Friday, March 21, 2014

For Your Viewing Pleasure by Jenny Gardiner

            Warning: spoiler alert.

            No, there's no actual spoiling going on here. Rather this is about spoiler alerts. And the downsides of how modern TV viewing, in which — unless you're hermetically sealed à la Bubble Boy — it's nigh impossible to either avoid finding out what happened or spill the beans to others, risking their wrath, ire and permanent reminders for all eternity about what a horrid person you are because you can't keep secrets about what happened to X, Y or Z on show A, B or C.

            We had to reluctantly watch a movie on VCR the other night. VCR? Surely you remember that relic, a cutting edge electronic device that kicked Betamax's butt in the dinosaur days of television accessories. But with all of the viewing pleasure options out there, those many devices that make our HD it's very HD-iest, it seemed nuts to have to regress from walking upright with spine erect to dragging knuckles along the dry river bed. Yet videotape became our only option if we wanted to watch something without being gouged out the wazoo, so drag them we did.

            We have an extensive VCR tape collection, all deteriorating due to the inevitable half-life of celluloid (or plastic, or whatever they're composed of). If the tapes even work, they’re practically unviewable, thanks to glitches, snags and blurred images (or is that my failing eyesight?). So incompatible with HD, in which you can detect the presence of a zit that hasn't even begun to form on the face of the most beautiful actress in the world, if you look closely enough.

            When we decide to watch something on TV, invariably, despite several hundred channels on cable, there's nothing on worth watching. Which means you go to the go-to sites in search of more options. Nine times out of ten we already have the thing on tape but who wants to compromise quality when there's much better high definition, hifalutin' options out there? Then we start the rounds, to find somewhere, anywhere, where we aren't gouged into paying for something we could watch for free if only we could remember how to operate the VCR with the seven plus remotes we juggle (and of course the volume never seems to be controllable but for actually standing up and physically managing it — ditto the pause button — a real nuisance for couch potatoes).

            We visit Netflix first, considering we're paying for a subscription to watch all sorts of things for "free" (despite that subscription price), yet it seems whatever we want to watch is never free. It could be a lousy B-movie from the 70's, say, John Travolta's compellingly-acted The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, or maybe Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, and yet for some reason it still costs money, even though we are likely the only viewers on the planet left wanting to watch it.

            Next it's Amazon Prime, because hey, we belong, dammit. We're supposed to get something for nothing! But never is it free there, either. Nowhere is that lame, lone movie available for free. Even though that VHS tape for which we likely paid thirty bucks twenty years ago is lying in wait in my dusty closet, offering up its retired services for absolutely nothing! But no, we want quality (besides which, I feel like if you ponied up that much for the original there ought to be some quid pro quo for use of the improved version of such). It's on to Blu-ray, Roku, Apple TV, Hulu, Hulu Plus (paying yet more), even Youtube, god forbid (but we've done it, when all that's available is a bootleg version of something unavailable even for purchase elsewhere).

            The film we wanted for free? Revenge of the Pink Panther, from circa before fire was invented I think. I would bet that not one other person in this universe had the need to watch that movie that night, yet all sources were demanding blood ransom for it, for something that ought to by now be considered part of the public domain. If my books are free on Google without my permission, then why isn't Peter Sellers? In fact I would think if there is even a star alive left from that film, he or she would be grateful we were resurrecting it from the grave (for which, by the way, it is imminently worth resurrecting). Does free TV exist anymore, except if you have to sacrifice your eyesight — and viewing pleasure — by watching the old timey low-fi versions, with quality so lacking you might want to watch with magnifying glasses?

            Now there are other downsides to all these newfangled viewing options: take for example binge-watching, and all those pay programs to which too many of us get addicted but are watching on entirely different schedules. Used to be various nights of the week were "must see TV" nights. Collectively we all watched to see who shot that annoying JR. Together we bade farewell to Hawkeye and the gang, and if we missed it, well, be sure you plan your summer vacation around the re-run, which would air in mid-July when there was quite nothing worth watching on TV and the airwaves were taken up with a lot of very boring golf programming on weekends, and embarrassingly bad movies-of-the-week starring Burt Reynolds or worse still Karen Black, on weeknights. Daytime was the domain of lousy soap operas and game shows starring flamboyant-yet-washed-up-celebrities.
            But now, you watch it, you don't dare discuss it, for fear of being The Spoiler. Everyone hates The Spoiler, the one who ruins it by disclosing the denouement, rendering it purposeless for the rest of us to bother watching the show, even if we do pay too damned much for that HBO subscription and want to maximize our expenditure by watching every episode of everything on that network come hell or high water.

            In my house, we have the compounded problem of kids coming home over break and binge-watching a show we've not seen entirely, so it's blasting on the screen in the living room by day, sending those who aren't caught up on season five to another section of the house to avoid spoilage. Worse still it's a show I wouldn't dream of watching — some kitschy drama or a gory zombie series — and I'm stuck with it blaring in the background while I try to write. If you want to be around your kids at all during their brief respites home, potentially lousy TV programming comes with the territory. Oh and then you have each kid watching it at a different time while you're there, so you have to avoid repeated episodes. The flip side of them being away is that sometimes we've seen the show, and they've not. If we dare let slip the outcomes, well, we'll have to live with the consequences. Tougher still was our own binging of Breaking Bad, the crystal meth of TV shows. With but a few remaining episodes to watch, the kids returned for a lengthy holiday break, which meant no Breaking Bad for over a week. I practically needed rehab to break my addiction.

            I am troubled that better television is becoming the venue of the haves, versus the have-nots. If you can pay for it, you get to see the great award-winning program series, otherwise you're stuck with reruns of What's Happenin' on TNT. That's if you can afford cable. If not, you're totally at the mercy of network re-runs of Two and a Half Men, for which I collectively apologize.

            It's enough to send me to a movie theater. But then again, once you tally up the cost of tickets and popcorn, maybe I should just head out to my favorite restaurant and find my entertainment there instead — no doubt it'll be cheaper.

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street

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