After The Amazing Race won its third consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Reality/Competition Program at last month’s Emmy Awards, Slant’s film and TV editor Ed Gonzalez and I discussed the reasons why no other reality program has won (or, according to Ed, will ever win) as long as Race is in the mix. I suggested that newly-nominated fashion-related shows like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway could snag a win for being fresh and superficially pleasurable; Ed argued that once you set the standard so high with Race, there’s no back-peddling. Well, Jerry Bruckheimer and his producer buddies have proven otherwise with this season’s “Family Edition” of the undefeated reality show. Their idea of drama is sending a family whose father was killed in an accident at Daytona International Speedway to a racetrack for a challenge—the result of poor judgment, lack of research or downright cruelty. Unfortunately, the season’s comical saving grace (the black Black family) got the boot in episode one. The remaining families have yet to leave the United States, no doubt due to the increased expense of flying 10 groups of four around the world. And it’s hard to keep track of all the white middle-class families: there’s the God-fearin’ Godlewskis (a.k.a. “the desperate housewives”), the loopy Weavers, that obnoxious Italian family, the Gaghans with their suspiciously well-behaved children, the young, good-looking Linz clan, and the newly ousted Schroeders. But it really doesn’t matter if you can tell them apart or not because there isn’t a whole lot at stake for the families or the viewers. There’s no sweet, enduring old couple (like last season’s Meredith and Gretchen) to root for. There’s no ignorant, beautiful couple (like season six’s “engaged models” Freddy and Kendra) or previously vilified reality couple (Survivor’s Rob and Amber) to wish tragedy upon. The closest we get is 17-year-old Stassi Schroeder, who calls the Weavers “the white trash family” and cries like a baby under pressure. Of course, since the families have yet to be thrown into a foreign land with unusual customs to wax superior over, the best is probably yet to come…assuming they do eventually leave the country. But will we still be watching by that point? With scripted shows making even more of a comeback this season, viewers might be better off switching to My Name is Earl. I, for one, would rather be watching reruns of Family Double Dare, because watching parents get doused in green slime is always more entertaining than watching them carrying dead bodies off a field during a Civil War reenactment. Bruckheimer might as well just stay home next September.
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