Monday, November 26, 2012

"The Soup" – A Smorgasbord of Guilty Pleasures

Pop culture today is bursting with so many guilty pleasure possibilities that it’s impossible to indulge in as many as you’d like without abandoning your job and other responsibilities, like showering. It’s necessary for the serious pop culture observer to keep up, however, not just with the Kardashians but with the whole fascinating, lurid tapestry of it, partly for fun and partly to gauge just how quickly that handbasket with civilization in it is going to Hell. For such aficionados-on-the-go like myself, I’ve found that the most efficient way to get a weekly recap of pop culture is to tune in every Wednesday to E! Entertainment’s The Soup and get a feel for what I’m missing (or not, as the case may be.)

The half-hour show delivers a loopy roundup of television highlights (lowlights, actually) of the past week – the most outrageous, ludicrous moments from the lowest common denominator of pop entertainment, from the unreality of reality shows, to the bombast of Mexican telenovelas, to the manufactured melodrama of singing competitions. Host/comedian Joel McHale adds his (mostly) scripted, snarky commentary to the clips, and a small (and very likely loaded) live audience laughs and hoots along.

Among its regular segments are “Chat Stew,” featuring clips from talk shows; “Chicks, Man” focusing on female celebrity news; the self-explanatory “Reality Show Clip Time!”; “Tales from Home Shopping” which pokes fun at QVC or HSN; “Gay Shows,” presenting clips from, well, gay shows such as RuPaul's Drag Race; and “The Clip of the Week,” featuring the best of the worst.

I’ve been a fan from the show’s humble beginnings in the early ‘90s when it was known as Talk Soup, hosted at the time by Greg Kinnear, who has since gone on to be an Oscar-nominated actor. Talk Soup gave subsequent hosts a career launch as well, such as Hal Sparks, who moved on to star in Showtimes’s Queer as Folk, and Aisha Tyler, now the voice of curvy superspy Lana Caine in the raunchy, animated series Archer. Talk Soup ended in 2002 and reappeared in 2004 as the revamped The Soup, hosted by McHale, whose own career has taken off in TV and film.

Perhaps the biggest appeal of The Soup, apart from the laughs it provides and the diversion from the weighty problems of the world, is the same simple appeal offered by the very shows it ridicules: after wading through this collection of the dregs of pop culture each week, it’s just a relief and a comfort to have one’s normalcy confirmed. At least my family’s not like Honey Boo Boo’s, you can tell yourself. At least my life isn’t a circus like Lindsay Lohan’s. It’s a healthy antidote to the flip side of a pop culture obsession – celebrity-worship and the yearning for fame.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 11/23/12)