Ah, reality shows, the fast, inexpensive way for a television station to fill the time they can’t fill with newscasts that border on advertising or inane sitcoms. They make a lot of money off these things, piles and piles of money. So much cash that we don’t get a lot of hour-long scripted shows anymore. And it’s all your fucking fault. Stop watching them. God dammit.
Clearly the guys at Teletoon have gotten sick of this shit too, because in 2007, they brought us an animated parody of Survivor and its shit-eating brethren:
I did not watch this show when it aired; being 17 I was already living on my own, and I didn’t have cable and I didn’t really care about cartoons, for that matter. No, when I was 17 (it wasn’t a very good year) I was more focused on smoking cigarettes, drinking my face off, having lots of sex, and getting expelled from high school.
The basic premise of the show is that 22 contestants are dragged out to a shitty island in a shitty lake in the middle of shitty Ontario (I kid. I love my birthplace) to compete in various Survivor/Fear Factor type challenges with the grand prize of one hundred thousand Canadian dollars.
That’s kind of all there is to it, really. It’s a simple enough premise. It’s gonna be a short article, kids.
One of the problems the series has, at least on the episodes I watched for research, is that with a cast of 22, plus the host and chef, characters haven’t really distinguished themselves from the reality show contestant stereotypes they represent. There’s also too many of the same archetype, like with the rich/pretty girls. There’s at least four of them and they all tend to run together in my mind. I would guess this problem lessens later on as contestants are kicked off the island, and we spend more time getting to know the rest.
There are some memorable characters, though. Harold, up there in the back row next to the brah in the cowboy hat, is a Napoleon Dynamite clone through and through, right down to the goshes and dang-its, but I like him anyway. Lashawna’s a very entertaining big sassy black girl; Owen’s a loveable fat guy who seems to end up naked a lot; Gwen the sarcastic goth girl, and Beth, the braces-wearing band camp kid.
As for the staff, the chef is your average black drill-sergeant guy, amusing, but nothing special. The host, Chris MacLean, is very, very bland, but I think he’s supposed to be. He certainly looks the part of douchebag reality host.
I’ve never really watched reality shows. In fact, I avoid them like the plague. Therefore, I don’t really have a point of reference for the parody aspect of the show, but as far as that goes, it does a good job poking fun at what I imagine reality TV to be like.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I did watch reality TV once. It was late at night, one or two am, and I happened to be flicking through my limited set of channels when on the Outdoor Life Network (wtf?) I stumbled onto the God Warrior Mom episode of Trading Spouses.
I know a lot of you will skip past the videos I include, but seriously, watch that. I mean it. Just as I watched that night three years ago. I would normally would never watch such a stupid program, but this I just couldn’t look away from. It was a mix of horror, disgust, and amusement that such an awful human being could exsist.
Anyway, this article’s about Total Drama Island. The challenges that are posed to the contestants are all appropriately dangerous and nonsensical. The first fucking task is to jump off a cliff into shark-infested waters and collect pieces to build a hot tub.
What the fuck. Some of this shit would be right at home in a LucasArts adventure game. What is this, the Triwizard Tournament?
There are also your stock reality show video journal segments. They’re nothing special, mostly just the characters talking shit about one another, how much they hate being on the island, or how badly they want to win. What makes them funny, at least to my simple, simple brain, is that they are recorded in the outhouse, so you get people trying their best to talk srs bsns while sitting on a very gross toilet with flies buzzing around their heads.
I was very impressed with the amount of adult-oriented humour they managed to slip into a kid’s show, so much so that Cartoon Network had to censor the US broadcast. There’s a fair bit of toilet/sexual humour. For example, Harold jumps off the cliff in an awkward position and lands directly on his balls. Later in the same episode after peeing in the woods one girl complains to another, “mine itches”. There’s also some infrequent Family Guy-style bleeped swearing.
The animation was better than I expected, given the crap I see on contemporary animated shows. It’s Flash animation, but hey, what isn’t these days? It kind of smacks of Butch Hartman, but that’s hardly a negative, its means you get a lot of square chins on the men and enormous hips on the ladies.
According to interviews with the folks at Teletoon and Fresh TV (the animation studio), a lot of the characters and reality tropes used in the show are the results of a nationwide survey to find out what teens like and dislike about reality TV. That kind of irritates me, knowing it’s not so much a creative project as it is something carefully constructed to make money. Even so, it’s not bad at all, even being nominated for a Gemini (basically a Canadian Emmy, and no, we don’t care either).
I was very pleasantly surprised by this series. Again, a lot of the references flew over my head, but the humor is very well done for a children’s program and there’s plenty for an adult to enjoy.
I don’t feel very strongly about this series one way or the other. I had to force myself to watch it, but it was by no means an unpleasant experience either. Total Drama Island strikes me as the kind of show that will have a wide spectrum of opinions. It might not be for everybody; it’s not a masterpiece, but try it for yourself and you may find a lot to like.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
Next Week: PJ Katie’s Farm