Discovery’s ‘Eaten Alive’ Showed Us What Kind of TV Viewers We Really Are

eaten alive

Paul Rosolie. (Discovery)

In case you weren’t aware — and honestly, good for you unaware person — Discovery aired a special, two-hour event last night called Eaten Alive, in which naturalist Paul Rosolie attempted to, well, make a gigantic snake eat him. Alive. It was okay because he was wearing a protective suit that looked remarkably like this. Flash-forward to today, and people are pissed about it. Outraged. Genuinely angry. The Twitter storm is in full swing. Why? Because of the danger to Rosolie or, say, the snake itself? Because no matter the safety precautions this is a wanton disregard for both the human and animal’s well-being, really for a pretty shaky “cause?”

No, no people are pissed because a massive jungle snake did not actually eat a human being whole on national television.

Next time I watch something called #EatenAlive, somebody better get eaten alive.

— Casey Pratt (@CaseyPrattCSN) December 8, 2014

I guess calling this “Getting Squeezed Really Hard” didn’t sound as enticing. #EatenAlive

— Bobby Frasor (@BFrasor) December 8, 2014

This guy had one job. Literally one fucking job to get eaten alive and he fucked it up

— Jess (@itsjesstucker) December 8, 2014

Dear @Discovery Channel, you should have called #EatenAlive “Hugged Alive”.

— Scott Warner (@ScottWarner18) December 8, 2014

Discovery actually had to issue a statement, that basically says – sigh — “people, please, we’re sorry, Mr. Rosolie had every intention to get eaten alive but the massive constricting force of a snake made him change his mind.”

Let’s take a step back as a whole and take a look at this thing. People are mad, upset, and in some cases downright sad that a living human was not actually consumed by a wild animal for their entertainment. The actual #disappointing was thrown around, because a guy called it quits before a snake ATE HIM ALIVE.

The biggest argument that anyone could possibly bring p is, if Discovery wasn’t going to have the snake eat Rosolie, they shouldn’t have called it Eaten Alive. Fair…I guess. On the other hand, sadly, Discovery doesn’t give a fuck about your feelings. To complain about how disappointing all two hours of Eaten Alive was, you had to watch all two hours of Eaten Alive. Discovery is the same channel that convinced a large portion of the world that the Megaladon was going to ruin your beach weekend and laughed all the way to the bank. Discovery did not ask you to not hate-watch Eaten Alive, because Discovery duped many people to do just that.

And even then, even then I just can’t see what anyone expected. Rosolie wasn’t eaten alive, he called in help as the snake constricted him and sort of tried to eat his head. In what conceivable way is Rosolie going to survive this if it goes any further? And if Rosolie did somehow design a super-suit that allowed him to get inside the entire snake, how exactly does the snake itself survive that? One way or the other you were going to see something die, which one you preferred was a matter of personal opinion.

So, really, what’s going on with all this? I’m afraid that there is a widening schism between quality and expectations on television. On one hand, it seems shows are being specifically designed to be mocked, because being mocked is also being watched. On the opposite hand, people get upset when these shows actually aren’t…good? Maybe not good, but they don’t fulfill “explications.” Well, what are the expectations exactly? For NBC’s two televised live-musicals, one which starred Christopher Walken as Captain Hook, what really did you want? A Tony-worthy performance? And for a show called Eaten Alive? Viewers didn’t take a second to think, “maybe this won’t actually happen.”

Or in what desensitized, over-eager television landscape is the expectation that it will happen an okay thing to hope for?

Part of me hopes that this was the greatest social experiment of all time. That it really was meant to hold up a giant mirror to our current television audience and say “look at you. Look at what you want.” Or, maybe not what you “want.” More like, “look at what you expect.”

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‘The Comeback’ 2×5 Recap: The Green Monster

Valerie, pre-Green Screen. (HBO)

Valerie, pre-Green Screen. (HBO)

Sitcoms are boring to look at. You ever think about that? How one of only two fictional-entertainment teams on TV throws the visual game before it even reaches the playing field? You get sitcoms that are cleverly edited, sure, where the comic timing depends on the cuts; Arrested Development takes top honors here.. You get sitcoms that do convincing pastiches of other genres of TV (Community), or of the documentary/reality format (too many to list, but you’re reading about one right now). And if you look down memory lane you can find shows that had a visual tone that made them memorable and unmistakable, like the Gordon Willis golds and browns of the bar set in Cheers. But in much the same way that mainstream movie comedy appears content to leave “I dunno gang, maybe we should make the thing look good too” in the hands of the Coen Brothers, the situation comedy has pretty much tossed the visual-innovation baton to Adult Swim and called it a race.

Bless its black heart: The Comeback tries harder. “Valerie Is Taken Seriously,” last night’s killer episode (a welcome return to form after last week’s suicidal one), has the mockumentary thing down cold. It also nails not one but two genre spoofs: the grim’n’gritty, dimly lit world of HBO dramas, and the day-glo gibberish of children’s television. (As the father of a three year old, I assure you that far greater horrors than Nicky Nicky Nack Nack lurk in the kids’ section of channel guide.) It could easily have coasted. Instead, it staged its two lynchpin scenes — Valerie’s transformation into a literal monster via green screen, and her eye-opening conversation about her performance with the New York Times reporter — to look as memorable as they felt.

First, Valerie dons the familiar track suit, opens a door, and steps into a Kermit-colored void. Pretty much every viewer is familiar with how the CGI sausage gets made today, but the space is so preposterously cavernous, and Valerie’s fish-out-of-water confusion so palpable, that it’s transformed into a dystopian hellscape, like THX-1138 with the tint screwed up on the monitor. The corny capering of the woman who’s replaced Pauly G. as the episode’s director, and the start-and-stop bursts of faked laughter from the “studio audience” floating in mid-air, turn the sequence into a theater of the absurd; you half expect them to delay shooting because Godot is late for his call time.

By the time Valerie goes the full morph-suit monty, squeezed by HBO into a performance that’s more Andy Serkis than Edie Falco, you hardly need Pauly G.’s thuddingly blunt character assassination to get the point. “No voice!” he yells when Valerie does her best Mallory-monster growl for her dream-sequence transformation. “You’re the monster, Val. Get it? You don’t have to do anything, because you’re the monster. Clear?” As crystal. The entire ridiculous day of shooting is nothing more or less than the full resources of the show and the network being brought to bear to make Valerie Cherish look as awful as technology will allow — a smiling serpent set adrift and left to drown in a sea of green.

But misery loves publicity, or vice versa, and that’s the note the episode ends on. After several grueling days of humiliating motion-capture work, noirish dailies that make her look positively demonic (can’t they light her scenes “just so it’s not so dark all the time?” she asks, nailing it in every way), and the revelation that HBO is turning her beloved BTS project into a warts-and-all documentary about the simultaneous nose-dives of her relationships with Pauly G. and her own husband, Val finally cracks. Storming off the set, she chases down the departing Times reporter, desperately demanding an explanation for her earlier comment that Val’s performance was “very brave.” Brave means old, ugly, fat, literally disabled—doesn’t it?

The reporter’s explanation is interesting in its own right, since it cuts to the premise of the second season: the show may be designed to humiliate her, and the off-screen shenanigans may be following suit, but it’s coaxing out a performance that’s accidentally better than Valerie ever aspired to be. “Surely you must have been aware of what you were doing,” says the reporter. LOL!

But more interesting still is how we watch Valerie process this news—through her reflection in the rolled-up window of the reporter’s rental car. It’s a slightly darker, slightly distorted version of how Valerie always sees herself, but it’s the version that may finally make her a genuine star. Et voila: A show about an actor’s self-image depicts perhaps the biggest change to that self-image yet by using an actual, literal image of her self. Is it a little obvious as a metaphor? Yeah, but so were the pigs in Animal Farm, and that worked out alright for Orwell. After all, this is an HBO show about a documentary about the making of an HBO show starring an actress making her comeback in a fictionalized version of a show within a show from the previous version of this HBO show about an actress making her comeback in a reality show about that show within a show starring a real-life sitcom actress making a comeback. (gasp, wheeze) It’s a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. Might as well own it.

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‘The Newsroom’ Recap 3×5: Ghost Dad and the Death of Journalism

Damn, Don. (HBO)

Damn, Don. (HBO)

I wish there was a German word for how tonight’s episode of The Newsroom made me feel; some combination of horror and repulsion bolstered by an angry smear of righteous satisfaction. I’m glad that Aaron Sorkin has fucked up this cosmically–where in the prescient issue of campus rape is Mansplained to an (alleged) Princeton victim by a male producer–and not because I have it out for Aaron Sorkin. I’m glad that this terrible, absolutely reprehensible hour of television exists because it’s totally eye-opening, especially in light on the Rolling Stones controversy. Yes, there are some people out there who think that rape victims need to be silenced because of the potential damage done to the reputations of those they accuse. There are people out there who think the role of the journalist is to “protect” the public from these stories, on the possibility that they are wrong. That there are people who believe they are “morally obligated” to believe the testimony of a “sketchy” guy over a woman who has “no reason to make (it) up,” (their words!) because presumption of innocence isn’t just for defendants in criminal trials.

Funny enough, those people are also the ones with television shows on primetime, lecturing us about the ethics of journalism. Aaron Sorkin is those people.

The episode started out queasily enough when Charlie tells Don to go bring him the student behind Princeton’s victim website to go debate her attacker on live air. Don demurs, saying he doesn’t know how to do this story. Because when in doubt about how they, personally, feel about an issue, ACN’s producers have the time-tested method of staying silent and not reporting the issue at all. This is, we to believe, the “noble” or “right” thing to do, but it’s also why they were in fourth place in the ratings. But with the new owner, ACN is being forced to care about things like “ratings” and “traffic,” which we all know exist in direct moral opposition to journalism. ACN’s new slogan, which disgusts Mac and Don, is “You aren’t a consumer. You are a citizen, you are an activist. You aren’t a viewer, you are ACN.”

“THE NEXT ONE IS GOING TO SHOW CITIZEN JOURNALISTS FILING STORIES FROM THE COFFEE BEAN!” – Mackenzie, losing her mind.

So Don doesn’t know how to do the story. Charlie snaps at him, “You interview the student with the website, you interview one of the guys that’s accused, how is that complicated?”

Now here the episode had a choice. If we still lived in the idyllic West Wing universe, maybe that’s directive would have been taken at face value, and we would have all felt this week’s big headline news from a different perspective. But it wasn’t. Because Don makes a choice: that instead of standing up to his boss and saying no, he’ll just go track down this student Mary (Sarah Sutherland) in her dorm room at Princeton and try to convince her not to come on the show himself by explaining how it might damage the reputations of men accused on her site.

Right, so, read that again: a news producer solicits an interview request for a young woman to appear on his show in dialog with the man she says raped her. The producer then shows up, announced, at this girl’s apartment (after loads of sleuthing!), just to chastise her for speaking out. And beg her not to do the interview. His interview. For his show.

I mean, it boggles the mind.

Before we go any farther, let’s take a breather and remember that Will is in jail, talking to a guy who (spoiler alert) turns out to be ghost dad. No, not that Ghost Dad. (Although that is some unintentional commentary, huh?) I mean, the ghost of his dad. Also Mackenzie is so mad that Charlie is making her cover Lady Gaga when her segment does have a second to spare. How will viewers ever find out if Ed Markey won John Kerry’s senate seat??

Okay, back to Don lamenting to Mary. “It will bring a lot viewers to my show, drive a lot of Internet traffic,” Don says in the same disgusted, apologetic voice of someone admitting they stole money from their baby’s college fund to buy crack. It’s the ugliest truth in the world for him. “I’m here to beg you not to do it.” Don then reveals that he’s already spoken to one of the men Mary’s accused, and he’s agreed to go on the show. Apparently that finger wagging speech, where Don implores that guy not to go on his show, didn’t go over well either.

Now, if I was a producer trying to prevent someone I actively sought out to appear on my show from appearing on my show (???), I might argue that they’d be opening themselves up to public judgement and criticism. That Mary, whose identity was anonymous on the Internet, would now be facing harsh scrutiny from millions of Americans who would question every aspect of her story. That she might want to not go down that road. Nope. Don doesn’t do “easy.” He might actually not know the definition of the word. Don’s first argument is: “Don’t publicly face your attacker on national TV. It will hurt his job chances.”

When that doesn’t work, Don switches tactics: now it’s not just her agreeing to be on his show that’s the problem, it’s the entire premise of her site, which will “inevitably” be used as revenge tool from spurned women to accuse exes of rape. Don doesn’t want to give that kind of site attention, because one time HIS girlfriend was shown naked on the Internet in a revenge porn story, and both scenarios have the word “revenge” in them. So..Don basically knows what it’s like to be raped.

To recap Don’s concerns, again: That Mary has created something that allows women to ruin men’s lives by accusing them of rape. And while doing that on the Internet is one thing, as he puts it, “Its a huge, dangerous scary as shit mistake to convene your own trial in front of a television audience.”

“The law might acquit,” Don says to a woman who couldn’t even get her case into court, “but the Internet never will. The Internet is used for vigilantism ever day.”

Ugh.

Forty minutes in, Don does mention 40 minutes the possible consequences that Mary herself might face if she goes on air. And yes, the term “slut-shamed” is used.

“Its sports, Mary,” he says, aghast at his own…career? I guess? “You’ll be covered like sports.”

Still, Mary pushes to do the segment. So Don does the only ethical thing: he goes back to his boss and tells him he wasn’t able to locate the person behind the website, and the segment won’t be happening.

This literally kills Charlie, who dies of a heart attack on the spot, but not before standing up to ACN’s new owner for a completely unrelated matter involving Dax Shepard’s whereabouts.

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