Tag: television

Why Do People Hate Ted Lasso?

I’m late to the party, but I recently watched the first season of Ted Lasso, and the first six episodes of the second season of the show, and I’ve got to say, it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen on television in a while. And yet, I’ve been seeing articles that suddenly, everyone hates Ted Lasso. I haven’t read the articles, because I really enjoy Ted Lasso and if other people want to hate it, that’s fine with me, but I just don’t understand why they date it.

I’ll tell you why I love it instead. I love the optimism of the show. I haven’t been able to stomach dramas for a long time because they are just too dramatic for me. Superhero shows (and movies) have taken a darker tone lately. I totally get that the reality of the world is darker than our fiction sometimes perceives it, but my entire reason for the rare instances when I do watch shows is to escape from that darkness. I admit it. I need a break. I want to escape and live in a different world for a little while. Ted Lasso fit that bill perfectly for me. There is little that gets Ted down (although he is not immune to moments of high anxiety). He always has a nice thing to say about others. He is cheerful and funny and I wish more people were like him. Heck, I wish I was like him.

After watching a few episodes, I find myself speaking with a drawl to my kids, trying to sooth them when they are upset. The only other show that can fill me with that kind of optimism is the the Dick Van Dyke show. Why is it that there is a such a negative reaction to this kind of optimism. Do people find it bland? Unrealistic in the midst of a global pandemic? I’m baffled by this.

My perception of things is that at some point, television programs went from being pure entertainment to having to be deeply reflective of the times they represent. They had to have arcs that carried them through more than 22 or 42 minutes. They had to be laced with cliffhangers and gimmicks to keep eyeballs returning each week. But they never really needed any of that. I think of my favorite shows growing up: shows like Magnum, P.I. or MacGyver or M*A*S*H1. They were episodic in nature, meaning each episode was a self-contained unit. It was like dipping into an anthology or short story collection. No need to know what went before or came after. They were bite-sized chunks of entertainment.

That is not to say that the shows did not reflect their times, but they did so by their very existence, not by overt action. Reboots highlight this. Looking at a reboot of a show from twenty years ago, we think of the original as dated, when it simply reflected the times in which it was made. I often think of the difference between Lawrence Olivier’s Henry V, and Kenneth Branaugh’s Harry the King as a good illustration of this. Ted Lasso in many ways captures the essence of the times we live in, but takes a step outside the norm to portray an optimism which runs against the grain of most of the shows I’ve seen over the course of the last decade.

Maybe Ted is a little too perfect. Maybe he is ignoring his own pain. Maybe the show doesn’t reflect the realities of life in the 2020s. So what? It makes me happy to watch it, and that’s more than I can say about most television shows I’ve seen lately.

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  1. Pure coincidence they all begin with an M.

What People are Watching

A question I always ask myself first thing in the morning is what other people are watching on Netflix. Before looking at the newspapers or glancing out the window for some hint at the weather, I just have to know what people are watching. This is why I am so glad that Netflix saw fit to send me a message letting me know what other people are watching in my area.

Netflix defines my area as “United States”. This represents about 2% of the total land area on earth, so while it is not as specific as I hoped, it gives me means of comparison. I was hoping to learn what other people are watching in my neighborhood, and in particular, in the two or three surrounding blocks

According to this top 10 list that Netflix provided me, without my ever having to ask them for it, people are watching:

  • 2 game shows. They call this “reality TV” but these are nothing more than rebranded game shows.
  • a movie (The Stowaway) which seems based on a premise based on a science fiction story called “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin. The story was first published in 1954.
  • a kids cartoon show
  • an David Attenborough animal show, which I realize is a redundant way to describe animal shows.
  • 2 sitcoms
  • 3 other dramas

Let’s see, 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 3 = 10. Yup, that’s ten alright.

Netflix was not only kind enough to send me this message today, but they sent me another message with a reminder: “Don’t forget to finish The Crown.” What would I do without these reminders? If Netflix hadn’t prodded me, I might have forgotten that I hadn’t finished The Crown. I might have forgotten that I began to lose interest at the end of Season 3, and pretty much lost complete interest after Season 4 episode 1.

It is nice to know that part of the fees I pay to Netflix are used to tell me what other people in my area are watching, and reminding me to finish watching things that I haven’t finished. I think this, as opposed to producing good television, is an excellent use of money.

Taking a few minutes out of my day to see what people living in the 3.797 million square miles we share in the United States has its uses. It reminds me that (a) I am not missing anything, and (b) my time is better spent doing things I enjoy than watching things that other people are watching just because they are watching them. It’s reassuring to know that the few seconds I waste looking at what other people are watching represent hours saved by not having to watch the shows themselves. Was it Douglas Adams who wrote about the device that watches television for you? Netflix’s kind message reminds me that there are hundreds of millions of people watching TV for me.

Being mildly prodded to finish watch a series that I’d already started is a different matter. If I don’t like a book, I give it up as soon as I recognize I don’t like it. There are too many other books in the world I want to read to waste much time on one that I don’t like. If I was still in school and had to read the book whether I liked it or not, that would be one thing. But I am not in school. No one is grading me on whether or not I finish The Crown (except perhaps a Netflix algorithm). I’ve moved onto other, more enjoyable things.

Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking

Watching The Crown on Netflix recently, I noted that every episode has the following warning at the top-left of the screen when it begins:

Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking

I find these kinds of warning silly. I imagine that there are people who, upon seeing such a warning, will stay away from the program. This is the intended function, I suppose. But such a warning is nothing more than a dare to younger people.

Interestingly, in the case of The Crown at least, anyone reading said warning and then eagerly watching the show hoping for sex, nudity, language, and smoking will be somewhat disappointed. I have made it a little more than halfway through the second season and so far have not encountered any sex, nudity, or language (other than that of upper class English). Smoking, however, is another matter. Perhaps the warning should read:

Smoking, Smoking, Smoking, Smoking

It occurred to me for the first time (perhaps because I am slow on the uptake) that these warning are listed in order of seriousness, although that doesn’t seem to be quite the right word. Harmful to young minds, perhaps? If that is the case, I am rather amused.

Sex, when safe, doesn’t seem particularly harmful. If nudity were harmful I think we’d all be taking showers in our swimwear. Language, well, they do say the pen is mightier than the sword, and certainly words can sometimes hurt, but I’m not sure that is what the warning is about. Finally, we come to smoking.

Of all four items in this list, smoking is the only one I know of that causes cancer. I do find it a little ridiculous that the warning has made its way from cigarette packages to television shows on a streaming service that I willingly pay for (as opposed to say broadcast television). But still, I think we can all agree that smoking is harmful. And there is a lot of it in The Crown.

Incidentally, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I am really enjoying the show. I think that John Lithgow’s performance as Sir Winston Churchill is about the best Churchill I’ve seen done. Back in the summer of 2014 (I think) I read William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Churchill and it was phenomenal. Indeed, parts of it were incredibly moving, such as the death of Marigold Churchill. That moved me so much that I wrote a post about it that has become a surprisingly evergreen post, though I have never figured out why. Anyway, the show is a good one, well-written, and well-acted, and while I can’t speak to its complete historical accuracy, it’s fun to watch.

Still, every time I start a new episode, I am reminded of the warning: Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking. Each time I eagerly await the first three (the fourth is a given) and each time, I come away a little disappointed. (Indeed, The Crown is downright prude compared to Bridgerton, a half dozen or so scenes of which I have caught while Kelly watched it. The warning on that show might read: Sex, Sex on Stairs, Sex in Baths, Sex in Hallways.)

Here are some thoughts that come to mind when I see the warning:

  1. If anyone is looking for a name for an album or painting, you could do worse than Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking.
  2. Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking reads like an order of operation. In old movies, doesn’t the (implied) sex come first and the smoking come last?
  3. I wonder what Churchill would have had to say about warnings like these? For language, at least, we know, as he is famous for his quip about ending sentences with prepositions: “That is the kind of English up with which I will not put.”

There is at least one good thing about the warning: without it, I would have had nothing to write about this evening.

Given that warnings like these seem to proliferate, it makes me wonder if I need a warning at the top of each of my posts here on the blog. I have some ideas but they all either involve sex, nudity, language, or smoking, and out of an abundance of sensitivity on my part, I will spare sharing them with you.

10 Things That Annoy Me About TV Shows

Much of the TV I watch these days is through osmosis. While I am reading, Kelly will be watching something and some of what she watches seeps through.

Here are some things that annoy me about TV shows today:

  1. When the stars of a medical drama become patients in the hospital they work in.
  2. When the detectives/police in a police drama become suspects of a crime and their colleagues have to help prove them innocent.
  3. Whenever a new person comes in to “shake up” the team.
  4. Actors talking on telephones when you can only hear one side of the conversation.
  5. Characters explaining obvious parts about their job to coworkers for the benefit of the audience.
  6. Long title sequences on old shows.
  7. Any show that begins with some dramatic event (an explosion, an expected revelation) and then cuts to a blanks screen that reads: “24 hours earlier.” This is just plain lazy storytelling.
  8. Any computer code you see on screens in the show.
  9. When a show moves from network television to a streaming service (such as Netflix) and suddenly, characters that never swore are swearing every other word.
  10. Any show that ends in a cliff-hanger.

Here are a five things I don’t see enough of when I watch TV shows:

  1. Breaking the fourth wall.
  2. Hollywood in-jokes (there was a great episode of Millennium that did this).
  3. Product placement as a way of making fun of product placement.
  4. Clever ways of sneaking around network censors. (A lost art thanks to cable and streaming services.)
  5. Good variety shows.

I’m wracking my brain for an example of a book that I’ve read that annoys me in any of these ways. The closest I can come is a series book that ends in a big cliff-hanger. I can’t come up with an example of a book with a long title sequence, except perhaps Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

A Few Thoughts on Reality TV

On weekend mornings I usually find my two girls up early watching episodes of a reality TV show called Sugar Rush. They have seen every episode and they know the winner of each one, but they still watch it, seemed glued to it in fact. Maybe it’s all of the confections the contestants make during the course of the show. In any case, it made me think about reality TV and I jotted some thoughts down in my Field Notes notebook. Here are the one’s I can still make out.

  • “Reality” TV is obviously a marketing gimmick. None of the TV shows I’ve ever seen come to what I think of as reality. How often are you followed around all day by a full production crew?
  • The term obviously didn’t go over well from the start. People started calling it “unscripted.” Then other people said that it really was scripted. Who knows?
  • There is a term for reality TV that I think fits perfectly. No, not junk, don’t be cynical. The term I was thinking of was “game show”. How is reality TV just not another form of game show? Game shows are relatively unscripted. There is usually are usually winners and losers.
  • Reality TV is really nothing new, even when it doesn’t feel like a game show. People my age will remember shows like Battle of the Network Stars which were the 1970s version of reality TV.

Most reality shows have a tell when they aren’t working out very well. If the “story” being told (people cooped up in a house, or stranded on an island) isn’t compelling enough, they manipulate the audience by dragging things out. The do this even on a show like Sugar Rush. When the contest is down to the last two teams, and they need 2 out of 3 votes to win, that third tie-breaking vote is inevitably dragged out over a commercial break. “My vote goes to…” the judge says, and then the camera goes around and shows everyone’s face. Cut to commercial, then repeat, drag it out a little longer, before finally revealing the winner.

Storytelling that requires that kind of manipulation is on life-support.

Consider, say, a baseball game. I suppose, stretching the matter, you might think of sports as reality TV. It is, after all relatively unscripted (boxing and wrestling excluded, of course). Imagine now, if you will, the following scenario unfolding on your television screen.

“Two on, two outs, two ball, two strike, and the Yankees are down two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Jeter digs in at the plate. Here comes the pitch!” We watch as Jeter makes solid contact and the ball is rising high, but is it enough? Runner are advancing with two out. “Did he get enough?” the announcers say. Then we cut to a commercial and when we return, it is to a replay of what we just saw, but this time, we’ll see the outcome.

Would any sports fan in the world tolerate that?

That, my friends, is the problem with reality TV.

What’s Happened to the Television Season?

What’s happened to the television season? Back in 1961, there were 30 episodes of the first season of the Dick Van Dyke Show. At an average of 25 minutes per episode, that made for 750 minutes of television in the season.

The recent phenomenon, The Mandalorian, has 8 episodes in a season, each coming in, on average, at about 40 minutes. That’s 320 minutes of television per season, or less than half of the Dick Van Dyke Show. Why are streaming seasons so short?

I first noticed this years ago with shows on HBO, when seasons were anywhere form 12-18 episodes, but generally hovered around the 13-episodes-per-season mark. The trend seems to have taken hold, but I don’t understand why. You’d think people would want more of a show, not less. After all, we went from 30 episodes in the 1960s, to 24-25 episodes in the 1970s, to 20-22 in the 1980s. There’s be a declined, but it seems that things really took a drop with streaming services.

Is this because of costs? Since the streaming shows don’t generally have commercials, they have to rely on subscriptions for revenues. Maybe subscriptions don’t support more than 8-12 episodes per season?

Or is it that the production quality is better now? I’ve read that television today is more like film than classic television and that adds to the costs, I imagine. A better product costs more money.

I’m not a big television-watcher, but I think there could be a better balance between quality and quantity when it comes to television. I don’t need my shows to be film quality. A well-written show can mask a lot of low-quality set costs and effects. Maybe the problem is a dearth of well-written shows? 8 shows per season hardly seems worth investing in. 30 may be excessive. I think somewhere between 18-22 is the right number to aim for in a season.

And why do we still call them “seasons”? These shows are not seasonal anymore. They come out when they come out. They often drop all episodes at once. Gone are “sweeps” weeks (remember those?) Remember how the new “season” started in the fall, and after Dallas and its “Who Shot J.R.?” cliff-hanger, we all had to wait 4 months or so on the edge of our seats to find out what happened?

The British call a “season” a “series” but I’m not sure that is right either. (The British used to call a trillion a billion. I think they changed that finally.) Series implied the entire run, not just a single year. Given that there is usually one “season” per year, maybe a better term would be “year.” As in Seinfeld, Year 1, Night Court, Year 3, and The West Wing, Year 81

Series that are serials (where you have to watch an earlier season to understand a later one) versus those that are anthologies, where you can dip in almost anywhere should have a different naming convention. Maybe instead of “episode” a single part of a serial would be a “chapter.” I don’t know what you’d call a single part of an anthology. Episode?

I guess the up-side of a shorter season is that I don’t spend as much time watching TV as I used to. Indeed, with a Mandalorian season taking the time that the Dick Van Dyke Show took to air, I can watch TV twice as fast as I used to.

  1. Yes, I know the West Wing ran only 7 seasons, but I can dream, can’t it?

Cobra Kai and 80s Nostalgia

A few years back I’d heard vaguely about a new show called Cobra Kai that was a kind of update of the 1984 film The Karate Kid. Specifically, the show starred Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, the two rivals from the original film. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I’m not, as readers know, a big TV person.

Recently, however, I’d heard a lot of buzz about season 3 of the series dropping on Netflix, and the buzz was generally positive. I asked around, and the people I talked to liked it. I needed a bit of a break from the reading I was doing, so yesterday evening, I settled down to watch the first episode.

I can’t think of another television show that has surprised me so much by exceeding my expectations as much as Cobra Kai did. I realize that much of it is an exercise in 80s nostalgia, but for me, it hit all of the right buttons. Consider:

In the original film, Daniel LaRusso had just moved to Reseda, California from the east coast (specifically, Newark, NJ). When the movie came out in June 1984, I had been living in Granada Hills, California, not far from Reseda, having moved less than a year earlier from the east coast. So his character, not much older than me at the time, resonated with me, the outsider in a new place.

I went to high school in Reseda, California. My single favorite line from a Tom Petty song is from “Free Fallin'”, when Petty sings, “And it’s a long day, living in Reseda / There’s a freeway running through the yard.” All those places that showed up in the film were familiar to me, as they would be to any kid who grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the mid-1980s.

Watching the Cobra Kai episodes brought all of that back in unexpected ways. Ralph Macchio and William Zabka are now in their 50s with kids of their own. (I’m not quite in my 50s but I’m getting very close.) But they are still there in the Valley, and still tied to the people and places they knew growing up. There were clever parallels and reversals that made the show that much more enjoyable. And who doesn’t love an underdog story?

The music in the series is perfect, with touchstones to the past. I some ways, I think of the 80s nostalgia in Cobra Kai the way the previous generation likely thought of the 50s nostalgia in Back to the Future. The show is dotted with clever humor. It is, for me at least, a complete delight, a surprise, and I can’t wait to watch more of it. (For those wondering, I’ve made it through the first season, so no spoilers, please).

I’ve been wanting my kids to see the original Karate Kid films for a some time now. They’ve enjoyed other movies from that era–The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Ferris Buller’s Day Off to name a few–and I thought they’d like The Karate Kid and that afterward, the might like Cobra Kai. Having watching it, however, I realize that they’ll lack the sense of nostalgia for the time and place. I think there is something special about The Karate Kid for kids who were around my age and living in the San Fernando Valley in 1984. Everyone else might enjoy the film and the show, but they lack a certain visceral context.

I’m not particularly fond of the trend in movies and television of rehashing what has worked int the past. It shows a decided lack of originality and creativity. But when it is done as well as it has been done in Cobra Kai, it can really be something enjoyable and special.

Tim Conway’s Elephant Story

I know that this is a classic episode of The Carol Burnett Show, and it has floated around the Internet for some time now. But every now and then, when I feel the need for a laugh, something to really revitalize my mood, I’ll turn to a video like this, and it is incredible how well it works for me. They say laughter is the best medicine, and in my book, this video and Tim Conway’s genius (and Vicky Lawrence’s one-liner at the end) prove this adage true. If you are in need of a laugh, well, you’re welcome.

The Golden Age of Television

I keep reading that we are in a golden age of television. Given how little I watch television these days, I have no direct experience to speak from. I assume that what is meant by “golden age of television” is the programs. But as I wander through my house, I might be convinced otherwise. Somehow, we’ve gone from a couple of televisions to 5 televisions. We have a great big one above the fireplace in the living room; one in our bedroom; one in the guest room/exercise room; one in the family room, and one in the playroom/Xbox room, I’m not really sure how this happened.

These are “smart TVs.” I don’t know how smart they really are, but they are slowly making the remote control obsolete, and anything that makes the remote obsolete is a sign of progress. Maybe we should call them “progressive TVs” instead. I’ve counted 9 remotes for these 5 TVs. Fortunately, most of them can be controlled by voice, so the remotes collect dust somewhere between the couch cushions. It took a while, but I no longer feel awkward asking Alexa to turn off the living room TV, or turning the volume down.

I suspect that when someone speaks of the golden age of television, they are not talking about television sets, but the programming. Specifically, I suspect they are talking about the premium programs that seem to be everywhere. We subscribe to HBO (through the cable company), Netflix, Disney+, and as Amazon Prime members, we also have access to Amazon Prime videos. I also managed to get a year of Apple TV+ for free, although I am still not certain how that came about. All of these produce original programming which, because it is subscription-based, has the potential for being high-quality.

I watched the first 2 episodes of The Mandalorian, and while I am a fan of both Star Wars and westerns, I was bored out of my mind after the first two and gave up.

Most of my entertainment comes from reading. I used to turn to television for something that I could dip into without thinking much about it. The problem these days is that most series have morphed into serials. You can’t dip into one episode, without watching the next, and the next, and the next. And thus, binge-watching is born. I don’t want to spend a lot of time watching. I want something where I can allow my brain to relax for 20 or 40 minutes between books without any cliff-hanger. Then, too, television dramas have become too over the top for me. On those instance when I do watch a drama, I often come away feeling totally wiped out.

The TVs, smart and progressive as they may be, are really just superfluous. I can watch Netflix, Disney+, HBO, and Amazon Prime on my phone, iPad, computer, and on the XBox. Indeed, with our cable, I can watch any of the hundreds of channels we get on my phone, iPad, computer, etc. so long as I am connected to the home network. In that kind of environment, we really don’t need one television, let alone five of them.

Golden age or not, I see a promising future for television, both from the devices and the programming. The nice thing I have discovered about watching a movie like Star Wars on the big TV over the fireplace is that, with the lights dimmed, it feels like I’m sitting in a movie theater. I see almost no value to going to the movies these days. No movie is worth the parking headaches, the cost of the tickets, popcorn, hotdog, or soda. I’d just as soon stay home and wait for the movie to be released on one of the streaming services. And yet… when I do go to the movie theater, usually about once a year, it always seems the theater is virtually empty.

It occurs to me that the ideal solution would be to take advantage of the high quality smart TVs and the streaming services and just send the movies direct to the services, forgoing the theater experience entirely. For me, it would be a win. I’m not sure what people get out of the movie theater experience these days, other than being able to see a picture a few months before everyone else. Eliminate that and there’s really no need for movie theaters any more. Imagine being able to watch Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on release day in the comfort of your own house, with the lights dimmed, and munching on food you already have in the pantry. Even better: when you have to get up in the middle of Act 3 because you drank all of those sodas, you can pause the movie to ensure you don’t miss anything. Gone will be the days of millions of middle-aged men scampering back to their seats in a dark theater and whispering to their significant other, “What’d I miss?”

And what of the movie theater? Many will perish, but I imagine there will be one theater nearby that will show second runs of classic picture, and do so in style. It will be an occasion to dress for. Dinner and show will be an elegant affair the way it once was. All things come full circle.

I Can’t Take the Drama

I‘ve written about how I’ve pretty much given up TV. This is nothing new. I haven’t started watching a new show, or continued watching an existing show for two years now. When the Internet explodes with some spoiler bombshell about a television show, I generally have no idea what its about, although I may have heard of the show.

Sometimes, however, the brain needs a break, and by break, I mean something completely mindless. This has occurred more frequently in the last month. I don’t know if this is because of all of the mental energy I spend reading and writing, or if is the result of daily stress, or just a side-effect of getting older. Whatever the reason, I find myself needing to tune out for a while. And so I’ve turned to television.

After the kids are asleep, Kelly and I will watch a show or two. It is almost always one of three shows, always a repeat, and always a comedy. Usually it is either The Big Bang Theory (no real surprise there); How I Met Your Mother; or Modern Family. We laugh together, and I feel relaxed and refreshed afterward.

One thing that I can no longer take, however, not even for two minutes are television dramas1. Even hearing a drama on in the background will force me to relocate, or fish out my noise-cancelling headset. Comedies release tension and allow me to relax; television dramas do the exact opposite. I was thinking about why this should be and I came up with a few possibilities:

  1. There is enough drama in real-life so that I don’t need it seeping into my relaxation time.
  2. I no longer find dramas entertaining. These days, it seems that almost all dramas have been forced to become serials, as opposed to series. Story lines last entire seasons and some are designed with multi-season story arcs built-in. Gone are the days of Magnum P.I. when you could be entertained by any single episode, without having to first watch the 50 that came before.
  3. In the effort to get the highest ratings, dramas up the melodrama to the point where it is just unbearable. Story lines seem to be based entirely on edge-cases these days, with no happy middle ground.

It’s too much for me. There is enough drama in life. Add to that the drama I experience in my reading, to say nothing of the drama I create in my writing, and I think I’m pretty much finished with television dramas for good. This trend of binge-watching seasons of dramas on NetFlix and other streaming services fills me with cold dread.

I recognize that I might be missing out, but I just can’t take the drama. As interesting as the Internet made Breaking Bad sound, I’ve never seen a single episode, and I’m almost certain I never will. On the flip side, the time that I would spend watching these dramas has been filled with other things; more time to hang out with the family, and time to write every day.

While I usually avoid making sweeping assumptions, it seems to me that I can’t be the only one who feels this way about this trend with dramas. Perhaps I am now in the wrong demographic, but it seems to me that the pendulum has to swing back at some point. I wonder if it ever will?

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  1. Which, for Puckish reasons, I’ve taken to pronouncing in such a way that its rhymes with “gramma.”

Doctor Who’s “Rose”

Last night (while in the grips of a battle with nausea) I finally got around to watching the first episode of the “new” Doctor Who series. The episode is called “Rose” and it is the episode that kicks things off for the rest of the series. It is only the second Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen1

“Rose” was a pretty entertaining episode and I enjoyed watching it, but I did not think it was nearly as good as “Blink.” There was one thing about the series that struck me right away, and perhaps long time fans of the series can confirm by perspicacity on this (or tell me that I’m imagining things). Doctor Who is a “dramedy,” a kind of combination of a drama and a comedy. Not only that, the humor in Doctor Who is distinctly Wodehousian.  So many funny things are said with a completely straight face that I could not help but think that if P. G. Wodehouse wrote science fiction, this is what it would be like. This is to the show’s (and the show’s writers’) credit. I think this is a very difficult humor to pull off, but Doctor Who did it successfully in “Rose” and for me, that’s what made it a worthwhile episode to watch. I do not think this type of humor would have succeeded or worked if the show were done in America.

One thing I will say is that unlike some series, I did not feel compelled to immediately watch the next episode. But I think this works in the shows favor, too. As I’ve said before, I prefer “series” over “serials” and the first episode of Doctor Who felt like a series show to me. (I understand that there are multi-episode arcs, but I’m just talking about “Rose” for now.) In any case, I enjoyed the episode and will watch another one when a free time slot comes available in my schedule.

One last thing. I mentioned in the previous post that I was feeling pretty horrible last night and among the horrible things I was feeling was fever dreams. I don’t remember them clearly, but what I do recall of them were all Doctor Who-related.

  1. The first was “Blink” which I watched back in December after many people recommended it as a good introduction to the series.

A final goodbye to television?

The last regular network television show that I deliberately watched was the series finale of Smallville. With that, it seemed, my television watching ground to a halt. Indeed, it has been more than 10 months since I watched TV in anything other than a most trivial way.

While I have often complained about television shows today, this wasn’t one of those deliberate decisions like I have made in the past. Other activities have filled the time that television once occupied and what is currently offered on television simply can’t compete with those other activities. Even shows that I enjoyed watching (like The Big Bang Theory, and Dexter) I gave up. And you know the strange thing? I’ve had no regrets and no desire to return to them.

The other activities of which I speak are things like: hanging out with the family, reading and writing. Given a fixed amount of time in the day, the competition is fierce for what gets my attention. It is pretty clear to me that I enjoy these other things more than I enjoy television, but as someone who used to watch quite a bit of television, I’ve recently wondered if there were specific ways in which I’ve been turned off to television. After some consideration, I can think of several:

  1. It is too passive for me. You sit in front of the television and content is poured into you without your having to take any action. Even for relaxing, I prefer something a little more active, which is why I prefer reading, or writing or playing with the kids. When I truly want to relax, I’ll put on my noise-cancelling headset and play game after game of Solitaire on my iPad, just letting my mind wander.
  2. Television programming is no longer designed for a viewer just looking for 30- to 60- minutes of relaxation. Most dramas out there are no longer “series” but are instead “serials.” The difference: a series is a show that has a related set of characters and background, but in which each episode is self-contained. You can come to the show knowing nothing about it, watch the episode and go on your way. Serials require all of the back story from the first episode going forward. Think of it like this: you can jump into pretty much any episode of Magnum, P.I. or M*A*S*H and understand what is going on without having watched another episode. But try doing that for, say, Lost. I don’t want to have to understand all of the back story. I want a self-contained story that can be told in 30 or 60 minutes. House started out this way in its first season, but quickly diverted onto the serial track.
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