So, a few weeks ago I got hooked on a reality show. A cartoon reality show, on Cartoon Network (appropriately enough), called TOTAL DRAMA ISLAND.
By and large, reality tv is a phenomenon that passed me by, like rap music or the gentrification of tattoos. I know it exists, I just don't see the point: it just has no appeal to me. The sole exception is TOP CHEF, which Janice hooked me on during its second season (still never had a chance to watch season one, but so it goes). And so all the tropes that make up the genre (the meanie everyone's supposed to love to hate, the eat-disgusting-things episode, someone being voted off the island at the end of each episode) I know only through cultural osmosis.
Which makes it all the stranger that this hilarious parody of reality shows should so suddenly become a favorite. Partly I suppose that it has a distinctive animation style that I find appealing. And it has an interesting cast, nicely distinguished through the voice acting. While they all adhere to the cartoon convention that each only seems to have one outfit he or she wears everyday, their actions are all 'true to character', and they're a nicely diverse group without forcing the issue, which is good to see.
But I suspect the greater part of the show's appeal is its mastery of a sense of absurdity. Why should a lake in Ontario have sharks in it? Because, it breezily informs us in a later episode, they're freshwater sharks (no explanation for the piranhas is ever forthcoming). I only started watched about the sixth episode or so before the end, so it was a great help when they re-ran the whole season just before the finale -- where the character I was rooting for didn't win (dang!). That I cared at all shows they're doing something right. I'll definitely be checking out the second season, which (according to Wikipedia, Source of All Knowledge) will be called TOTAL DRAMA ACTION* and will parody movie genres rather than reality shows.
I don't know why, but for some reason the funniest part of the whole show for me is that it's Canadian. There's a valley girl, but she's a Canadian valley girl; a goth, but she's a Canadian goth; a juvenile delinquent, but he's a Canadian juvenile delinquent, and so forth. There's even what looks like a Hawaiian surfer dude, but he's apparently from a Canadian part of Polynesia none of us knew about, like we didn't know there were freshwater lake sharks, Canadian cursed Tiki Island, &c.
Best episode: I'd recommend the one about two-thirds of the way through that parodied the teen slasher flick, in which the goth girl keeps reminding them of the rules of slasher movies, only to have the others ignore them and disappear one by one. This also has one of the best lines from the whole series, where the announcer, Chris, says in effect "This could be really good for the rating . . . but really bad for the lawsuits!"
*check here for a trailer: http://www.cakeentertainment.com/video/video-tda.htm
UPDATE: I should also have pointed out the insidiously catchy theme song ("I Wanna Be Famous"), which could easily fit alongside one of the sixties or seventies classic cartoon opening themes like Scooby Doo, Where Are You.
Also, Janice points out that there's soon going to be a TOTAL DRAMA ISLAND movie, apparently due out this month, though I haven't been able to find a more specific release date than just "December".