If you have ever flipped through the Spanish channel to see balloon-breasted women dancing the meringue for no apparent reason, you know that people around the world are entertained by wildly different things. A country's popular television show is a unique (but limited) glimpse into the culture of its viewership.
Mexico's got a creepy political clown, there are ninja warriors in Japan and women shedding elephant tears on telenovelas. But as with everything else, the entire entertainment genre has been affected by globalization in a big way. Although plenty unique, culturally-specific, TV shows exist around the world, many places have borrowed themes, characters and jokes from the United States.
So as odd as these shows may be to you initially, the common pieces we share makes us Americans just as strange.
El Notifiero con Brozo
"Brozo el Payaso Tenebroso" (Brozo the Creepy Clown) is the star of this Mexican hit, where it's "The Daily Show" dressed up in a green wig and clown makeup. Brozo is famous throughout Mexico and can be seen providing comical commentary for major elections and sporting events. Rather than the typical clown-fare of balloon animals and pie throwing, Brozo's crass humor is referred to as "anti-clown" and brings back memories of that birthday party where the clown smelled like peppermint schnapps and passed out halfway through his act.
Because Brozo is a comical character, he's able to touch on issues that other news outlets may be afraid to tackle. Much like Jon Stewart in America, Brozo rips on just about anyone he can -- and gets away with it. Despite his ridiculous appearance, Brozo is revered for his political opinion and his show is visited by many prolific Mexican politicians and personalities. He has even been credited for exposing corrupt politicians and turning the tide of elections.
What They Borrowed
Politically geared shows with a comical touch have been conquering American TVs for quite some time now, from "The Daily Show" to "The Colbert Report." The name similarity to our own Bozo the clown -- who was looking downright terrifying as early as the 1960s -- is intentional.
Only in Mexico...
Could the mayor of Mexico City potentially be pied-in-the-face as he's exposed for a scandal on national TV.
One hundred enter, only one leaves. "Sasuke," known as "Ninja Warrior" in America and eighteen other countries, is a four-part obstacle course where competitors' physical strengths are pushed to the limit in an attempt to complete almost impossible events. The show airs in Japan as a three-hour special and is one of the country's most popular television events. Most of the contestants are amateur athletes (dressed in ridiculous costumes) with the occasional Japanese celebrity and the all powerful Sasuke All-Stars (six athletes that have reached the final stage). Unlike American game shows that award a winner on every show, "Sasuke" shows that a tough competition will produce only the very best as the victors.
What They Borrowed
Nickelodeon's "G.U.T.S." asked child contestants to strain their physical abilities for the chance to own a piece of fake mountain and 'roided-up "American Gladiators" have been pounding people with foam bats for decades. Japan shows us that physical challenge reality shows are not just an American phenomenon.
Only in Japan...
Can you dress up like Pikachu and jump on a large vertical trampoline in the "Reverse Fly" stage of the competition.
As if Indian movies weren't strange enough, "Lollu Sabha" is a sitcom that parodies popular Indian films. Indian comedy follows a dynamic different from others, where slapstick, over-the-top drama and musical-based jokes take the high road. This show proves that what one culture may find bizarre, another may find as hilarious.
What They Borrowed
"The Three Stooges" were spoofing popular films and subject matter in the U.S. since before TV was in color; Jonathan Swift was doing it before cameras even existed. So as odd as this show may be to American eyes, spoofs of popular material can only be understood if you have a grasp of the original material being mocked.
Only in India...
Movie spoofs are nothing new but an entire TV show dedicated to mocking popular movies is. Isn't Bollywood already a spoof of something? Why are we double spoofing, India?
Cuidado con el Angel
Telenovelas have been described as "a couple who wants to kiss and a scriptwriter who stands in their way for 150 episodes." Take the melodrama of a soap opera, multiply by 10, put it in a different language et voila! You have a telenovela. Just like other telenovelas, this series only ran for a limited time and unlike soaps, there was a definitive ending.
We won't ruin it, but the story follows Marichuy (played by Mexican actress Maite Perroni) as she deals with her resentment towards men amidst colorful romances. This show is full of romance, marriage, heartbreak and religion -- all big themes in Latin American culture -- with a good dose of tears and scandal. Believe it or not, during its run in the U.S., the show averaged 4.7 million viewers, showing that some Americans are watching more than just American TV.
What they Borrowed
Telenovelas have been around as long as American soaps, but the romance factor (even when unrealistic) has been in film since the silent movie era. "General Hospital," "A Guiding Light" and an overly emotional episode of "Oprah" aren't all that different.
Only in Latin America...
Telenovelas can be about anything from an unattractive girl's quest for success ("Betty la Fea," which became America's "Ugly Betty") to the Philippines' own retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" ("Kung Mawawala Ka").
"Muhan Dojeon" claims to be the first South Korean reality show; although whether it's a reality show or not is debatable. The term used to describe it is actually a "real-variety" show, where the majority of the show is unscripted. Members of the show are often put through ridiculous and sometimes impossible challenges, mostly to create a comedic tone.
The show is one of the most popular in South Korea, excluding sporting events and dramas. Celebrity guests are common on the program, including Paris Hilton and Maria Sharapova. Because the show contains both comedic and serious elements, the shift between the two can often be confusing to the untrained eye. Like other Southeast Asian entertainment, the comedy is quirky and unpredictable.
What They Borrowed
Ever seen MTV's "The Hills?" The scripted vs. non-scripted reality show debate is something Americans are very familiar with.
Only in Korea...
You will find the Muhan Theatre, where members of the cast of "Muhan Dojeon" unexpectedly perform impromptu comedic stories as well as break the fourth wall to give the viewers true information about the cast.
To judge the merits of these countries based on their TV shows would be the same as judging an entire family because of one creepy uncle. Keep in mind that entertainment can be a release from the everyday monotony; some places just push the envelope a little further.
-- Andrew Butler