You don't get to call yourself "Queen of Screen" without wielding the remote with a sense of confidence, competence and complete command of the digital TV guide. There's no battle at my house - even while we're actively watching, the remote rests with me. But it occurred to me when talking about TV with friends that our house may be a minority, and a lot of modern advertising would have us believe the same thing: men are in charge of the remote. It's part of the whole gender division of which toys are for big boys. Televisions, and by extension, their remotes, are generally pitched as belonging to the one in the house who pees standing up.
There are many recent studies showing that despite public (and advertising) perception, women are now the chief decision-makers within the home (read one recent poll result here.) That would include buying and using the television, right? Yet the debate continues, in some homes vociferously, about who gets to use the magic stick when couples watch together.
It could be something to do with viewing tastes. I live in a house with a tall dude and two small ones, but none of them are sports fanatics or mega superhero devotees so we may just be the happy minority who can generally choose our TV together and live with it (there's also a lot of second screen use happening). But in a home where it's The Bachelor versus The Roosevelts or even which DVR show to choose together, I can see how things might get heated...and the one holding the remote is the winner. I know a lot of couples that solve this with his & hers screens, but we remain a staunch one-screen household and a lot of others are the same, whether it's for family or economic reasons. All right, we cheat a bit and have a little bedroom TV just for watching the late news, because one does get so sleepy.
Is it about just knowing how to use the darn thing and activate all of the infernal tech connections that are necessary just to watch something these days? Come on ladies, we plan an entire family schedule and juggle twenty-five other things. It can't be that hard. (Though relaying tech support to grandparents or the babysitter over the phone while at a restaurant does speak to a need for some serious universal operation agreements that would make everyone's life easier.)
Maybe it's the simple joy of holding something that allows you complete control over something, even if it's just a little button and some images on a screen. But don't get me started on the channel flipping. That drives me nuts - and it's usually when I'll politely suggest that I hold the remote.
Who holds the remote at your house?
It's been so many long years since I used "party" as a verb (or left the house on Friday night, or saw a movie with language that isn't for little ears) that a little peek into the lives of fictional college kids living it up in a frat house is as good as a trip to another country or planet. That's pretty much where the main characters in Neighbors (with apologies to your Canadian eyes—I know we're missing a "u," but you have to spell it like the movie says) are coming from. Relatively new parents (played adorably convincingly by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne), Mac and Kelly are missing out on all of the parties that their old lives had in the B.B. (before baby) times. They're not quite getting the adjustment. As Mac says, to hilarious effect (at least to those of us who put small people to bed just an hour before): "We can have fun and a baby!"
If you can get past the rather ridiculous premise that a fraternity can scrape up the funds to buy a beautiful home in what certainly appears to be a lovely area of town, it's easy to get into the fun of the film. The frat house moves in next door, co-led by Zac Efron and Dave (rent-a-Franco) Franco, and proceeds to use "party" as a verb. And that's waking Mac and Kelly's baby. So, they go over to talk to the guys, and a twisty, comedic battle royale begins.
Rogen and Efron's competitive vibe crackles as the 'old' versus the youth plot heats up, and there is a great scene for us 'elderly' folk in which they bring out their best Batman voices. Later, in a fog of drunken truth telling, Efron's character, feeling he's relating well to Rogen's much older Mac, tells him, "You're like a senior who took a year abroad."
The film manages to renovate some of the college comedy tropes and put a pleasant twist on tired items—like epic party games, the mean Dean, and the legends of frat brothers who went before—and also does a great job with the very weird and real journey faced by so many new parents who suddenly discover that being young, fun, and cool just isn't going to come easily (or be very important) for, oh, the rest of your lives.
Efron's performance is a bit of a stand out, if only because it feels a bit weird to see the young man he's become and possibly feel a tiny bit weird about maybe enjoying the handsomeness of said young man (because High School Musical), but he also invests his character with a kind of manic party mission zeal that is almost creepy in its restrained intensity. As sidekick, Dave Franco, who in my mind is branded "the accessible Franco" (not a bad thing), puts in a steady performance and gets a few great lines of his own.
The only thing I'm still unclear on—how beer pong is played.
Parent review: 4 out of 5
Non-parent review: 3 out of 5
Neighbors is available now on demand and on DVD.
I had high hopes for you, Utopia. Maybe we all did—it is utopia, after all.
My television utopia is entertaining, slightly titillating without bordering on offensive or degrading, and definitely escapist fun. If I'm letting the dishes "soak" while I tune in, it needs to be really worth that hour I'm giving you while I should be filling out permission forms and making lunches.
So far, Utopia, you're disappointing, and your ratings are showing it. While it's not uncommon for ratings for a new show to dip a bit as the season really gets started, you're hanging out in the basement of ratings for shows.
The hubs and I eagerly tuned in based on our love of a much better-designed actual social experiment called The Colony that ran on Discovery a few years back. The inhabitants, total strangers, had to take care of themselves, build a society and a shelter, and deal with random threats thrown at them by the producers, including a group of "others" who would occasionally show up to raid camp. There was a heavy scientific slant, and a bit more talk about electrical and trenching than I wanted to hear, but you really got the sense these people were on their own.
Utopia is much more like a cross between Big Brother and Survivor, but with only the super embarrassing brawls and all of the ugliest human behaviour on display, yet none of the remotely interesting scheming. Frankly, America, your Utopians are making you look bad. And the much-vaunted "social experiment" of bringing strangers together to create a society of their own making is pretty weak, given that the location is an idyllic slice of California ranch land with a pre-built shelter, running water (all they had to do was run some hoses for plumbing), and easily connected power (solved in the second episode! Amazing!). Which leaves an awful lot of time for people to get drunk (on supplied as well as "personal item" liquor), get naked, get into fistfights and make inappropriate advances. (Definitely not appropriate for younger viewers and I would even hesitate to watch with a teen, because most of them are better behaved than the cast of this show.)
I was hoping for a little more work to be required, a little less stereotypical arguing (at least 10 of the 14 inhabitants have been labelled a "hothead" by another inhabitant), and a bit more actual danger or hardship that would force these people to actually work together instead of starting cutesy romances and arguing over the merits of quinoa versus canned tuna.
Asking two nights out of my week to follow the adventure is starting to feel like a heavy commitment—not what I'm looking for in that golden hour I get to myself before bed. Given how much time and promotion (there's an app!?) went into this experiment, FOX may stick with it for at least a while longer. But will we do the same?
Utopia airs Tuesdays and Fridays on FOX. Plenty of other new shows coming up right away—check out our Fall TV Preview.