is that the show actually made the case for one of its contestants having real substance. Beneath the Maple Leaf flags and boxers, the Jillian home visit mostly made the point that Jillian had met the test of supporting her parents through fifteen years (most of Jillian’s life) of parental hospitalizations, medication, and therapy. At the same time, the family had managed to retain a sense of joy and the capacity to welcome Jason without making it all about them. Mrs. Chancelucky is a Jillian fan and she thought this was the greatest segment ever.

If Jason were the Jason whom everyone thinks is so incredible, he would almost certainly pick Jillian. They showed her having depth, dignity, and she’s plenty attractive. This, however, is the same Jason who fell for Deanna. As he puts it, he wants to be “needed”. Come to think of it, the Deanna everyone liked was the girl who lost her mother at a young age then looked after everyone else. You really want to trust someone with Ty, this is probably the one. Molly’s family still thinks their daughter is a child. It’s hard to say what’s going on with Melissa, but all her boyfriends mistreated her is probably not a good thing to put on a stepmom’s resume. You think boyfriends are tough, try stepchildren and ex-wives.

Some of the symmetry is appealing. Jason was the Bachelor with a secret last season. Jillian waited for the right moment to talk about her mother. Despite the preview of the prolonged kissing, something’s a little off for this to be a winner’s edit. How do I put this? The Jillian visit was all ketchup, all sweetness and no spice. Somehow, grandma was the naughtiest thing about the entire visit.

Before Matt Grant’s home visit with Amanda Rantuccio, she hired a pair of actors to pretend to be the weirdest parents in the world. Amanda might have won if she’d hired Naomi Crespo’s parents instead. Normally, I look for weird things to comment on in a show. This was so weird, I was looking for signs of reality. From giant slot machines and bathroom doors to the dead bird funeral, this one was a scene from Meet the Parents part 3 or Flirting with Disaster 2. Between Naomi’s Evangelical Dad and her New Age multiply reincarnated mom, the hula hoops, and the slightly odd kids, it occurs to me that no family would be this clueless if they thought their daughter was sincerely interested in this guy. It struck me that Naomi’s family, knowing that Jason is Jewish and Naomi not likely to convert any time soon, might have simply decided to have some fun in front of the cameras. Consider this clue (no, it’s not a Reality Steve type clue), Mom decides to name the dead bird “Rosie” and insists that Jason say the eulogy as in no rose for Naomi. I mean who comes up with “We kept it in the refrigerator for four days and it smells like chicken?”

Yes, Southern California is full of whacky people. In fact, Mrs. Chancelucky is from the San Diego area too and she was whacky enough to marry me. Despite what Chris Harrison says, my take is that Naomi’s family simply decided to punk the show. Naomi really didn’t seem all that upset either about her family or about not getting the rose. If the producers had been on the ball though they’d have had a bird hit the windshield of the limo of shame. Anyway, I go back to that first kiss between Jason and Naomi and thinking “There’s no way there’s anything there.”

So I have two questions about Melissa Rycroft. First, why does the woman wear shorts everywhere? Second, what’s the deal with the family? Is it that the entire rest of the family has Double F breasts and they don’t want to be seen on television, so they’d prefer to just let America believe that they aren’t supportive (heh heh)? Melissa described herself as the black sheep. Maybe they saw the ad for the new Jason movie and thought Bachelor Jason was that Jason, a guy with a hockey mask and a hatchet. Could be that they’re in witness protection and Fleiss is planning a very special crossover with the Sopranos. How about Melissa’s dad was one of the three tramps spotted on the grassy knoll on November 22, 1963? Perhaps, it’s something like Shrek and the blow you away final rose thing leads into the first animated Bachelor? The final scene has Melissa and Jason taking Ty to the premiere. Personally, I like the whole vampire thing (kmoon so obviously being werewolves and Rebecca York writes vampire romances). Think about it, haven’t you noticed that Jason always has a five o’clock shadow? Just before dawn in New Zealand, they kill Molly together before she can tell the National Enquirer and Jason offers Melissa the final blood-soaked rose, howls at the full moon, and we then get a glimpse of little Ty’s fangs as he puts his first baby fang in that cute little coffin that Melissa made for him. Notice how Reality Steve kept referring to Lost?

The friends visit was especially fascinating. First they show Jason and Melissa frolicking together with a pair of little girls. Maybe they should make the point once again that Melissa has FF-sized maternal instincts? Second, the husbands talk about Melissa having loser boyfriends who don’t treat her right. What a subtle edit there! Didn’t Jason say he wanted to be needed? The big Nate Newton in the room though is that despite knowing Melissa for several years, they’ve never much met her parents either. After seeing Jason shoot pool with the guys while jabbering on about how perfect she is, Melissa gets to confess that her family didn’t even go to Cowboys games when she was a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. Anne Richards aside, this is the highest office any woman in Texas can hold. We’re led to believe that this is some form of child abuse or neglect worse than being locked in a small room with Terrell Owens’s ego. In the meantime, I don’t trust Melissa’s friend’s husband. Normal married men don’t complain about their wife’s hot friend hanging around too much without a date. Instead, they fantasize about hot tubs, their wives, themselves, the hot best friend and just the right circumstances.

So let’s see here. Jason then got to choose between 1) Is depression genetic, Chris? 2) A family colder than Lake Michigan in February 3) The weirdest home visit in Bachelor History 4) and a really hot woman who keeps dating losers and whose family no showed. Jason got so excited about the prospect of the overnight date in New Zealand with Melissa that he gave her the last rose while he still had two roses left. Maybe Rosie will be reincarnated, fly to New Zealand, and magically appear at the final rose ceremony?
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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scoopless in Seattle (Bachelor 13 Round of 5)

You know, last night's episode would have been great if they could have maybe just found some way to mention Sleepless in Seattle or point to the Space Needle one more time. Somewhere before the first time Jason tells the camera that Ty is the most important person in his life, I kind of got it. If you remember, the basic plot of Sleepless in Seattle is that the kid helps his single dad find Meg Ryan after kid and then Dad impulsively make a call to a radio talk show. Naturally, they did a segment of the Frasier Crane show with Melissa and Naomi Crespo mysteriously listening to the broadcast so that Jason could make like Tom Hanks. In the meantime, Ty has booked a flight with his new friend Sophia to go to the top of an Empire State Building made entirely of Legos. When Rob Reiner and Rita Wilson show up as Jason's brother and sister in law, I'm pretty sure we'll know how this is going to end. So, there’s my big scoop. Jason’s going to give the final rose to Meg Ryan or whoever happens to be dating Bill Pullman these days.

In the meantime, the rest of the Bachelor Empire is watching reruns of the tv series Heroes as they try to make sense of Reality Steve's teaser about a genuinely dramatic and surprising finale and some business about “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” I've always enjoyed Reality Steve's posts and he's clearly having fun with the scoop. Steve takes all this to a very different level than I do. While I read the boards and comment on them from time to time, I’m strictly a Reality TV civilian and my blog has no intelligence gathering capacity. In the last week, Realty Steve created more excitement about the plot of what I call the “Deanna Pappas trilogy” than the actual airing of the episodes.

It does remind me of junior high. Someone passes a note, “Hey, S knows what J really did with M at Rose's last party.” Suddenly, everyone is paying attention to S and S has this power that lasts until he or someone else spills or until S gets his next big secret. Naturally, I've been as curious as anyone else here at Tristaryan Middle School, so I've been following Steve around just like everyone else.
Prescient or not, Reality Steve's scoop isn't really about how it ends, it's more a reminder that most of us obsessive fans are in some stage of arrested development.

For me, it's simple. I was a nerd. I missed that whole “who likes whom” stage, never dated much, and had it not been for Mrs. Chancelucky I'd be doing Second Life 24/7. Anyway, if you want scoops about this show, I'm the last guy who's going to have one unless it's something like which book of Harry Potter was contestant X quoting on that date to Diagon Alley. Btw Isn't it weird how we got a black President before we got a black Bachelor/ette? Maybe one season, they'll have Tyler Perry guest produce with a special appearance by Oprah instead of Ellen? On the other hand, Jason seems to have had better luck with his stimulus package than the President. (think about it, you have a black president talking about making his package even bigger to stimulate America. What Southern Republican is going to vote for that?)

The title for this episode should have been, “The One Where Jason Kisses Everyone Except Aunt Stephanie.” The only thing unexpected about it for me was the fact that he appeared to have such a hard time with that last rose. Here’s a hint. If you wind up alone (except for the ferry captain and half a dozen camera crew) and he keeps talking about what a great time he had at Lego Land with your daughter Sophia and how special that “was” instead of putting a move on you, I wouldn’t make too many preparations for either the fantasy suite or that home visit.

Stephanie Hogan was also the only one Jason didn’t discuss the “home visit” with though that might just have been edited out. In the meantime, she gets to muse about seeing her husband in heaven some day (yes, if I were either dating her or just broke up with her, I would be creeped out by that ). Fortunately for Sophia, Stephanie is not a traditional Hindu. This is way off topic, but I have this weird image of Stephanie having lifted "I kiss special men all over until they're completely satisfied" from some web pages that mentions time and companionship only. (You know I thought I was weird being a guy who watches and posts about the Bachelor, but it seems like many of the Bachelor bloggers are male. Does it maybe have something to do with bits like the kissing contest with the lingerie talk from Molly and hot tub scenes with Melissa and Naomi?)

They also threw some sort of Lifetime Achievement Awards banquet for Stephanie instead of a rose ceremony. She seemed very nice and was clearly popular with the other women. Jason seemed to like her well enough as well, but I don’t think there was ever a hint of a moment when anyone thought this could happen. Maybe it’s me, but I also don’t see how this made her the “greatest human being they’ve all ever known.” Her husband died, she’s a good mom, she has manners. Well, come to think of it, relative to other Bachelor contestants maybe that does make her a candidate for sainthood. Still doesn’t seem fair to me that they made a big deal of Stephanie phoning Sophia and no one ever saw Megan Parris being a mom.

Currently, Mrs. Chancelucky and I are arguing about Melissa Rycroft. Mrs. Chancelucky thinks she’s a giggly ditz. I keep looking at the bikini photo I posted with last week’s post then disagreeing. I don’t really know if the whole “cancelled” date thing was a setup, but they were definitely building the case for Melissa. She’s clearly not high-maintenance cheerleader, at least while they have two or three cameras trained on her. She did the dishes, picked up the toys, and waited. Jason got to make like a good Dad by saying that he wasn’t going to introduce Ty to any of the ladies just yet and Melissa didn’t question the decision for a second. One could easily imagine Shannon or Megan rushing Ty’s bedroom door and jumping onto that little race car bed. While she waited, Melissa got to pour some of the wine she distributes in her day job and persuaded the crew to buy fifty cases between her stories about being friends with Jeremy Anderson’s Cowboys Cheerleader girlfriend. It sure looked like a winner’s edit to me, but I’m just the nerd on the Bachelor playground who hears Reality Steve stuff from some girl who still brings a Scooby Doo lunch box to school.

Contrast this to Naomi, who spends the first seven minutes of the show complaining that Melissa got a second one on one date while she still hadn’t gotten hers (patience v. entitlement). When Melissa’s date gets cancelled, the producer shows Naomi complaining that Melissa’s now going to get Ty time (we later learn that doesn’t really happen). Finally, Naomi’s date envelope comes and she starts whispering to the camera that Melissa is acting jealous of her. They’re making her out to be a few floats short of a seaplane or should it be blades short of a helicopter? I thought the woman was a flight attendant not a Stewarditz. To top it off, they show Aunt Stephanie, reality tv’s first ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, questioning Naomi’s maturity. You’re really going to have the most popular Bachelor yet hook up with Naomi? You might as well have Deanna Pappas, who wanted three kids by age 30, run off with a snowboarder.

Meanwhile, Jason kept checking in with Jillian and Molly in painfully non-descript encounters. Over coffee and pastries with Jillian (which neither consumes) they discuss how she needs to “get in the game”, whatever the heck that means. He walks with Molly near Pike Place Market and she informs him that she had a long term boyfriend whom her parents didn’t like. Naomi’s conversation isn’t exactly scintillating either except for the bit about her mother leaving the family (possibly a reminder that Jason’s first wife allegedly left to “find” herself too). Throughout, Jason does the “good guy” bit. He’s always checking in with the ladies, relates to everything they feel(did he remind anyone that he was on the show once before and in their position himself yet?), and then tells them either how special they are or how glad he was they got to talk. I got the impression that rest of the cast was waiting to find out what was so dramatic about that final rose ceremony too.

The episode didn’t really perk up until they showed previews. We learned that Jillian’s mother suffered from depression (funny, I keep seeing those ads for that drug that helps with depression). It wasn't clear if Jason plays beer pong with Molly’s family then paints his naked body red and runs across campus in the snow. Of course, we also got the real teaser. We learned that Melissa Rycroft was on the show once before as Amber AlChalabi when she pretended to already be a first grade teacher from Houston instead of Dallas. A quick thinking Jason whisks Melissa into the hot tub to compare that tattoo on her lower back to the hot tub scene with Andy Baldwin and Amber.

In the meantime, I see Ty waking up in the morning and finding two half-empty wine glasses on the coffee table next to the controllers for his Nintendo Wii. He dusts them for fingerprints then waits until Tuesday night to send them to the crime lab on Law and Order SVU. In a very special guest appearance, Marissa Hargitay calls to inform Ty that they have a match. They’ve found a secret laborotory where they make Bachelor contestants in upstate New York in the town of Stepford where they erase memories, recycle back stories, etc. Apparently they have enough material for three hundred more installments of the show. Detective Benson sends Ty a video of his dad saying, “Melissa is just so perfect, I’m waiting to see just something a little bit wrong.”

(Damn, her family threatened not to show up for that hometown date. Imagine that?) Ty begins crying. “I don’t want to lose my Dad to some cheerleader robot. It’s embarrassing enough that he got dumped by that idiot woman with the funny accent.”

Detective Benson, soothes him, “Ty don’t worry the FBI has already sent it’s best team up there, two agents named Scully and Mulder. The Truth is out there.”

“You mean it doesn’t matter what Reality Steve knows?”

“In three weeks we’ll all know and then two weeks after that most of us won’t care anyway.”

Anyway, when Melissa’s dog poops on the carpet and Jason’s the only one who notices, just remember you saw it here first. So, I had a big scoop for you after all. :}

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