Sunday, July 26, 2009

New Poll - Who SHOULD Win The Outstanding Actor In A Comedy Emmy?

Here's the new poll: "Who SHOULD win the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Emmy?" The nominees are:

Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock
Steve Carell - The Office
Jemaine Clement - The Flight of the Conchords
Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Tony Shalhoub - Monk
Charlie Sheen - Two and a Half Men

Remember, you are voting for who you think should win the Emmy, not who you think will win. This is a case where I have a personal favourite to win but I expect one of two other people to actually win the Emmy. No, I won't tell you who right now, but I also won't be voting in the poll.

Deadline for voting on this poll is noon on August 4th. Please, please,
please feel free to comment here on the nominees and why you think the person you believe should win in this category deserves to win.

Poll Results - Who SHOULD Win The Outstanding Actress In A Comedy Emmy?

Our first Emmy Poll and I've got some interesting preliminary data. Oh not about who you think should win the Emmy; we're dealing with a small sample size here and the result was about what I was expecting. No, what I'm thinking of here is when you voted. If nothing else this should allow me to streamline next year's process assuming some degree of consistency in the data over the long term. Assuming of course that there is a "next year" (well you never know what's going to happen in 365 days – we've all lost friends suddenly).

As to the poll results, there were five votes cast. Tied for fifth place in this six horse race were Sarah Silverman and Mary Louise Parker with no votes. In a three-way tie for second place are Christina Applegate, Toni Collette, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss with one vote each (20%). But the winner with two votes is Tina Fey with two votes (40%) Yeah, I know, hardly a ringing endorsement.

Still I think you guys got it exactly right. You know that I don't watch comedies very much, but you'd have to have your head buried pretty deep in the sand (or some other dark and even more inaccessible place not to hear the news that 2008-09 was Tina Fey's year. She was in the perfect place at the perfect time for the arrival of Sarah Palin on the scene, which is why I anticipate that she'll win the Guest Actress in a Comedy Emmy as well, but you can't ignore the fact that doing Palin on Saturday Night Live had have an impact on viewership of 30 Rock. Add to that the fact that she won last year – deservedly – and that 30 Rock has maintained its quality, and you come to the conclusion that she's heading for another date with Emmy. But hey, what do I know – I've never seen a full episode of any of these shows!

New poll up in a few minutes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

40 Years Ago

It was forty years ago today that man landed and walked on the Moon. Everybody is going to be posting about this of course, particularly we old farts, who remembers seeing it when it happened. I think we want to share our memories.

I don't know that my memories are much different from most people. Back in those days Saskatoon was a one channel town. CFQC was a CBC affiliate – as was every station in a single station market. What CBC did was to take the CBS coverage pretty much in its entirety and intercut some of their own material into the coverage. Lloyd Roberston was the CBC news anchor, but the face of it that we all remember was Walter Cronkite working along with Wally Schirra. In fact I remember very little about the CBC's own coverage beyond a very strong memory of a sort of three sided interview involving writer Isaac Asimov and (I believe) Abbie Hoffman, and the only part of that I remember was Hoffman "explaining" to Asimov that "obviously" no one with a name like Asimov would ever walk on the Moon, because a name like that didn't fit the WASP white-bread vision of America that NASA was designed to promote. Which of course has turned out to be true but certainly not for the reasons that Hoffman imagined.

I watched the Moon landing with my grandfather, and I'm pretty sure that we saw it on a black & white TV (which I still have by the way). As you'll see from the clips it didn't make too much difference. While the show was in colour, the important bits – the events from the surface of the moon – were in pretty low definition black & white. Apollo 12 was the first Moon mission with a colour TV camera; not that it did them much good after Alan Bean accidentally pointed the camera at the Sun which burned it out. The parts that were in colour were the clearly labelled animations and simulations. Thus we saw Neil Armstrong step on the Moon live, but thanks to the positioning of the camera (which dropped out on a shelf on the side of the descent stage of the Lunar Module, deployed when Armstrong pulled a lanyard on the "porch" of the module) we could barely tell what we were seeing. It got better.

My grandmother wasn't watching. She hated the idea of men walking on the moon, as if the very fact of their presence changed it somehow. In fact, at the time I remember her saying, "It's not the same Moon." In a way I guess she may have been right. A bit of the mystery had been taken away. Later flights would take away more of the mystery, but they would add more as well. As it turns out, the Moon Rocks weren't just gifts to be handed out to foreign dignitaries, they reveal a considerable amount about the formation of the Earth and the Moon and have led to at least one new theory about how the Moon was created (the Giant Impact Hypothesis which is currently the leading theory on the formation of the Moon). Still, when I was watching the Moon Landing as a 12 year-old kid I wasn't worried about the Moon being somehow changed by the event, or even about the science of the thing. I was excited by the sheer joy of the exploration in the one place where it seemed there was still the chance to explore. We knew our world (or thought we did) now there was nowhere else to go but up and out of the cradle. Little did we know how brief the time out of the cradle would be.

Regardless, here are the key events of that marvellous (in the true sense of the term – full of marvels) day forty years ago, mostly as I saw it. There are eight 10-minute parts to this playlist.

New Poll – Who SHOULD Win The Outstanding Actress In A Comedy Emmy?

I wrote this yesterday and thought I had posted it but obviously something went wrong, so here's the abbreviated version.

Vote for the Actress who you think should win the Emmy in this category. The nominees are:

Christina Applegate - Samantha Who?
Toni Collette - The United States of Tara
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - The New Adventures of Old Christine
Tina Fey - 30 Rock
Mary-Louis Parker - Weeds
Sarah Silverman - The Sarah Silverman Program

The polling period will last nine days. This year for the first time I will be tracking the number of votes cast by day and for whom they are cast (just to satisfy my own curiosity).

Please feel free to comment on the reasons why you voted the way that you did. I'll include the comments in the post listing the results and offer my own opinions. Actually my knowledge of the shows in this category is so limited that having someone else available to offer opinions would be most welcome.

Remeber, the deadline for this poll is noon on July 26th.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ah For Those Simpler Times!

And of course before Ted's time there was a period when shows went off for the summer and the networks made new shows that were, shockingly, actually reasonably good, and didn't involve people calling each other "bleeps" and "blaps" and words that aren't obscenities but that the networks don't think we should be allowed to hear. Or calling the wife of the network president a whore. (Sorry; I watched a clip of the live feeds of Big Brother yesterday and it's still seared into my brain.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Emmy Nominations 2009

The Emmy nominations are out and I'm suddenly left to wonder where the summer has gone. Oh sure, we've still got half of July and all of August and the first couple of weeks in September before the new TV season starts but all the things I wanted to do that haven't been done. I was (and still may) recap the one and only season of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, a show I still feel was unfairly abused by the critics, mishandled by the network, and sadly ignored by the mass of the public, in the latter case for apparently treating the audience as if it was smarter – and less sheep-like – than it apparently was. But no, the Emmy nominations are out and that means the Emmy polls and the analysis of the categories and the comments that go with it and even now it is putting me to sleep just thinking of it. Or maybe that's the allergy tablet I took a couple of hours ago. And yes, for anyone who thinks that this stuff is unimportant, I do realise that in the context of worldwide recession, international crises and yet another Canadian soldier dying in Afghanistan this morning writing about the Emmy Awards is a frivolous use of time, but writing about TV is what I like to do.

Before I get on to a quick glance at the "major categories" in this year's Emmy Awards, I would like to show you part of what is wrong with the Emmy Awards by showing you the nominees in the two writing categories:

Outstanding Writing For A Comedy
Flight Of The Conchords – "Prime Minister" (HBO) - James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie,
30 Rock – "Reunion" (NBC) - Matt Hubbard
30 Rock – "Apollo, Apollo" (NBC) - Robert Carlock
30 Rock – "Mamma Mia" (NBC) - Ron Weiner
30 Rock – "Kidney Now!" (NBC) - Jack Burditt, Robert Carlock

Outstanding Writing For A Drama
Lost – "The Incident" - (ABC) - Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof
Mad Men – "A Night To Remember" - (AMC) - Robin Veith, Matthew Weiner
Mad Men – "Six Month Leave" - (AMC) - Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Matthew Weiner
Mad Men – "The Jet Set" - (AMC) - Matthew Weiner
Mad Men – "Meditations In An Emergency" - (AMC) - Kater Gordon, Matthew Weiner

And there you have part of the problem with the Emmys summed up in a proverbial nutshell. Apparently only two comedies and two dramas were considered "worthy" of a nomination in their respective categories. And presumably if Mad Men and 30 Rock could have come up with a fifth writing team they could have gone without competition from any other show. This business of multiple nominations for a given show – even if the categories are for writing teams rather than shows – indicates a certain clsed mindedness amongst the academy. I'm certainly not convinced that there wasn't at least one episode of Battlestar Galactica that was better than the worst of the for four episodes of Mad Men that were nominated, and the same goes for the comedy category – surely there was an episode of The Office that could or should – have been nominated instead.

Several of the major categories have more than five nominees. This apparently is a result of a quirk in the Emmy rules which allows shows to be nominated if the number of votes they receive in the nomination process falls within a certain percentage of the nominee with the fifth highest total. Even so, as always there were a lot of snubs and a lot of "questionable" inclusions. Is Tony Shaloub really worthy of yet another Actor in a Comedy nomination for the tired and soon to be departing Monk? Anyway here are the major categories and a few more which caught my attention.

Outstanding Comedy Series
Entourage - (HBO)
Family Guy - (Fox)
Flight of the Conchords - (HBO)
How I Met Your Mother - (CBS)
The Office - (NBC)
30 Rock - (NBC)
Weeds - (Showtime)

Entourage is nominated yet again even though a lot of critics that I respect feel that the latest season of the show has been the worst yet. One interesting entries in this seven-way race is Family Guy. Family Guy is the first animated show to be nominated for Outstanding Comedy since 1960 and The Flintstones. Of course back then the category was called "Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Humor," but it was up against The Jack Benny Program (which won), Candid Camera and The Andy Griffith Show so that counts.

Outstanding Drama Series
Big Love - (HBO)
Breaking Bad - (AMC)
Damages - (FX)
Dexter - (Showtime)
House - (Fox)
Lost - (ABC)
Mad Men - (AMC)

More proof – if any is needed – of the depths that network drama has fallen. Of seven shows nominated, only two – House and Lost – are from a broadcast network. Beyond that there are no shows from the most watched network CBS. Of course there are no shows nominated from NBC or The CW but really, have either of them produced any show that is worthy of a nomination? A bigger travesty is that two departing shows Battlestar Galactica and The Shield weren't nominated (something that we shall see carried on through most of the categories. The snub for Battlestar Galactica can probably be explained by the collective prejudice that the Emmys have against science fiction and fantasy, regardless of how good those shows are, but what explains the refusal to honour The Shield? And what explains Friday Night Lights?

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race - (CBS)
American Idol - (Fox)
Dancing with the Stars - (ABC)
Project Runway - (Bravo)
Top Chef - (Bravo)

I confess that this is one of my favourite categories because it includes my favourite show. Of course it has edged towards a "usual suspects" line-up of nominees. In fact this is the exact same list of shows that were nominated in 2008... and 2007. Obviously the Emmys decided not to reward the "sturm und drang" that was on display in this year's edition of Celebrity Apprentice. I have no expectation (or wish) that the winner will be different this year than it was last... or the year before... or the year before that.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock (NBC)
Steve Carell - The Office (NBC)
Jemaine Clement - The Flight of the Conchords (HBO)
Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Tony Shalhoub - Monk (HBO)
Charlie Sheen - Two and a Half Men (CBS)

It must be very frustrating to be Charlie Sheen, to star on the top rated situation comedy on network TV, and to be nominated repeatedly for an Emmy and not only never win but have people complain about you being nominated more than they complain about Tony Shaloub being nominated for the increasingly unfunny Monk. Charlie will never be the hip new thing. That role is filled this year by Jermaine Clement from The Flight of the Conchords and even more by Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory. Nor will he ever have the critical acclaim that Alec Baldwin and Steve Carell receive for their shows (and how awesome would it be to have Baldwin and Carell present an award and actually hav time to work off of each other – make it happen please). Yeah, I'm sure that Charlie Sheen is crying about this... all the way to the bank.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
Christina Applegate - Samantha Who? (ABC)
Toni Collette - The United States of Tara (Showtime)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS)
Tina Fey - 30 Rock (NBC)
Mary-Louis Parker - Weeds (Showtime)
Sarah Silverman - The Sarah Silverman Program (Comedy Central)

What I know about this category is this: Tina Fey - very funny; Christina Applegate - cancelled (and had a mastectomy); Mary Louise Parker - nude scene in the bath. In other words I know nothing about the performances nominated in this category.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Simon Baker - The Mentalist (CBS)
Gabriel Byrne - In Treatment (HBO)
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad (AMC)
Michael C. Hall - Dexter (Showtime)
Jon Hamm - Mad Men (AMC)
Hugh Laurie - House (Fox)

The only change in the list of nominees this year from last year – which also had six nominations – to this year is that they've quite rightly dumped James Spader and in his place inserted Simon Baker from The Mentalist. Now don't get me wrong, I like Simon Baker. He mixes an impish charm and inquisitiveness with a sense of tragedy and sadness that totally makes his character. He's just not going to win. Edward James Olmos or maybe Michael Chiklis would be contenders in this category if it weren't for that whole not being nominated thing. Kyle Chandler should have been nominated too for Friday Night Lights. Bryan Cranston pulled out a surprise win last year, and I think it's between him and John Hamm again this time around.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
Glenn Close - Damages (FX)
Sally Field - Brothers & Sisters (ABC)
Mariska Hargitay - Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Holly Hunter - Saving Grace (TNT)
Elisabeth Moss - Mad Men (AMC)
Kyra Sedgwick - The Closer (TNT)

Just about everything I said about the Lead Actor Drama category can be said about this one. Okay, so there were only five nominees in the category last year, but all five are nominated again. This time they're joined by Elizabeth Moss for her work as the ambitious Peggy Olson in Mad Men but good as she was she probably won't win the Emmy. In terms of snubs in ths category, I'm not familiar enough with The Shield to know if there was a strong enough female role to to qualify for lead actress (maybe CCH Pounder?), but I do think it was incredible that Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin deserves not only to be nominated but also to win. No mention of Friday Night Lights star Connie Britton either. And I don't even want to start on the Katherine Heigl thing except to say that she was right to take herself out of contention in 2008 – given the Emmy's obvious propensity to repeat nominations as if by rote as seen in these two categories – because her part wasn't nomination worthy last season.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Jon Cryer - Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Kevin Dillon - Entourage (HBO)
Jack McBrayer - 30 Rock (HBO)
Tracy Morgan - 30 Rock (HBO)
Neil Patrick Harris - How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Jeremy Piven - Entourage (HBO)
Rainn Wilson - The Office (HBO)

Why does Jon Cryer always get sent to the Supporting Actor category from Two and a Half Men? It strikes me that he carries at least as much of the acting load as Charlie Sheen does and does so with far less credit. Not that he's going to win in either category of course. Jeremy Piven has totally owned this category for the past three years, and even though the show has increasingly gone down hill he can't be counted out. There's a lot of talent in this category, and a lot of great characters as well. The hope is that Neil Patrick Harris will finally win some recognition for playing the legen – wait for it – dary Barney Stinson, but I can't help but worry that he'll lose to the showier roles played by Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer and Rainn Wilson. As long as he doesn't lose to Jermey Piven, I'll be happy.

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
Kristin Chenoweth - Pushing Daisies (ABC)
Jane Krakowski - 30 Rock (NBC)
Elizabeth Perkins - Weeds (HBO)
Amy Poehler - Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Kristin Wiig - Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Vanessa Williams - Ugly Betty (ABC)

The nominees are all worthy – which is to say that none came from According To Jim, Kath & Kim or Do Not Disturb, but I would love to see Kristin Chenoweth win just because. I don't expect her to, but I love for her to.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Christian Clemenson - Boston Legal (ABC)
Michael Emerson - Lost (ABC)
William Hurt - Damages (FX)
Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad (AMC)
William Shatner - Boston Legal (ABC)
John Slattery - Mad Men (AMC)

Shatner? Shatner?! Hasn't he been nominated enough for this award? Otherwise this is a category stocked with strong actors and and amazing performances. But again, four out of the six actors in this categories were nominated last year and there are only one new shows represented on this list at all, the nomination for Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad.

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
Rose Byrne - Damages (FX)
Hope Davis - In Treatment (HBO)
Rachel Griffiths - Brothers & Sisters (HBO)
Cherry Jones - 24 (Fox)
Sandra Oh - Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Dianne Wiest - In Treatment (HBO)

The Supporting Actress in a Drama category is another one with strong performances. Only three of the nominees form last year are back – Rachel Griffiths, Sandra Oh and last year's winner Dianne Wiest – which is a pleasant change from the other acting categories. I've seen Cherry Jones's performance as the tough but loving (at times to the point where her love for someone overrides her good judgement) President of the United States in 24 and Sandra Oh's work in Grey's Anatomy which first rate. Naturally I don't expect either of them to win.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy Series

Alan Alda - 30 Rock (NBC)
Beau Bridges - Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Jon Hamm - 30 Rock (NBC)
Steve Martin - 30 Rock (NBC)
Justin Timberlake - Saturday Night Live (NBC)

I'll be honest with you; of the nominees I only saw Beau Bridge's performance on Desperate Housewives and while I liked the character and his story, quite frankly it totally failed to blow me away. One of the others has to be better, right?

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series
Edward Asner - CSI: NY (CBS)
Ernest Borgnine - ER (NBC)
Ted Danson - Damages (FX)
Michael J. Fox - Rescue Me (FX)
Jimmy Smits - Dexter (Showtime)

I wanted to comment on this category to to mention how blown away I was by Ed Asner's work in this particular episode of CSI: New York. The show doesn't get that much attention but his performance as an elderly man whose whole life since World War II has been an elaborate lie absolutely blew me away. He won't win – it will probably go to Michael J. Fox for playing against type in Rescue Me because the Emmy voters love him and his fight against Parkinsons Diseas – but I thought it was a great performance.

Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series
Jennifer Aniston - 30 Rock (NBC)
Christine Baranski - The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Tina Fey - Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Gena Rowlands - Monk (USA)
Elaine Stritch - 30 Rock (NBC)
Betty White - My Name is Earl (NBC)

Tell me that we don't know that Tina Fey is going to win this one. She had the perfect character served up to her on a silver platter and she knocked it right out of the ballpark, sometimes just by using Sarah Palin's own words.. Which in a way is a shame, if only because it cuts out Christine Baranski's inspired performance as Sheldon's mother.

Outstanding Guest Actress In A Drama Series
Brenda Blethyn - Law & Order; SVU (NBC)
Carol Burnett - Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Ellen Burstyn - Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Sharon Lawrence - Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
CCH Pounder - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (HBO)

I've only seen all of Sharon Lawrence's performance in this category and just the tail end of Carol Burnett's part so it's not fair of me to comment. Still, the little bit I saw of Carol's role in this episode absolutely blew me away and reminded me once again of just how much range this lady has.

Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality-Competition Program
Tom Bergeron - Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
Phil Keoghan - The Amazing Race (CBS)
Heidi Klum - Project Runway (Bravo)
Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio - Top Chef (Bravo)
Jeff Probst - Survivor (CBS)
Ryan Seacrest - American Idol (Fox)

How do you get seven nominees in six nominations? Are Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio somehow joined bodily to each other? (I mean I'd like to be joined bodily with but that has nothing to do with hosting unless it was on Cinemax.) The only notable thing in this category this year is that the Emmys corrected last year's snub and nominated Phil Keoghan for his work on The Amazing Race. I for one am glad that he wasn't nominated last year so that he didn't have to participate in that hosting travesty last year.

The Primetime Emmy Awards will be held on September 20th – I think, since they were moved at least once due to conflicts with something else on TV. Sadly this, together with the absolute determination to end the show on time at the expense of prepared material and even acceptance speeches in major categories, shows the regard with which the awards are held in the very medium they honour. At least this year they have one host, and an awesome one at that: Neil Patrick Harris who did such a spectacular job at the Tony Awards that people were actually talking about the Tony Awards after they ended.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Are We There Yet?

Anyone who is anything more than an occasional view of The Amazing Race will tell you that the Family Edition of that show was undoubtedly on of the worst viewing experiences ever. Coming off of what might have been one of the show's best seasons, which featured the Machiavellian efforts of Rob Mariano and his then fiancĂ©e (now wife) Amber Brkich and the eventual triumph of "good" (in the form of Uchenna & Joyce) over "evil" (Rob & Amber), just about anything would have been a let-down, but the show's Family Edition was a let-down of the "watch that first step, it's a lulu" variety. Foreign travel was limited to an excursion to Central America – Panama and Costa Rica, with a trip to Belize being cancelled due to the threat of a hurricane – and a trip to Canada. Most of the travel was done by car or by RV, and the challenges were by in large pedestrian; things like climbing a ladder to the top of the biggest office chair in the world, or searching the holes of a golf course to find balls coloured to match your motorized golf cart. And the "villains" of the piece weren't villainous because they were sneaky and conniving because this family acted superior to others (because they were "Christians" though you'd be hard pressed to prove it by their actions in the race) and frequently insulted other players (at one point they laughed at one opponent because he drove a garbage truck and in another they threw an apple core at the vehicle of another team). And although "right" triumphed it was less that a team that deserved to win was victorious than that the team that annoyed the life out of competitors and viewers alike were beaten down. Had the producers not been wise enough to realise that this season was a dog, the Family Edition might have been enough to kill The Amazing Race. At the time that the Family Edition of The Amazing Race aired, it was suggested by some people that perhaps the problem wasn't entirely the format but the timing. Maybe, they said, if something like the Amazing Race Family Edition was run during the summer, outside the ordinary rotation of the show, it would work better. Amazing Race producers Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri wisely decided not to try but slightly less than four years after the CBS show ran NBC has brought its own version of the show to the air. Based on the first episode the NBC show, called The Great American Road Trip, won't be any more successful than what preceded it.

Hosted by comedian Reno Collier, who apparently is well known on Comedy Central (I confess I've never heard of him; he bears a vague resemblance to Andy Richter) the show sends seven families on a road trip down Historic Route 66, the so-called Mother Road of America. Although the road has been officially decommissioned following the completion of the interstate system the road has been maintained in many states in various forms, and still holds a place in popular culture thanks to the old TV series and the Bobby Troup song. The seven teams consist of a mother and father and two teenage (or younger) children from diverse backgrounds. Starting from Wrigley Field in Chicago the teams are each ushered to a motor home. Each of the motor homes has the name and pictures of the family that occupy them and decorated in a manner deemed "appropriate" for the family. For example the Pollard Family (from Alabama) has a motor home decorated with empty shotgun shells. The seven teams are:

  • The Coote Family from Lockport Illinois: Keith, Jennifer, Cassidy (12) and Jake (9). Keith is a former marine who is now a carpenter, Jennifer works during the day and goes to school at night. Cassidy is described as "an academic princess" while Jake is called "high energy" (I have other words for him, none particularly flattering).
  • The DiSalvatore Family from Yonkers New York: Silvio, Amy, Mason (16) and Blake (13). Amy is a medical insurance administrator, while Silvio is a stay at home dad. He frequently seems overly concerned with his hair. Blake is the one who tries to settle family disputes, while Blake has never been separated from his video games for more than three days.
  • The Favery Family from Long Island New York: Lenny, Dee, Dylan (15) and Ashley (10). Lenny is a Manhattan doorman who's a stickler for routine, while Dee is a special education teacher's aide. Ashley is a committed student with a taste for the better things in life, which the family can't afford particularly in these economic times. Dylan is a musician who breaks the tension with humour.
  • The Katzenberg Family from Westport Connecticut: Marc, Hyleri, Sami (15) and Andrew (14): Marc and Hyleri aren't married yet but they already have blended their family. Described as "active philanthropists." The kids are Marc's son and Hyleri's daughter who bonded over accusing each other of being high maintenance.
  • The Montgomery Family from Montclair California: Darius, Alecia, Darius Jr. (15) and Tyiler (11). Darius is a former Marine who served in Iraq while his wife Alecia is a pre-school teacher. Their kids are both strong students and Darius Jr. also excels athletically, while Tyiler shows signs of following in his footsteps.
  • The Pollard Family from Newton Alabama: Ron, Amie, Aaron (17) and Anslie (12). A typical close-knit southern family. Ron is a homebuilder who loves hunting and fishing, while Amie is a radio host, who describes herself as wearing the pants in the family. Aaron is an athlete who plays varsity football and baseball and joined the gymnastics team to meet girls. Anslie is the "apple of his mother's eye" who has won several beauty pageants.
  • The Rico Family from Katy Texas: Ricardo, Erica, Danielle (13) and Ricky (8). Ricardo and Erica are both in the advertising business but Erica is the more forceful of the two. She owns her own business and is the "dictator" of the family, while Ricardo describes himself as the spiritual sort who is the family peacekeeper. The kids are both involved in sports.

Reno makes it perfectly clear that this is not a race, and emphasising the fact is the police escort that the teams get from the Chicago police from Wrigley Field. That is the escort they get when they're able to get started. Silvio it seems wants to drive the motor home but is unable to get the thing started, which holds up the four teams parked behind them. It's only when Amy takes the wheel – and refuses to give it back to Silvio no matter what he wants – that they get on the road. Their first objective is the Illinois state capital of Springfield. Because this is not a race, the fact that vehicles pass each other is of little or no import, and the only real action is kids and parents being impatient with the trip. I'm not sure which is worse, the various kids asking "are we there yet?" or Silvio being impatient with Amy driving and the flat countryside that they're passing through.

The teams spend the night at the Illinois State Fair Grounds getting to know each other (and learning how to empty the sewage tanks in the RV – something that Silvio doesn't want to be anywhere near, apparently out of fear of what it might do to his hair, and no I'm not kidding. before their first challenge at Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield. The first challenge is cheesier than anything in the Family Edition season of The Amazing Race. The Presidential Race. One of the adults from each team has to carry as many "ballots" from the starting point to their Ballot Box. They can't stuff the "ballots" into their clothing. Getting to the Ballot Box means travelling through one of the most pathetic obstacle courses you're ever likely to see on TV, escorted by the kids as "Secret Service Agents." First they have to walk through their "Reflecting Pools" – really kid's wading pools. Next they have to pass through the "Rose Garden" – a zigzag passage for each team, decorated with artificial roses. Then they have to get past "The Cabinet" – a barricade of desks that they have to climb over. Finally there's the "Red Tape" which was one of those obstacles where you have to step over ropes – or red tapes – without tripping. There's one more thing; the person carrying the ballots has to wear a giant presidential caricature head, including Washington, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush (the Younger), and Obama, which restrict their vision. The Pollards are positively ecstatic that they got the Bush. The objective of the thing isn't to get to the Ballot Box first, but to get to the Ballot Box with the most ballots before the three minute time period for the event is completed. The Katzenbergs (dad is wearing the Obama head) complete the course first, but it was the Coote Family who carried the most ballots. Their father was smart enough to use his team jersey to carry the ballots. Amy DiSalvatore complained but it didn't count as stuffing the ballots into their clothes. Still it bred a bit of conflict between the two teams. The Coote family earned a special reward, while the three teams with the slowest times had to participate in an elimination challenge.

The Cootes get their reward at the next camp site in Madison, Illinois; a ride in a fire truck to the middle of the Chain Of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River, right on the border of Illinois and Missouri where they'd have supper with the Mayor of Madison. The next day the teams pull into St. Louis and on the grounds of the Gateway Arch the elimination challenge is staged. One member of each team is strapped into the center of a giant inflatable ball. The team then had to manoeuvre the ball through five replicas of the arch, not unlike croquet hoops. To complete the course the ball has to travel completely through the final arch. The problem is that the ball is attached to the starting point with a rope, and if the team ran out of rope before they got the ball completely through they'd have to try a different route. Naturally there was only one route that left them with enough rope. Teams couldn't watch as the teams before them went through the course The Favery Family went first and had some troubles with it, but it was the Katzenbergs who had the most difficulty. It took them over forty minutes to do a course that the Faverys did in just over fifteen minutes and the Montgomerys flew through in under three. This meant that the Katzenbergs were the first team to go home.

The Great American Road Trip may not be the worst reality TV show ever. Some of the attempts to clone The Apprentice probably deserve that title, as does an early NBC attempt at the reality competition form called Lost. It is certainly the worst Amazing Race imitator – but then that's a pretty small group. The only other Amazing Race like show that I can think of was Treasure Hunters, a show that was vastly superior to this mess, even when it seemed like an extended product placement for Motorola Phones, Orbitz, and Genworth Financial Services. The fact that this is not a race renders all of the travel segments essentially meaningless. They could just as easily be transported from point to point in limousines – which would probably be sounder for the environment than the motor homes. The only thing that having these people go from point to point in motor homes provides the viewer with is a chance to see the kids, and some of the adults, being annoying. If the first episode challenges are typical then the competition aspect is reduced to the pathetic. And remember the competitions are the deciding aspect of this show. It doesn't matter how well they navigate, if for no other reason than the fact that most of their route is preordained – Route 66. So it is left for the competitions to be involving and they aren't. This show would have been so much better if they had found a competition designer who was able and willing to both make the challenges fit the location and to make them – well challenging. Tasks like the "Presidential Race" are downright infantile. Like the challenges, this show could have been so much better than it is. Compared to this the Family Edition of The Amazing Race is absolute poetry. Don't watch it.