TV outside of the U.S. is such a treasure. After spending the whole day roaming around a foreign city, sampling a dozen or so local desserts (for journalistic integrity is at stake, and if you do not try them all, Fox News wins), and getting lost at least twice, you return to your hotel room, exhausted, and out of habit, you plop down on the bed/chair/holy-crap-our-hotel-room-has-a-couch and switch on the telly.

And that is where, depending on your geographic location, things will land somewhere on the spectrum of completely familiar to bat-shit crazy. Nowhere is this more true than Italy. Are there stranger television programs in the world than those found on Italian networks? Absolutely. But they are often in languages I don’t understand, and so their mysteries remain locked (we’ve watched ourselves on Japanese TV numerous times. We sincerely haven’t a clue as to what any of the screaming, animated angels, and Whitney Houston background music was all about). But in Italy, I speak the language. I know at least some of the local celebrities. And often I have a relative nearby who can put things into a cultural context for me. And still? Despite all of that?

Italian TV makes NO DAMN SENSE.

Even American shows are dubbed and changed in ways that render them remarkably different (I’ve talked about House before. Hugh Laurie’s voice, stilted and whiny when attempting an American accent, is dubbed over into something fluid and velvety in Italian. It. IS. Awesome.) There’s also an abundance of truly bizarre cooking and variety shows, usually mixed in to regular programming (because, really, why bother watching a television show or movie all at once, when you can stall it for 10 or 20 minutes at a time and learn about baccala? I’m convinced that somewhere in that is the root of why my mom can’t sit still through a 2-hour film. But I digress).

And believe me when I tell you that speaking the language will not help you at all. Behold the special guest chefs on a program I found myself watching in Rome:

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Everything about the show was entirely normal, save for the fact that it was aired during another program and the WOMEN clearly have coifs inspired by Dr. Seuss. Okay, fine. Surely there is some explanation for this, right? But no. Nothing. No one even mentioned the hair. They all quietly ignored it, and went on talking about rigatoni for 15 minutes or so (I am not kidding). Rand, hoping I could shed some light on the subject, asked me what, exactly, was going on.

“They’re … they’re cooking,” I replied.

“But why is their hair like that?”

“Um … because they’re Italian?”

I never did get any explanation for the hair. Eventually, I changed the channel, found a game show, and promptly started giggling maniacally in the delight. I explained to Rand that Italian game shows are 20 minutes of sexist, fascist delight – not only are they designed, by completely arbitrary means, to ensure that winning any amount of money is near impossible, but they often feature girls in skimpy clothing occasionally reading questions or dancing. About halfway through a show that’s somewhat similar to The Weakest Link crossed with Who Wants to be a Millionaire (did I mention that Italian TV is also trapped in 2002?), this came on the screen:

I love it. Four brunette dancers, one of whom has blond hair.

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And again, no explanation whatsoever. The host just announced that it was time for the lightning round, and then music started and the girls appeared and began dancing. I died.

Seriously, WTF, Italian TV? You make no sense. Don’t ever change.

Full list of categories:  Rants and Raves » WTF
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Comments (14)

  1. 04. May, 2011 / Mugdha:

    Hahaha, oh man. foreign TV is the best. Thank you so so much for sharing these gems.

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  2. 10. May, 2011 / Marco:

    You are completly rigth, I’m italian and I don’t watch TV anymore!
    Italians grow up with this TV so is normal for us having 1 hour of cooking TV show with strange guys, and italians don’t know english because of poor school instructions, so the TV shows must be dubbed.
    Anyway I personally like more the original because I find out that the original is much better, for example with Battlestar Galactica the word “frak” is translated with some italian bad word!

    Marco

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    Everywhereist Reply:

    Oh, no! You miss so much when shows are dubbed (though like I said, I do love House in Italian. I find it endlessly entertaining!)

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  3. 06. Jun, 2011 / Adrianne:

    LOL I had to laugh reading this article. You are so right about House’s voice. Some of them are much better than the english speaking originals. I am still learning Italian (we moved here in June of last year) but I find that you dont have to understand everything to appreciate the wtfness of Italian tv – gotta love it though

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    Everywhereist Reply:

    It really is a non-stop source of entertainment for me.

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  4. 13. Jun, 2011 / tahrey:

    But does every channel – EVERY channel, including the kids cartoon ones – turn into either terrible music tv, or live phone-in tarot readings after 10pm, like in Spain? Presumably the tv bosses expect that anyone who isn’t either sleeping, getting drunk or getting laid can only be interested in one of these two things…

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    Everywhereist Reply:

    Wait, wait, wait- LIVE PHONE-IN TAROT READINGS? That sounds so cool, I’m kind of freaking out right now.

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  5. 15. Jun, 2011 / Amanda:

    I was there last year and we became addicted to a game show where the contestant had to guess the occupation of six people. The guest people just stood there in a line and the contestant had a list of occupations to choose from one at a time. I couldn’t understand italian but it was fantastic. Some of the guests were Mayors of actual towns. And yes, there were scantily clad women standing around doing not much.

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    Everywhereist Reply:

    Seriously, how AWESOME would it be to attend a concept meeting for an Italian TV show? “We need psychics. And politicians. And MINI-SKIRTS!”

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  6. 16. Jun, 2011 / Cleo:

    Ah, you must visit Spain. On a recent trip to Spain my two daughters found a Japanese Anime program in Spanish where the main charater (a young boy) continually talked about his butt and farted. A) my girls speak Spanish, B)they love cartoons no matter the language, C) they are age 6 and 10, and D) I don’t speak Spanish, but could not stop laughing because it was just too juvienilly funny that language made no difference.

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    Everywhereist Reply:

    That. Sounds. MAGICAL.

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  7. 12. May, 2012 / Dave M. Saha:

    Loved this post (and this blog too). Late grats on getting featured on Time, by the way.

    My dad is an Italian citizen (though not of Italian descent) and my mother knows the language pretty well. We used to watch the TV shows on Italian channels they broadcasted here and, well, I was kind of confused. It was everything BUT stuff that makes sense, as you point out. Sleazy mentors, blond chicks and random lotteries. Yeah.

    Anyway, great blog. Subscribed and will be frequenting this place in the future. Best wishes.

    M.

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  8. 24. Jun, 2012 / Kitty:

    I haven’t laughed this hard in a looong time!

    I agree with the poster who says that you should visit Spain! I don’t watch TV anymore but, the live tarot reading does exist, and (I don’t know if this is true anymore with the switch to digital TV) but you might not want to get kids to watch spanish TV after midnight. At least not long ago there was porn after midnight, in open channels.

    Someone mentioned the japanese anime of the boy talking about his butt all the time, it’s called Shin Chan… (argh, horrible series)

    I don’t know if italian TV wins over spanish TV in wtfness but really, nothing really surprises me anymore.

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  9. 06. Feb, 2013 / Paul:

    Italian TV is pretty amazing. Channel surfing in Italy seems to involve station after station of curvaceous beauties doing one thing or another. I’m not quite sure what the point is, and it sure doesn’t stimulate the intellectual part of my brain, but still, it’s hard not to watch!

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