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Barrelhousing with Heather Havrilesky

You know us: pasty skin, red eyes, tucked into the corner at parties arguing over which season of "The Real World" was the best. We're the ones who watch too much television. Always have. Always will. We were the ones playing drinking games along with "Beverly Hills 90210." We still miss the hell out of Buffy, although we admit that Veronica Mars is really taking the edge off these days. We toss around words like "Trishelle" and "Marwan" and "Cartman" as if we're discussing the weather.

For us, the happily television addicted, Heather Havrilesky is a rockstar.

You might remember her razor sharp Filler column on much-missed Suck. Or maybe you've caught her brilliant, insightful, joyful work as Salon's TV critic. Maybe you're a reader of her very own Rabbit Blog. Then again, maybe you've never heard of her. No matter. If you own a television, and you're not stupid, it's time to get smart about it and start following Heather Havrilesky, wherever she tells you to go.

Barrelhouse: We miss Suck, and especially Filler. Something happened there in the new millenium and all of the sudden Suck was gone. What ever happened there?

HH: Suck went under in June of 2001, at a time when online ad sales were hard to come by. It was sad, but Suck had been teetering on the brink of collapse for a few years, so it wasn't unexpected. I still have a mind to team up with Terry Colon and revive Filler for the small screen. Angry little bong-smoking squirrels clearly belong on primetime television.

Barrelhouse: I hope we're living in a world where one can write about television and pop culture and become wildly rich. Is the Salon gig, and your other writing, pretty much how you make a living?

HH: Yeah, Salon is basically a full-time job, and I do a little freelance writing outside of that. I feel very lucky to do what I do for a living, but those who'd like to be "wildly rich" should probably consider another field or -- and this is a much more practical approach -- start buying lottery tickets regularly. Remember, if God really, really likes you as much as you think He does, eventually you'll win the lottery. God is apparently quite fond of me, but I think He wants to wait until He's sure I won't blow my millions on hard drugs and really expensive treats for my dog.

Barrelhouse: What shows are we not watching that we should? Any diamonds in the rough out there?

HH: I don't have any well-kept secrets, and everybody likes their own thing. My personal favorites right now are "Deadwood," "Six Feet Under," "Veronica Mars," "The Amazing Race," "House," "America's Next Top Model" (although it's starting to slide this season), and "24."

Barrelhouse: Reality TV: friend or foe?

HH: Lover. I spend at least 5 hours a week watching elimination-based shows: "The Contender," "Survivor," "The Apprentice," "The Amazing Race," "America's Next Top Model." The shows that don't include competitions - racing or starving or boxing or posing in push-up bras or developing a brand new product for Staples - don't do that much for me anymore. You know, like "The Real World" or "Nanny 911" or "Dog The Bounty Hunter" or "Forty Deuce" or "The Osbournes" or "Newlyweds" or "PoweR Girls"... I liked those at first, and I never really thought I'd get sick of them, but I did. I guess really good-looking, really dumb people were pretty entertaining for a while, and then they got tedious.

Now, if I didn't get paid to watch this crap, I might try to cut out "The Apprentice" and "Survivor"; their limp little finales generally make me regret watching all season long. But still, I've tried to stop watching before, and failed. I can't explain it.

Barrelhouse: Speaking of Reality TV, will the genius of "Drunken Asshole Hotel," "Real World Las Vegas," or "Man Versus Beast" ever be replicated?

HH: That's Drunk Asshole Hotel, not Drunken Asshole Hotel. Drunken Asshole Hotel sounds like one of those big, absurd cocktails they serve at the Cheesecake Factory. The Drunken Asshole Hotel: Vodka, chocolate ice cream, banana, Amaretto, with a flaming shot of Jaggermeister on top.

I never saw "Man Versus Beast," but "Real World: Las Vegas" could be replicated. There are lots of hot, self-righteous, confused, slutty, alcoholic young people out there. Put them up in a hotel in Vegas with a few cameras, and voila.

That said, Drunk Asshole Hotel (originally known as "Paradise Hotel") can never, ever be replicated. First of all, no network will air another completely aimless, inane show for two full hours a week, all without a clue how the show will work. Was it twice a week, or three times a week? God, those were the glory days! And the cast of characters is irreplaceable. Keith, Tara, geeky Dave, mean Charla, scary Amy, and that awful guy who had "lawyer" in him? What was his name? The totally pathetic, aggro idiot team versus the vaguely smart, vaguely wise, extremely sexy team? How often does that happen, where the smart ones are also better looking? Make sure they're all drunk and half-naked the whole time, and you've got a timeless classic on your hands. OK, just thinking about it is making me really nostalgic.

Barrelhouse: I'm closing in on forty. Should I be concerned about the amount of the WB on my Tivo?

HH: Well, that depends. If you're watching "Gilmore Girls," fine. Slightly sad, but fine. "One Tree Hill"? Run, don't walk, to your nearest mental health professional.

Barrelhouse: "Desperate Housewives:" Overhyped?

HH: All I know is I got bored after the second week. Teri Hatcher has nice legs, but I don't find her "I'm such a dummy!" routine all that charming. Felicity Huffman is fantastic, of course, but again, the storylines just aren't that nuanced or complex or substantive. Obviously shallow is fine with me, but it has to at least be exciting. I can't even watch scenes with Eva Longoria in them; she and her husband are just flat-out bad.

Barrelhouse: Mike Ingram, one of our editors, weighed in on this issue earlier, and we're curious what you have to say on the matter: "The OC," or "Beverly Hills 90210?" It will be nice to get a professional opinion from somebody slightly less obsessed with Nat and the Peach Pit.

HH: Well, nothing beats "90210" in the Shannen Doherty days. She was so alluringly out of her mind, you could never really tell if you wanted her to get the guy or get socked in the face. I guess you wanted her to get the guy, then get socked in the face. Plus, there was something so great about Ian Ziering and the steady flow of mediocre girlfriends he cheated on. I remember one of them growling at him, "Just remember who butters your bagel!"

Sadly, "The OC" is far too polished to include lines that tweaked. I mean, part of the appeal of "90210" was its clumsy, awkward, teenage goofiness and its occasional Big Important Messages. Without that heavy-handed stuff, and that dorkiness, the show wouldn't have been half as charming.

"The OC" is like "90210"'s too-cool-for-school offspring - shinier and prettier, set to much more broodingly romantic alterna-pop, featuring many more really beautiful shots of the crystal-blue Pacific. You know, there's Death Cab for Cutie or Modest Mouse onstage, and Summer's wearing the freshest new looks for Spring, and Seth is adorably alterna-boy disheveled, spouting cleverness and witticisms, and Ryan looks like he needs a nap, and Marissa looks like she needs a large sausage pizza. And wasn't that sooo cute, when Marissa was a lesbian? "The OC" is all empty calories. Sandy and Kirsten are the only two who seem like a real couple ( sad, considering the actors who play Seth and Summer are actually engaged, or were at one time). But it all looks and sounds so damn good, which, thanks to Tori Spelling, really can't be said of "90210."

I don't know. Let's watch them both and say we didn't.

Barrelhouse: And now the Barrelhouse standard: Bearing in mind that we may use your answer to psychoanalyze you, what's your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

HH: Without question "Dirty Dancing." That movie was soft porn for awkward teenage girls lacking adorable little noses, and Swayze was the hunky man-meat at the center of the story, hung there for us to drool over. Meaty but non-threatening, charming but dumb, plus cool, loyal, and extremely coordinated, Swayze was the ultimate no-strings Summer fling, the ideal way to lose your virginity without either getting married or becoming a filthy slut. I mean, they were dancing together to help that poor working-class girl get a bad abortion, remember? It was a socially conscious sort of a film. Plus, they got caught in the rain, and Swayze had killer abs. We awkward teen girls understood that Jennifer Gray really had no choice: she had to do him. And, charmingly enough, Swayze was the shy one! He was the one who wanted to stay together in the end! But alas, she's like the wind through his tree!

Sadly, now Jennifer Gray has a surgically-altered adorable little nose, Patrick Swayze has since starred in "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," and most of us have been the wind through countless trees. Ah, but times do change.