May 28, 2008 | Comments ()

By Miscellaneous | TV | May 28, 2008 |


Last we spoke of my philosophy on Reality TV (the level of suckage is contingent upon the inverse proportionality of pathos to schadenfreude) I flirted with the notion of constructing a not-so-fancy graph to illustrate my theorem which I envisioned as something akin to the Barney Stinson Hot/Crazy scale.

Every show I had ever seen definitively plopped itself on one side of the line or the other. Straightforward, simple.

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Then the reality TV gods brought Amanda Lorber into my life.

Amanda is the Editor-in-Chief of the high school newspaper, “The Circuit,” and star of MTV’s latest reality fare, “The Paper.” She is smart, driven, odd, awkward, thoughtful, funny, mostly confident and generally delightful. Unless of course you find her pushy, bitchy, bossy and annoying.

Hence, The Amanda Lorber Diagonal:

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In the first episode of “The Paper,” the Juniors fret about who will get the coveted position of Editor-in-Chief. The always diligent Amanda spends the weekend crafting her application (which closes with the line, “Pick me, Miss Weiss, because there isn’t any bologna about Amanda.”) while her compatriots throw ping pong balls into red plastic cups filled with unidentified liquid. The next day, as the rest of the Juniors scramble to write their essays, Amanda lounges poolside and wistfully exclaims to camera, “Procrastination is a foe I have not yet met.” She is clearly cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

The night before the new staff is posted, the Juniors huddle up at the local pizza joint talking shit. No one respects Amanda (who’s home sick), and if she gets the Editor-In-Chief job they’ll gang up and try to “impeach her.” They then decide it would be super awesome to call her and say things like, “It’s not the same without you [here]… It’s better!” Cut to Amanda looking nauseous. I know that look. I looked like that in 9th grade when I asked my friend Hillary if she wanted to hang out on Halloween and she told me her mom said she had to stay home, and then 5 minutes later I overheard her making plans with Randi, the popular cheerleader, to go trick-or-treating. Who fucking trick-or-treats in the 9th grade any way? Losers. I think I stayed home and watched “Heathers.” A movie that would do Amanda good.

At any rate, she gets the Editor-in-Chief gig. Naturally, everyone hates her for it. With each episode, the bitching and shit-talking escalates. After a while, they don’t even bother talking behind her back, they do it knowing full well she can hear every word. They are little assholes.

Now, the rub with dear Amanda is that while we never see her demonstrate the behavior of which she’s been accused by her peers (pushy, bitchy, incompetent and superior), she is most definitely an odd duck. She sings her inner monologue, talks quite seriously to her dog, quotes Poor Richard’s almanac and says things like, “Save me a dance, you hunk!” I do understand why some might find her … oh, annoying. But the level of vitriol spewed in her general direction over the course of the season is truly stupendous and in no way deserved, and it’s a real Lord of the Flies-like vision of just how little quirk insecure teenagers can handle and the intensity with which they’ll deride it.

I find it fitting that the one kid in the crew who seems to vacillate between ostracization of and empathy for Amanda is Adam, the indubitably gay advertising editor, prone to diva-like outbursts. I ended up at an arts boarding school (suck it Hillary!) and was friends with many a fabulous and fierce gay boy (they were the most fun at dances), but Cypress Bay is a public high school in Florida. One wouldn’t think it supportive of out and proud young folk. But maybe he’s not so out? In the homecoming episode, we see Adam ask a girl to the dance and later get elected Homecoming King. Cypress Bay is either the most progressive public school in the country or the most delusional. Regardless, Adam is clearly someone who’s had to navigate the social mine field of high school as an “other,” and did so successfully. There are moments when it seems he feels simpatico with Amanda, her oddballness and his gayness both carry the threat of outcast. He’s the only one of those little fucks I don’t want to hit upside the head with something hard.

But there’s not enough of Adam’s antics to balance out the parade of cruel marching in dear Amanda’s direction. The show would be unwatchable if it weren’t for her indefatigable spirit. While clutching a photo of the group of former friends, smiling and happy in one of those ridiculous Wild West dress up sitchiations, Amanda wonders aloud what they could do to regain their sense of camaraderie: “I think, hidden inside them somewhere, they want to be nice to me. … I can’t imagine anyone just wanting to spew hatred.” Or after being treated horribly by her former best friend Alex, she muses in the calmest of tones, “I love his ego as much as I love his cruel sarcasm, which is intended to hurt people. It’s nice.” She shows up each day, smile on her face, resolved that this one could be different. And when she gets knocked down, again and again, she brushes herself off and soldiers on. She never cries or pitches a fit. She never raises her voice or dons a snotty tone. She is at her core a decent human being and handles herself with far more grace than should be expected from a teenager who gets perpetually shit on. I fucking adore her.

The real satisfaction of the show is reserved for those of us who were tormented in high school but grew up to lead awesome lives. We know Amanda’s best days are ahead of her. We know that she’ll look back on this exercise in character building from her closet-sized, 6th-floor walk-up in Williamsburg with the rats and the roaches and the smell from the Chinese restaurant downstairs and laugh and laugh and laugh. Then her BFF Adam will stop by with his boyfriend to help her get ready for the Halloween parade and they’ll joke about how he used to be kind of a dick to her in high school. And while I’d totally watch that show, I suspect the Amanda I know and love has the good sense to cut her losses with this reality show shenanigans and slink back into obscurity, singing her inner monologue the whole way home.

Beckylooo Who accomplished the goal of writing her first episode of television before reaching the age of thirty with four and a half months to spare. Don’t ask which show. Unlike Amanda Lorber, procrastination is a foe with whom she has tussled many a time.

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The Amanda Lorber Diagonal

"The Paper" / Beckylooo Who

TV | May 28, 2008 | Comments ()




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