Friday, October 27, 2006

My Obligatory Post About Television

I remember from my first visit to Italy, twelve years ago, watching a lot of Benny Hill on Italian TV because it was the only thing I could understand. Lechery, it seems, is a universal language, sort of like Esperanto.

The state of Italian TV hasn't changed much since then, although they have added sub-par clones of reality shows we Americans stole from the British. There's "Who Wants to be A Two-hundred and Fifty Thosand-aire?", Offerta o no Offerta (the gimmick is that Howie Mandel's robotic briefcase models are replaced with one ordinary citizen from each of Italy's twenty regional administrative districts), and a Judge Judy/Judge Greg Mathis/Judge Joe Brown/People's Court/Divorce Court/Texas Justice rip-off that my uncle and I both find absolutely hilarious. They periodically cut from what I can only assume is courtroom drama to a low, low-budget re-enactment of the incident in question. And when I say they've got low production values, I mean those clips are made with an "I've fallen – and I can't get up" sort of quality. I enjoy seeing non-sophisticates while my uncle likes the part where one character is negligent and "injures" the other.

On satellite, you've got an additional eight or nine channels. (Italy has three state-run stations and three "independent" stations that just happen to be owned by media mogul and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. It's kind of like if every American TV station were FOX News.) There's one satellite channel in particular that bothers me: the one that shows American programs dubbed into Italian. You hear whispers of the English underneath like the one actor and one actress Italy has doing all the voices for all the characters in all the shows. During the day, they put on stuff recycled off TV Land, and it's not like the Italian line readings are any less wooden than the original Dukes of Hazzard or Charlie's Angels acting. But I caught the station late at night, and they're re-broadcasting our Emmy winners. Good for them. There's House on Wednesdays and Mio Nome รจ Earl on Thursdays, and it's all wonderful except they wiped over the original voices with la lingua dell'amore.

No! It doesn't bother me when they're showing Without a Trace, but watching House without Hugh Laurie's perfect, jaded Jersey inflections or hearing Jason Lee and Jamie Pressley talk in tones typically reserved for telenovellas is like watching that episode of Walker, Texas Ranger (and yes, they show that here, too) where that old guy who looks like Wilford Brimley spends the hour singing Dixie.

The good news is that we get CNBC Europe – with Conan O'Brien on at 11:30, when I can actually watch him – and MTV. For all of you who lament modern MTV and wonder where the hell all the videos went, I'll tell you: they went to MTV Europa. Videos, some you've heard of and some ("Lacuna Coil," anyone) you haven't, twenty-four hours a day, interrupted only to bring you the latest Justin Timberlake news. Why can't I get this station back in America?! The closest thing we've got is that Fuse network no one broadcasts. (In a country with more underpants stores than cars, I can't believe they haven't ported over their own version of Pants-Off Dance-Off yet. It would easily be the best thing on.) Sadly, coming this winter to MTV Europa: Parental Control (which could be watchable, given the general permissiveness of Italian culture), TRL, and motherfucking Laguna fucking Beach. I was waiting at the bar for a drink for fifteen minutes or so, just thinking about how there aren't enough spoiled, stuck-up role models here in Europe.