Idol Chatter

The USA Network’s series “The 4400“–about a group of 4,400 people, all of whom went missing at different points in the 20th century and return together bearing special powers, not having aged a day–is about to conclude its third season this Sunday at 9pm.

What makes it worth watching? The last several episodes have seen an interesting twist–Jordan Collier, a 4400 who was essentially the leader of the group worldwide and was assassinated at the end of the second season, is back from the dead! And not only is he back, he has long flowing hair, a beard, and, apparently, was roaming around for the year he was gone prophesying in such a way that he became known to followers as “The Preacher.” And if that isn’t enough Jesus-imagery for you, during last week’s episode, the talk of the town was “Jordan Colllier’s resurrection from the dead.” Oh, and not to forget the prophesy itself: “The war for the future will be fought in the past,” which he tells anyone who will listen.

The 4400 is a gripping show in general, but I have to admit, while the Jordan Collier return is interesting for the narrative arc of the show, the Jesus business they have going on is a bit much.

Interested enough to tune in? For your viewing benefit, the USA network is airing a 4400 Season Three marathon to catch viewers up, beginning at 11 a.m. and running until 9 p.m. Sunday, when they show the finale. It has already been picked up for a fourth season, so no worries about being left hanging.

How Jewish is Jackie Mason? “As a matzo ball,” says the comedian. “Or kosher salami.” So Jewish, that when Jews for Jesus published a pamphlet suggesting that Mason had accepted Jesus, he let loose with a $2 million lawsuit.

The pamphlet, also known as a broadside, which is still available (but hurry) on this website, features a cartoon image of Mason on the front, and asks, “Jackie Mason… A Jew for Jesus?” Inside, a lesson is built around Jackie Mason’s famously politically incorrect shtik about the differences between Gentiles and Jews, punning egregiously on the titles of the comedians Broadway shows. “There’s one thing [the commission of sin] where there’s no difference between Jews and Gentiles,” the copy reads, causing the cartoon Mason to exclaim, “No difference! There goes my whole show!”

Two million bucks seems a little bit of an overreaction to what appears to be, in the words of Jews for Jesus spokesperson Susan Perlman, “good-natured,” if not to well-written, fun. But anyone walking around Manhattan this summer knows Jews for Jesus proselytizers have been out in force, and it’s difficult to imagine a person more dependent on his Jewish identity for his livelihood than Jackie Mason, unless it’s Ehud Olmert, or a rabbi–which, for the record, Mason is. Ordained at 25 following four generations of tradition in his family, he also became a comedian, his website says, because “somebody in the family had to make a living.”

“Blacks to the right. Whites–you go over there. Asians, step to the left. Latinos, stay where you are. Remember to stay within your groups. We’re going to drop you off in the middle of nowhere, with limited supplies, and want you to fight for your lives.”

Sounds like a sadistic case study in Social Darwinism, no? Well it might be, depending on how you look at it, but it’s also the format for the new season of CBS’s “Survivor.” In what’s being called a “social experiment,” this season’s teams, called “tribes” on the show, are based solely on ethnicity–whites vs. blacks vs. Asians vs. Latinos.

In an interview
with The New York Times, series producer Mark Burnett acknowledges that the new setup is “going to be controversial,” adding, “I’m not an idiot.” Burnett also says that the idea actually came from criticism about the show’s lack of diversity. He says approximately 80 percent of the show’s applicants are white. For this season’s crop, host Jeff Probst says blacks, Asians and Latinos were actively recruited to participate.

This isn’t the first time Burnett, who is also the producer of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” wanted to pit ethnic groups against each other. Last year, Burnett tried to do a race-war edition of the hit business competition show, after “The Donald” suggested it during an interview. However, NBC heads–who obviously have a bit more sensitivity than those at CBS–scrapped that idea.

Although many are sure to find the show’s new format in bad taste, as I do, others will undoubtedly be curious as to how the competition is played out. Will fans of the show start rooting for tribes and contestants on the basis of their skin tone? And, if say, a Latino decides to root for the white tribe, will he or she be looked at as a traitor by other Latino fans?

In the end, the winner isn’t a team–it’s an individual (who wins $1 million)–but this format can only bring out the worst in America’s racial stereotypes and prejudices, conscious and subconscious. If a black person wins, will people say it was a set-up designed to finally let a minority win? If an Asian wins, will people say it’s because he or she was way smarter then everyone else and therefore, at an advantage?

As in all competitions, there are winners and losers. How “Survivor” presents each of them will make or break the show, and, perhaps, destroy any improvement in race relations this country has achieved during the past 60 years. Well, maybe our race relations are safe. But the show’s plan still doesn’t seem like a good idea.

The new season begins September 14th. Will you be watching?

This week the History Channel is celebrating Ancient Week (kind of like Shark Week at the Discovery Channel, but with no sharks). In honor of Ancient Week, they premiered a hokey, but ultimately interesting, TV documentary called “The Exodus Decoded,” produced by none other than James Cameron.

The show aims to prove scientifically the cause behind the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea; provide a new historical estimate for when the Israelites were lead out of Egypt by Moses; and archaeologically trace the route of the Exodus and location of Mount Sinai, challenging all previous speculation on these subjects.

The use of special effects is distracting and, at times, disorienting (no surprise there, though, given the fact that James Cameron is behind the production) and the narrator, Simcha Jacobovici, is rather corny in his attempts to build suspense. But the contentions and new explanations the team of researchers and scholars provides about the Exodus is fascinating–perfect for viewers who love all things “Bible: Decoded.”

It airs again tonight at 8:00 p.m.