In College Life (Monday, 9:30 p.m.), MTV gives cameras to students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in an attempt to get the unvarnished truth about undergraduate life. The network wants to move past The Real World, with its camera crew and contrived situation. Here, the students film themselves in their natural habitats, free from the usual artifice of reality TV. "This is not reality," according to the opening credits. "This is real."
After three episodes, however, it's become clear that "real" isn't a whole lot of fun. College Life has offered no insights, no revelations. Left to their own devices, the students wallow in banality. They go to friends' houses and return from friends' houses. They hook up and break up. They fart and talk with their mouths full of food. Sometimes they even think about their classes. "I'm here at the bookstore," says one eager freshman. "I'm getting my books for school. I cannot wait to learn, like, as much as I can!"
Almost as dull as a student prepared to learn is one who's unprepared to learn. Kevin is just like every party dude you've ever known, living from keg to keg. Unlike most party dudes, however, he gets to put his footage of drunken friends on MTV. College kids puke in their bathrooms - is this breaking news?
Suddenly, I yearn for the artifice of reality TV.
The Fairly Odd Parents
Friday, 7 pm (Nickelodeon)
Among Nickelodeon's animated masterpieces, The Fairly Oddparents is the most underrated. The series hasn't received a feature-film treatment the way SpongeBob SquarePants or Jimmy Neutron have. But it certainly deserves one. The satire is brilliant in this tale of a misfit kid served by two nutty fairy godparents. While children groove on the supreme silliness, adults can enjoy the sophisticated allusions and sarcastic jokes at the expense of American culture.
The show's ambition is evident in "Wishology," a series of three hour-long, prime-time specials in which young Timmy is anointed The Chosen One. The butts of the joke are fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Harry Potter and The Terminator, and the episodes gleefully expose their pomposity. The animators also run roughshod over aging baby boomers, government secrecy, classic rock, art, law enforcement and other ripe targets. The pace is relentless, every second packed with gags, extreme sound effects and kinetic imagery. By the end, you're completely exhausted.
On second thought, maybe a Fairly Oddparents feature film isn't such a good idea. Who would have the strength to survive it?
Sunday, 6 pm (NBC)
A special series called "You Might Be Rich!" looks for ordinary people who are unaware that they have cash coming to them. The Dateline team combs state treasuries for unclaimed money (from inheritances, etc.), then tracks down the lucky recipients. In this week's live broadcast, the team surprises an unsuspecting family with the news that there's a fortune waiting to be delivered. And it might be your family!
It's pretty clear what NBC is up to here. As ratings drop, the network is trying to attract viewers with a bribe. If you tune in, "You Might Be Rich!"
Sorry, NBC, but money alone isn't enough to make us watch this dopey Dateline. Throw in sex and a gourmet meal and we might consider it.
New York Goes to Work
Monday, 9 pm (VH1)
Tiffany "New York" Pollard is one of reality TV's most unpleasant characters. So of course, VH1 just had to bring her back for another series.
With her big boobs, big jewelry, big tattoos and big mouth, New York first came to our attention as a would-be match for Flavor Flav on the dating show Flavor of Love. She proclaimed herself the HBIC - Head Bitch in Charge - and I've never heard anyone dispute the HB part. Since then, VH1 has featured her on I Love New York 1 and 2 and New York Goes to Hollywood, but apparently we've yet to plumb the depths (or, more accurately, the pits) of this woman's soul. In New York Goes to Work, she gets another showcase for her laziness, nastiness and greed. She's asked to do her least favorite thing: work.
Each week, America will choose from a list of possible jobs (sewer worker, mortuary beautician, fast-food employee, etc.) and vote on which one New York should try. If she impresses her bosses, she receives a $10,000 bonus.
That's right - this freakish woman will hold down multiple jobs while a huge proportion of us normal Americans are unemployed. Did Obama's stimulus plan go weirdly awry?