Reader Request #3: TV
Okay, here’s one from Wendell, who wants to know about my television habits. He writes:
You’ve written little about the beloved Idiot Box (TV) in your years on the Whatever (I Googled to make sure there wasn’t something I’d missed that you’d already done), awarding “The Simpsons” the title of Best TV Show of the Millennium, and declaring your “recent TV choices” 15 months ago as “Nickelodeon (for SpongeBob Squarepants), Cartoon Network, CNN Headline News, the Science Channel, and The West Wing.”
Anything to add?
What did you think of the season finale of West Wing and its future without Aaron Sorkin?
Ever seen “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, or what have you said/done to people who say “You ought to watch Buffy”?
Have you ever seen Alton Brown’s “Good Eats”, or will you find out which channel is ‘Food Network’ in order to watch Lileks’ guest appearance on Al Roker’s show?
What’s your favorite show on Cartoon Network?
Please please please explain the appeal of ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ (I have enjoyed many cartoons in my adult life, but NOT THAT ONE).
Can you name all the spin-offs of “Law & Order” and “CSI” (trick question)?
How would you use TiVo if you had it (I’m assuming you don’t but you know what it is)?
Is it possible to spend too much time online AND watch too much TV?
Last question first: Yes, of course, especially if one considers how little TV (or how little Internet) one truly and actually needs.
I don’t write about television much for the simple reason that I don’t watch a whole lot of it. I’m busy enough during the day (thank God) that I don’t get sucked into its vortex of glowing pixels, and during the evening it seems wrong to stare at a glassy box when one has family to stare at. Also, unlike most people, I don’t default to TV as a boredom cure; this is a combination of being a reading nut very early on and having the TV habit broken for me by my high school, which was a boarding school that did not allow the students to watch TV on a regular basis. There was this idea that we might have homework they need to do instread. I surely resented it at the time, but not so much now.
As I result there are lots of shows people like that I’ve never seen on TV, which include but are not limited to: CSI, Buffy, Seinfeld, American Idol, Survivor, Enterprise, Everybody Loves Raymond and The Osbournes (some of these I’ve seen in their DVD packages). I stopped watching West Wing last year because I sensed it was getting a little too loose with the writing — I blame the cocaine (nevertheless I think it’s not long for the world without Sorkin), and I stopped watching most NBC and FOX shows I used to watch — Friends, Fraiser, Malcolm in the Middle, even (sadly) The Simpsons — when I moved to Ohio, on account that I live too far out to get the broadcast signal for their channels, and yet the local affiliates won’t allow me to get their network alternates on satellite. I’m aware of all these shows, as I am on most pop culture — it freaks my wife out that I know who’s who on American Idol even though I’d rather rub my lips with splintery wood than to watch it — but with the exception of The Simpsons, I don’t feel like I’m missing out much.
This lack of concern about television does weird people out a bit. If you ever want to see a conversation come to a complete stop among certain age groups, simply note that you’ve never seen an episode of Seinfeld; people literally stop and stare like you’ve suddenly sprouted an arm straight out of your nose. Buffy-ites I have noticed will actively try to prostyitize and get you to watch; I visited by ex-girlfriend a couple of years ago and she sat me down with the intent of viewing an episode but I think we ended up taunting her cats instead (they were cute cats). I tend to short-circuit Buffy-ites early on by being agreeable as to the quality of the show and agreeing that just because the original movie stank (and it did) that didn’t mean the show couldn’t be brilliant. That usually calms them down.
My active TV watching these days is confined to Nickelodeon and CNN Headline News and in the morning, Disney Channel with Athena (she loves her the Rolie Polie Olie). Cartoon Network has fallen out of favor with me because it’s replaced most of its lineup with anime of varying quality, and while I appreciate good anime as much as any geek (I just got sent my copy of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie), there’s only so much of the stuff I can watch, and that amount is also fairly low. And with the exception of some of the Adult Swim bits, most of the new original shows from Cartoon Network are crap: Codename: Kids Next Door, for example, needs to be wiped from the planet (my favorite Cartoon Network series ever: Cartoon Planet, the sillier, gentler spinoff of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which I also love).
Nickelodeon’s series in general are also not fabulous: Rocket Power, Chalk Zone and especially Rugrats bother me. But the network has the early 21st century kid’s programming trifecta in Spongebob Squarepants, The Fairly Oddparents and Jimmy Neutron, all of which have the right mix of kid goofiness and sly adult toss-offs to make them enjoyable to watch for everyone. As for the unnerving popularity of Spongebob, well, it’s just the show’s time, like it was for the Powerpuff Girls a couple of years ago, and South Park before that (and Ren and Stimpy before that). The best way to understand the popularity of Spongebob, without being four or without being stoned, is simply to watch three complete episodes, which is the minimum required amount for an unaltered adult to get hooked by its charm. Fewer than that and your forebrain rebels at the pleasing colors and beguiling shapes. But then it gets you. Fairly Oddparents works on the same principle. As for Jimmy Neutron, the key to enjoying it is simple: Watch Sheen.
As it happens, I do have a TiVo, or more accurately, the Dish PVR, which despite the branding succeess of TiVo in becoming its own verb is actually the best-selling personal video recorder (it’s because it doubles as the satellite cable box). I don’t talk about my TiVo-ing adventures here, primarily because it’s already abundantly clear that I’m a yuppie tech dork with too many toys as it is, and I don’t want to be just another dweeb spooging about his TiVo. Yes, it’s like crack cocaine for your television viewing habits. But you already knew that.
A glimpse into the programs I’ve recorded on the PVR would show 13 hours of Spongebob, a couple hours of Fairly Oddparents, and an assortment of films that run in the wee hours of the night that I’ve recorded to view later: Currently these include The Anniversary Party, A Beautiful Mind, We Were Soldiers, and 48 Hours. Whether I’ll actually get around to watching any of these is another matter entirely; one of the dark secrets of being able to watch any show you choose at any time is that you end up not watching a lot of the stuff you idly record. The being the case, I make myself erase any film I’ve recorded that sits unwatched on the PVR for more than a month. Since erasing an unwatch movie feels vaguely akin to throwing out a book just because you haven’t got around to reading it, this is tougher to do than it seems. But our satellite TV setup has 50 movie channels. Sooner or later they all come back, so I can record and ignore them again. It’s the circle of life.
(Remember I’m still taking topic suggestions for Reader Appreciation Week! Make your suggestions in the message thread here.)