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 V.15 No.2 | January 12 - 18, 2006 

Idiot Box

Sticking With the Theme

“The Soup” on E!

“Talk Soup” debuted on E! Entertainment Television in 1991 and made a successful run through 2002. The series was basically a cheap-to-produce clip show, designed to make fun of that week's talk show guests. Didn't have time to check out the transvestite hookers on that week's “Jerry Springer”? No need to worry, “Talk Soup” had you covered. For all its snarky, spot-on humor, “Talk Soup” was best known for its impressive roster of hosts, including Greg Kinnear, John Henson, Hal Sparks and Aisha Tyler--all of whom went on to greater fame and glory than that offered by simple basic cable.

After a couple seasons of hiatus, the show returned in 2004 as the titularly truncated “The Soup.” Instead of just concentrating on talk shows, the series expanded its stable of ribbing victims to reality shows and showbiz in general.

New host Joel McHale took over where his famed predecessors left off--standing in front of a green screen, framed up in a head-and-shoulders shot and dissing on stupid snippets of pop culture. (This has to be among TV's most cost-effective shows.) “Lindsay Lohan was involved in a car crash that left her and two others hospitalized,” begins a typical news item-inspired joke. “This is the third car wreck Lohan has been involved with in the last 14 months--and the fourth if you include Herbie: Fully Loaded.”

TV talk shows are still mercilessly flogged, but reality show horrors like “Breaking Bonaduce” get their day in the sun as well. (This past year, “The Soup” got an incredible amount of mileage out of “Being Bobby Brown”--after all, who could ever get tired of listening to Whitney Houston talk about her bowel problems?) Celebrity interviews get cut up into embarrassing confessions, and the occasional Hollywood blockbuster is lampooned in brief sketches. (This season's “Soup” has delighted in endless variations of Brokeback Kong and Memoirs of a Geisha Kong.)

With production values scarcely higher than the average community access cable show, “The Soup” scores points for its sheer volume of pop cultural wisecracks. You've got to admire a show with enough cheek to insult its own network on a regular basis. (And with shows like “Taradise,” how could you not?) Try this typical “bite the hand that feeds you” jab on for size: “Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson have announced they are seeking to end their three-year marriage. In a related story, now that they are no longer together, E! is proud to announce the acquisition of the next season of ’Newlyweds.'” Ouch.

Besides providing much-appreciated laughs and insulting the likes of Tom Cruise (who, for my money, can't absorb enough insults), “The Soup” performs an invaluable service to TV viewers--it allows us to keep abreast of all the inane entertainment business developments in creation without actually having to subject ourselves to actually watching crap like “But Can They Sing?” For that, we should all be thankful.

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