It is a rite of passage for some TV critics to take stock of the worst of the past year's television. Entertainment Weekly Online, no nest of prudes and scolds, has compiled its own list of the "10 moments that made us squirm the most."
Some of them were the kind that might be missed by most on pay cable. On HBO's miniseries "Rome," a woman convinced her lesbian lover to seduce her own brother as part of a plot to destroy Caesar. On HBO Signature's serial-killer drama "Epitafios," the show's star killer opened his victim's mouth with hooks and fishing wire, then tossed in an asphyxiating throatful of coins. And on HBO's "The Comeback," a washed-up actress punched her sitcom writer so hard he vomited, which caused her to vomit, don't you know.
It never ceases to amaze: People pay good money for this smelly garbage.
In some cases, people aren't buying. Paris Hilton's sex-kitten commercials for the Carl's Jr. chain's Spicy Barbecue Burger still rankled the critics with their ridiculously erotic hard sell. Who was convinced that anorexic Paris was really excited to eat a burger as large as her head? And in the middle of washing a car? Why would a pampered heiress do that? The shameless CEO admitted it was "all about sales." After fortunes were spent on paid advertising, and millions more in free news publicity, the gimmick failed. Sales were unmoved. All the chain bought was public disdain.
They weren't the only failures. Britney Spears and her new husband Kevin Federline made home videos for the UPN series "Chaotic," grossing out the critics with staged makeout scenes with Britney tugging at her shirt to show cleavage. It ranked 197th last year. It bombed.
Much worse was Bravo's reality series "Being Bobby Brown," following around has-been pop star Brown and his wife, Whitney Houston. The second episode included Brown recalling an incident in which his wife was constipated and he had to put his hand up her behind to remove feces for her relief. Houston proclaimed, ''That's black love!'' Whitney Houston used to be the class of pop music, and now she and her husband are just the clowns. The Bobby show had half the viewers of the Britney show -- but little Bravo was encouraged. They just aired "A Bobby Brown Christmas."
Some gross episodes trashed by Entertainment Weekly were just exploiting the weak stomachs of viewers. David Letterman suffered a gash on his hand that required 40 stitches, but when the stitches started to rip halfway through his program, a surgeon was called in to fix the flesh-ripping mess, and CBS showed the carnage in "extreme close-up," then carried a reenactment of the hand accident with nearby deli owner Rupert Lee squirting fake blood all over his deli.
At least Letterman's show is on late. On UPN's prime-time reality show "America's Next Top Model," one contestant urinated in a diaper to score extra camera time with the naughty-boy cast of MTV's "Wildboyz," who were visiting their Viacom colleagues.
Some shows made the list because of the timing. "CSI" is a gross-out show most weeks, but on Thanksgiving night, they just had to air a plot where a man gorged himself to death, a scene watched by millions of Americans who had just over-eaten. Watching the technicians sort the unsavory contents of the dead man's digestive tract, making jokes about the "buffet" and commenting on the putrid smell of the partially digested hot dogs was too much for the turkey-burping critics.
In a disgusting category all its own, there was the relentlessly putrid FX series "Nip/Tuck." Entertainment Weekly listed several oddball scenes during the season, including "The semen cream that Joan Rivers smeared on her mug. The two faces glued to a man's buttocks. (Seriously.)" Earning special dishonors was the season finale, which they noted included shots of "a severed finger, [a] maimed face, bloody breast implants in a box, and a pre-op transsexual's penis being mutilated with a box cutter." That can't begin to describe the twisted plot twists, complete with rapes, tortures, dismemberment, and murder.
But that doesn't mean the sponsor felt guilty about the show. Several times during the season finale of this, the most irresponsibly offensive show on television, FX announced: "The FX season finale of 'Nip/Tuck' is brought to you by Smirnoff vodka. Clearly Smirnoff. Please drink responsibly."
As we begin 2006, it's a slam-dunk to predict that television will only get more gross and more outrageous. It will get even harder for Hollywood to tell Congress that families shouldn't have a chance at choosing their own less disgusting cable options. That episode of "The Comeback" is a nice metaphor for Hollywood. They're vomiting out gross television, and we're strongly inclined to vomit in return.