This needs to stop. Readers, we need to end this together. We need to end reality television, the single most artistically offensive entertainment genre on the planet, a malignant tumor on the national brain. We must halt this insidious destruction of our way of life, this desecration of television values.
But why now? Four words: “My Life as Liz.”
“My Life as Liz” premiered last month because teams of market researchers decided that a reality show about a more annoying, less pregnant two-bit Juno type would score big ratings and geek-chic points. Liz is a high school senior in Texas, so everyone she goes to school with is, of course, a redneck moron. The hicks who judge Liz based on her zany appearance are mean, but Liz’s frequent, uncreative jabs against blondes are, of course, just “witty” and “precocious”. She wears bright red lipstick and thrift-store clothes. She is a vegan. She watches old horror movies. She is friends with dudes who like sci-fi. Do you understand? She is unique. She is quirky.
According to MTV:
“”My Life as Liz” explores high school life through the eyes of Liz Lee, a precocious, sometimes sarcastic, always witty teenage girl trapped in a conservative Texas town. …While Liz’s off-kilter outlook and impeccable comedic timing make her journey of self-discovery an often humorous one – her openness and honesty allow viewers to bear witness to the truest and most tender moments of being a teenage girl.”
Yes… tender. This show is about as tender as a bag of Chee-tos. And, like Chee-tos, it is created entirely of artificial, processed elements.
Firstly, Liz as a self-described “dork”: the idea of “authentic” dorkery is a subject for another post altogether, but dork or not, there is no way that a thin, conventionally pretty white teenager in a school full of thin, conventionally pretty white teenagers would be openly ostracized to the degree that the show pretends Liz is ostracized. Liz’s character is fairly cynical, has a sense of humor, dresses like a common hipster and is kinda vaguely artistic - that’s cool and all, but how does this make her a dork? Oh, right - because girls who have interests outside of their appearance are bizarre anomalies, so rare and exquisite that they must be documented by TV cameras. Of course Liz is a huge dork - I mean, she likes Star Wars (it’s this really obscure sci-fi movie, you probably haven’t heard of it). From Television Without Pity:
The main difference between the past and present representations of this subject matter is that the Diablo Cody Empire has confused young women into thinking they’re transgressive if they aren’t cookie-cutter cheerleaders. Liz is just a teenager – and that’s fine… or, it would be if she didn’t have her own series on MTV.
So Liz isn’t really that much of an outsider, and most of the bon mots exchanged on her show are actually scripted, and her “nemeses” aren’t really bent on destroying her. “But of course not!” valiant defenders of reality television cry. “Everyone knows reality television is scripted, exaggerated, warped by misleading editing!!” Then why is it still being referred to as reality? If people are reading scripts, enacting scenes, taking on characteristics that are not their own for the sake of a story, why not just call it a series? Is MTV just too cheap to shoot on a sound stage?
“My Life as Liz” would not be a terrible comedy series. The show is sometimes pretty funny. Liz is a watchable character - superficial, irritating and predictable, but still watchable. Her us-vs-them mentality and the general campiness of the show would be perfectly appropriate in a fictional setting. But it is ostensibly reality, or at least “quasi-reality”, as the LA Times is calling it.
And this is what makes me want to throw my TV across the room when something like “My Life As Liz” comes on: the pretensions of reality. Television is not reality. Liz Lee does not live in some John Hughes high school universe. “My Life as Liz” is a crappy, disingenuous mashup of the most cliche elements of “Lizzie McGuire”, Juno, “Daria”, Mean Girls, Whip It, Sixteen Candles, American Teen and “Glee” that pretends it’s reality. (Also, Liz’s actual high school and Juno’s fictional high school mascot are both elks. Coincidence????)
From its insufferably self-conscious title sequence to the shot-by-shot ripoff of a throwaway Juno scene (see video above, 5:53-6:06), nothing about “My Life as Liz” resembles reality, originality or spontaneity in any way. There’s a backyard golf scene in the first episode that seems like an homage to the croquet games in Heathers. In the second episode, Liz even gets tricked into going to a school dance, Carrie-style (you’d think a horror aficionado such as herself would have caught on a little quicker). Teenagers don’t need another restrictive example of How To Be Alternative. (Incidentally, did you know how many YouTube videos there are of teenagers literally reenacting scenes from Juno? A lot.)
But Liz Lee is just a pawn, and the show itself is not the real culprit, which is why this decree goes to MTV reality television programming. This Decree is the result of an accumulated shit list: “Jersey Shore”, “The Hills”, “16 and Pregnant”, “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County”, “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica”, every season of “The Real World” and countless others. Reality television has always been gross and perverted, obsessed and deranged - “My Life as Liz” is just the last straw.
Unless, of course, Liz is actually Boxxy. Then it’s brilliant.