Thursday, January 08, 2004

Stormy Weather

Inquirer TV critic Jonathan Storm files yet another non-review review today, this time a sneering dismissal of Mark Burnett's new reality show The Apprentice, premiering tonight on NBC. In Storm's entire 814-word snarkfest, here's the gist of his review: "As with most of the Peacock's 'reality' TV, The Apprentice offers some amusement, but not a whole lot, to recommend it."

If you're, oh, I dunno, a discerning Philadelphia-area TV viewer who might look to the region's paper of record for some concrete, defensible reasons to watch or not watch a new show, you're SOL here, baby. Storm never explains exactly why he finds "not a whole lot" to recommend The Apprentice -- his piece isn't a review, it's a junior high lunch-table crowd spitting out, "Looks stupid, dawg." I've noted Storm's unfortunate tendency to mail it in before, and today's review is just the latest example. Bitter and lazy is not a good combination for a critic who want to write stuff that matters -- a complaint similar to one Boats Against the Current has lodged against his paper's critic, the Washington Post's Tom Shales.

A sample, you say? Here is Storm's third paragraph, after he explains that in tonight's show, Apprentice contestants are charged with selling lemonade on the streets of Manhattan:

Actually, The Apprentice isn't about lemonade. It's about Donald Trump seizing yet another opportunity to make himself more famous than he should be, and NBC -- in the desperate throes of persuading people to watch for any reason, just a little while, pretty please, so we don't drop out of the ratings lead, and we've already run every derivation of Law & Order 10 times this week -- putting on some dumb thing that'll carry some buzz at least for a minute or two.

There's a very simple dynamic at work here: TV shows (and films and novels and gallery exhibitions and so on) should be judged on their merits. Storm clearly slid the cassette into his VCR having already made up his mind that he was not going to like what he saw, and his review reflects it. For a different, better take, check out Alessandra Stanley's review in today's New York Times. If anyone had a reason to be tired of Trump, it's New Yorkers, yet Stanley cheerfully takes his presence in stride, praising him as "perfectly cast as the hammy boss" on the show and adding:

January is crammed with fresh contortions on the reality genre, from Fox's "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" (a woman has to pass off a horrible boor as the love of her life to family and friends) to "Can You Be a Pornstar?" a self-explanatory reality show on adult pay-per-view cable channels. But "The Apprentice" stands out as one that takes a modest twist on the "Survivor" formula -- from jungle to urban jungle -- and improves on it.

Stanley's smartly written review lays out a case for The Apprentice. Understand, I have little intention of actually watching it, but the important thing is that she made a case. For his part, Storm spends nearly all of his piece not delving into what's good or bad about the show, but simply describing -- in as grumpy-old-man a manner as is possible on newsprint -- the game and its contestants, such as local gal Heidi Bressler. In his roundup to the players, he writes with unnecessary bile: "Besides Bressler, 30, a sales rep who has worked with the FBI (and who -- no offense, Heidi -- might not have gotten any ink here if she weren't a Philly resident). . . ."

Well, no offense, Jonathan, but your editor should have told you that Old Media isn't allowed to just lob hand grenades without a reason. Who do you think you are -- a blogger?


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