Catfish: The TV Show
MTV is known for reality, not documentary. But the difference is getting slimmer: Both types of shows are typically Steadicam footage, voice over, and interview segments. In reality shows, the subject is the egos of the actors (or competitors, or judges). In documentary the subject is conceptual, a message from the journalist about something of interest. Catfish: The TV Show is the spiritual successor to the documentary film-making of the old Current TV, and probably the best documentary series on TV right now. Two journalists, one of whom was himself a victim of catfishing, help people with long-distance, online relationships meet the people they’ve been chatting with face to face. Footage of laptops, hotel rooms, and tearful (sometimes explosive) results ensure.
Girl Code, a green screen show where panelists discuss “feminine issues” modeled after an earlier MTV2 show called Guy Code (which is also a book available at Urban Outfitters).
I Love the 80s, I Love the 90s and I love a good green screen show. MTV’s progress in programming is essentially becoming VH1 from last decade. These are shows where commentators discuss a subject and post-production makes it entertaining. They reinvent the round-table discussion and make it something that won’t put you to sleep (I’m looking at you McLaughlin). Topics include sex, friends, drugs, and other stuff you are probably reading about on Vice.
Girl Code is much more interesting to me than Guy Code. MTV is having a really hard time giving up the “sup bro?” mook male persona they invented with the Jackass crew all those years ago. There’s also something a little too frat-house about the panelists and subject matter that makes Guy Code feel demeaning. It’s also possible that I like Girl Code more because, as a man, I’m always curious about what women are thinking. I’m excited to see if MTV can reach out further with the Code show format and try to make more of these cultural primers. Maybe Black Code or Nerd Code or Hipster Code. Examining unwritten social rules can be very entertaining, and also helps you take a vacation into the mindset of someone besides yourself.
A remake of a British show, The Inbetweeners is modeled after Freaks and Geeks, but replaces all the earnestness with debauchery. It feels a lot like FX’s under-the-radar adult cartoon Unsupervised, but with much more grating and unlovable characters. Despite that, it’s highly relatable. Especially if you spent high school as a bored suburbanite who just wanted to get fucked-up. One problem I had was the lack of developed female characters, and the all white cast. The girl next door character seems to be either memory-less or infinitely forgiving after she’s the butt of episodes and episodes of embarrassment and puke gags.
Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous
Where Inbetweeners is more situational humor, Zach Stone is character driven. Bo Burnham plays the titular role as a social inept egomaniac who truly believes it’s his destiny to become famous (think a young David Brent from the British Office). Therefore he spends his college fund on a camera crew, pay-rolling his own reality TV show as a “pre-celebrity”. Each episode finds Zach coming up with a new hair-brained, I Love Lucy-styled get-famous-quick scheme which culminates in an incredibly painful moment of social awkwardness between Zach and his parents, boss, or the girl next door. Again, no real female or non-white characters and yet another girl next door trope who will let anything slide.
There’s a lot of things about MTV that I like. I like how they work songs into their shows, I like how they play the production company screens before the last segment and the credits during the show to seamlessly transition. I like that advertisers usually pull out all the stops with flashier than average commercials and the products themselves are usually stuff I’d consider buying.
I don’t like that there’s still a ton of reality TV, but I can’t hold it against them. It’s cheap to produce and people watch it. Though, the feeling I get from MTV today is that it’s really trying to move past all that.
They’re trying to get the scripted comedy fans, talk, and documentary fans back from the rest of cable, and there’s no shame or gimmicks in the way they do it. Just straightforward, solid new lineups. For the most part we’ve all gotten past the “What happened to music videos?” backlash of the early aughts and the “Why so much reality TV?” backlash of the late aughts and are now ready to accept MTV for what it is: flawed but engrossing. Just like it’s viewers.