Entertainment TV Remote Roaming: trawl TV’s outer limits
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Remote Roaming: trawl TV’s outer limits

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This week we are watching Dr Phil, Storage Wars and the 2012 Bruce Willis film Lay the Favourite. 

Dr Phil – Channel Ten, 12 noon, every weekday

That Dr Phil is an interesting guy. He’s everything you’d expect from a Californian doctor, with the open neck shirt, the smart blazer, the perfectly groomed moustache. And he’s making TV shows that tackle really difficult subjects, but in a slightly uncomfortable way.

For example, when I tuned in, he was looking at bipolar mental disorders. Dr Phil’s way of handling this was to send some cameras out into the field to get shots of a potentially bipolar young mother, Amanda, interacting or getting tense or having meltdowns or laughing and smiling with her family. Then get her and her sister into the studio for a Jerry Springer-worthy verbal smackdown on whether the sister had kicked Amanda in the stomach, while she was pregnant. Then bring the mother in for more Springer-showdown sparring, with Dr Phil, lighting the fire with exchanges like this:

“Did you break your sister’s nose on Mother’s Day?”

“Yes, I did.”

“You punched her in the face?”

“Yes, I did.”

He then seamlessly changes gear to say, “Hey, hey, now listen to me please,” and trying to lecture everybody in sight about their behaviour, like he’s now channeling every TV dad who ever pulled on a bad sweater. And Amanda and her sister stare fiercely into the middle distance and gulp air like goldfish yet strangely never actually cry.

It’s weird TV but the thing is Dr Phil somehow does do a good job of explaining what bipolar is like for those who suffer from the condition. “It must be like you’re on a rollercoaster and you don’t know when you’re going to take a dip,” he says to Amanda who nods enthusiastically – finally, somebody gets it! And on international TV! – right before Dr Phil says again that he has no idea if she actually is bipolar and, frankly, doubts it.

Um, thanks?

But at least bipolar is discussed, in the Oprah-universe loungerooms of the western world. Dr Phil says at one point, “There’s no reason for there to be a stigma about mental illness, any more than there would be if you had some other kind of disorder or disease …”

And the forums on Dr Phil’s website have run hot for a week, with bipolar people, relatives of bipolar people and the doubters all wading in. So, that’s probably a good thing. Isn’t it? Dr Phil is no doubt wondering the same thing, while scanning the ratings report over salad on Sunset.

Storage Wars – A&E (Foxtel) Every day, every other hour, pretty much.

The debate about whether the USA or Australia is a better place to live is a long one, but here is one area where ‘Merica has it all over us: abandoned storage facilities. Specifically, if somebody dies or just fails to pay for their long-term storage unit for a certain period of time, the padlock is broken and the contents are auctioned to the highest bidder in one big job lot. (I asked a local storage facility if this happens here and basically the answer is long, boring and legal, maybe, possibly, eventually ending in yes but I fell asleep during the find-the-rightful-owner clauses.)

I suspect the same people who found multi-series potential in pawn shops are knee-deep in Storage Wars. There’s the same sense of formula, no matter which American state today’s episode is from, but, hey, the formula works.

We are introduced to a series of characters, tagged names like the Gambler, Mogul, Young Gun, and Collector, who then magically show up at the same auction and bid against one another, with occasional set-up sit-down takes on every little thing that happened or is about to happen – “This unit is mine!” Thrown into the mix is some extra mystery character, that none of our stars like or know well, who will raise the stakes dramatically, forcing our heroes (?) to pay $700 instead of $500 for a bunch of old boxes.

In the Texas version, the mystery bidder, Lesa, even got to beat the Ranger, Dazzler, Outsider, Dog and Junkster in one auction, all while camping it up like Cruella De Vil.

It’s very funny and the talent has been carefully chosen. You seriously have to wonder if everybody is an actor. At least, they are obviously working with scriptwriters for those effortless off-the-cuff gags. This show might achieve the distinction of being more brainless than Hardcore Pawn, but that’s alright. At least it’s half an hour where A&E isn’t running one of its gun-totin’ shows.

Hidden Gem

Lay the Favourite (2012) – Premiere (Foxtel) Saturday, 30 November, 8.30pm, Sunday, 1 December, 12 noon

Not what you’d think, although not far off. A stripper decides to chase her dream, which would be inspiring if it wasn’t such a small dream: to become a Vegas cocktail waitress. In Vegas, she is spotted by Bruce Willis, I mean Dink Heimowitz, who sees genius where everybody else sees tits, and hires her as his personal gambling assistant. No spoilers from there. The whole thing is based on a true memoir and is directed by no less than Stephen Frears (The Queen). The cast is strong, starring Bruce, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vince Vaughn.