Sunday, April 18, 2004

TV: American Idol, 4/14

I haven’t been watching this season, although technically I’ve never really watched the show. My lovely wife Rosemarie pointed out long ago that reality TV adheres to the same rules as basketball; if you watch the last three minutes, you’ll see everything you need to see. So that’s been my experience of the first two seasons of Idol. The frenzied recap at the end of Tuesday’s action, and the bogus suspense of late Wednesday. (Or Wednesday and Thursday, in the case of this week.) Nobody actually watches for the singing, do they?

I tuned in tonight because Quentin Tarantino was this week’s celebrity judge. That’s always been my favorite part of the show. The judges have no say once the final batch of contestants are picked, so trucking in one of yesterday’s luminaries is pointless. Doubly so, because they’re not bringing in names that will get people to tune in. (Neil Sedaka, anyone?) Quentin said that he wasn’t going to be a pushover like his predecessors, so I figured it was worth a look-see.

The theme of the show is movie songs. Hence, Quentin Tarantino. The first singer butchers Phil Collins’ ‘Against All Odds.’ The regular panel of judges slams the kid for picking a song that doesn’t showcase his talents. (When the kid – and I mean kid, because everybody on the show this year looks like they’re still in high school – is asked why he chose it, he said it spoke to his experience of being on the show. Um, no, it doesn’t. The title may speak to that, but the rest of the song is about a dude who’s been done wrong and is ready to go back for more.) QT tells the young man that his performance was so good it made him forget that he hates the song. The next contestant gets medieval on a Whitney Houston song and QT proceeds to out-Paula Paula. My cue to bail.

Maybe Quentin’s one of the first of the ‘it’s all good’ generation. Trio is rerunning a week of his movie picks in conjunction with the release of KILL BILL Vol. 2, and I’m stunned at how lousy they are. (I was also stunned by the fact that I’d seen several of them before. That would happen every once in a while with Mystery Science Theater 3000. “Wait, I’ve seen this.”) It makes for a marked contrast with Martin Scorsese, with whom he’s often compared. Scorsese’s a film historian, pointing out good films others have overlooked, willing to criticize the work of others. (He provided some terrific commentary in Kevin Brownlow’s recent documentary about Cecil B. DeMille on TCM, especially when comparing DeMille’s role in film history to D. W. Griffith’s.) Quentin’s a film fan. He’ll watch anything and find something to like in it. The most striking image in Peter Biskind’s generally lousy book DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES came from a friend of Quentin’s, who described watching Quentin watch movies on TV. He said that it calmed him, acted as a pacifier, made him happy. No matter what the movie was. That kind of attitude in no way impedes him as a filmmaker – I’ve got my tickets for KILL BILL Vol. 2 already – but it makes him a lousy judge.