‘Strangers With Candy’: The Cult Of Satire

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I don’t really know if Strangers With Candy was before its time, but its definitely a show of its own breed and doesn’t fall too much in line with other comedies. It’s a satire about Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old former “boozer, user, and a loser” who resorted to prostitution, drugs and prison, and then decided to return to finish high school as a freshman in her mid-40s. That sounds terribly depressing and not even remotely funny, but creators Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris and Mitch Rouse use this backbone to prod, make fun of, and flip on its head all the themes and moral lessons that would fill after-school specials. They take it so far over the top each episode including the most politically incorrect and mouth-a-gap punchlines all to lead Jerri into learning the worst lessons ever. Jerri learns lessons among others such as your outside appearance is more important than your inside, rich people are more fun and worthy people than the poor, selling drugs is a good way to make friends, steroids are a good option to help with winning a track-meet, and never encourage the handicap because they’ll always end up hurt. Some prime life lessons I think we all can agree with.

It should come as no surprise that this came from Stephen Colbert, the guy who remains the master of satire on his aptly named The Colbert Show, satirizing the political pundit types on FOX News and the positions held by those on the right. Paul Dinello has also wrote for the show and pops up here and again to play different characters and such. Now the thing about satire is you actually have to be relatively cognizant to know that these are jokes and sane people know that none of this is actually true. But, of course that’s the point, poking around these lessons, social situations, morals, racism, sexuality and pointing out the absurdities and ways that these things can get twisted. Because sadly, there are people who believe racist ideas, and are sexist, or believe certain religious ideals for the weirdest of reasons. A lot of this balances on a thin line, and it’s easy to see people being susceptible to it and how easy it is to fall into, but Strangers With Candy never lets us forget how absurd and silly it all is, especially from such a compounded character.

I started off with wondering what other shows Strangers With Candy is like. It’s not a mockumentary of late like a Modern Family, The Office, or Parks And Recreation. And it’s not really a cringe-worthy show like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Peep Show. But, fittingly it’s quite like its Comedy Central cohort in South Park. Both shows rely on seemingly dumb and trivial jokes that seem to come from the mind of a pre-teen, but are almost always propped up by a deeper message of a societal critique or parody of a common-held belief system. No matter how vulgar or demeaning a joke becomes in either series, it’s usually furthering something in the juxtaposition of content and message, and leads as further evidence to back up the satiric element they are focusing on. Well… most of the time, because sometimes dick jokes without any context are just plain funny.

That’s what I like about Strangers With Candy, it never guides your hand or makes sure you understand that this is a work of comedy and satire, it plays everything straight and never winks at the audience to any effect of “Yeah, we know this is silly, but you all know we’re making a joke, right?” This show falling into the hands of the dumbest and most gullible person on earth would be the biggest WMD you’d ever see, and would create the most vile and unforgiving person. But, we’re of course smarter than that, and recognize the affront to these types of moral driven specials, and special episodes of sitcoms meant to drive home that one particular theme. It takes some of the sillies and dumbest ideas and jokes to make one of the smartest, sharpest, and critical shows of the last twenty years.

(They won’t let me embed this on here, but here’s a good YouTube compilation video of all the “morals” and “lessons” that Jerri learns, in case the concept of what I’m trying to say is lost on you, or you just want to enjoy them again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CH-9tVbKCM)


‘Big Brother Canada’: Is It Necessary?

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After three weeks or so, ten episodes, and countless hours of the live feeds for your pleasure, I think it’s about time to start drawing some conclusions from Canada’s inaugural edition of Big Brother. I’m not going to get into my crazy Big Brother fandom here, but you can read about it in an earlier post I did on BB if you’re interested, or bored, or both, (https://evankirby.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/big-brother-the-perfect-summer-show/). When Big Brother Canada was first announced I was pretty pumped for it to come here, a little less so when it was revealed it was going to Slice, but thought, hey, I can finally apply for Big Brother! But, then I remembered I’m not an awful, awful human being and decided I’d just let Big Brother scoop up all the stock reality cliché’s of the past, and boy does Canada have an abundance of those! I guess more exposure on a channel like Global (who carries the American Big Brother) would’ve been nice, but we’re still in the prime TV season, and I doubt there’s much room to carry this much Big Brother that usually airs in the barren Summer. Though Big Brother is nice in that it allows Slice to build their image around it and promote it as a semi-original series, but it’s not like their image is that different anyways, with all the Real Housewives shows and Women’s oriented programs (Nothing wrong with that, just commenting on their niche). So, basically what I’m saying is that Big Brother fits in pretty perfect on their network.

But, I guess the question I’m asking after these first couple weeks is, is this really worth it? Also, what’s the point? I was excited for this Canadian Big Brother because I hoped that they would be able to create their own mold, stray away from the repetitiveness and blandness of the last several iterations of the American version and have their own twist. Unfortunately they haven’t, besides the different looking house and the rampant Canadian cliched contests, themes and symbols, this looks exactly like your typical American Big Brother. The same boring competitions are back, the cast is exactly as stock and cliché as you’re used to, filled with the dumb blonde, the flamboyant gay guy, the meatheads, the old guy (even though he’s only 38), the nerdy guy etc. etc., you get the picture. The past few American Big Brother’s have tried to introduce one big twist every year, but it’s always so predictable and usually doesn’t have all that big of a bearing on the game as a whole, “game-changing” as they like to bill them, they are not. The Canadian version tried to give the audience the veto, which was fine, but overall did nothing, sending out a weak player, and keeping two other weak players destined to float around ‘til they get evicted, or probably dumbly win. The sins of the American version are too rampant here within the structure of the game itself, who knows what can happen, but I’ve seen this pattern many times before.

Unfortunately do to school, and more important things like watching other TV shows, I’ve been playing catch-up with the show and haven’t been watching the live feeds much, that’s why Summer Big Brother is a prime slot. But I’ve have been keeping as up-to-date as possible through internet and Twitter means, but my views are largely based off the actual episodes. But, as is well known, Big Brother is crazily edited so much so that the live feeds are a COMPLETELY different show than what you see on TV (not swearing, sexual content etc. wise, but…) as they edit and frame stuff so much, and cut out and shape story lines and narratives. Basically what I’m saying is that my opinion is formed from the episodes alone, but I hope to be more faithful to the live feeds soon. Also, no matter what happens with the quality of the show, ultimate kudos to Slice for putting the live feeds up for FREE on their website, instead of the subscription you have to pay on the American side of things. Great gesture and something that the American version should do, but I highly doubt it, CBS loves their money. I hadn’t heard about that much complaints about them cutting out the feeds at first, but it seems like of recent they go in and out more randomly.

When it comes down to it though, whatever machinations the Big Brother staff fits around it, it doesn’t really build to the quality of the show, no, that’s fully left up to the cast. The cast of any reality show makes or breaks the show, and Big Brother is a prime example. Now, the cast, as mentioned above, is always going to be the same mix of incredibly dumb and cringe-worthy people. I get that, I’m over it, and I’m at the point where after all these years I just try to enjoy them as best as I can. Even through all their banality, I kinda like this cast, and the constant alliance flip-flopping and shifting.  I think there’s about 457 interlocking and shifting alliances between the cast-members, to the point where I’ve seen a picture floating around the internet trying to breakdown and segment each overlapping alliance. People like each other one day, hate each other the next, nominate you the day after, and then save you the following day. Of course, we’ve seen this before, but this cast is ramping it into over drive. I also don’t think I’ve seen this many “showmances” (I hope you could feel my whole body cringe through the computer as I typed that word…) in a game, and especially this early. I think there’s at least four or five. Let’s just say that these people aren’t afraid of showing some affection, or kissing, or lap-dances, or nakedness, you get the picture.

All these things I’ve been describing that I like are all just a recipe for the one thing I like and the ultimate success of every Big Brother season, SHIT GOING DOWN. These alliances and “showmances” and “bromances” and whatever are great because they are destined to fail, people will lie, cheat, steal, girls will cry, a guy will cry (actually just happened), and people will go insane. I want my Big Brother cast to hate each other, I want threats of violence, name-calling, boasting, back-stabbing, pretending, playing each other, making false promises, attacking strong competitors, I want this to be personal. Big Brother should be a blood bath, and the last few American seasons haven’t had even close to that. The casts have been boring, where last season I rarely watched my purchased live feeds because it was a bigger waste of time than watching a Calgary Flames game. I have hopes for this season/cast, I really do, so please don’t fail me and burn this baby down!!!

So, is this all necessary? Do we really need a Big Brother Canada? No, of course not, but Slice isn’t going to pass up guaranteed money along with an established premise. Nope, they’re going to just start stamping CANADA all over it and then wait for the money trucks to roll in. Now, I doubt they’re making Bernie Madoff calibre money, but the ratings have been good, as far as I can tell, and they have a nice little cornerstone to help further their brand, and it’s a nice little show and product to have in your pocket. Sadly, this is literally the same product we get every Summer on CBS, just with some glossy and aesthetic changes to fool you into maybe thinking different. I understand why CBS doesn’t want to mix things up, well, first because they’re CBS and change to them is like global warming to the dumb, they refuse it even exists. And things are rolling along smoothly, so don’t break something that already has decent ratings? Or something. I would’ve hoped for Slice to make Big Brother more their own and shape a new identity through it, but maybe they were held back by the American production ownership who didn’t want their brand tampered with, I don’t know. It’s just disappointing to see it form and function the same as the version to our south. We can always hope for the cast to be entertaining, but they’re following the same blueprint of Big Brother and reality shows of the past. It remains the ultimate roll of the dice, lets just hope when they come to a rest that the numbers are on our side.