Thursday Bag o’ Boob Tubery

bag of tvI’m relieved the shutdown/debt default crisis has been averted; I’m sad the current composition of Congress guarantees we’ll suffer another crisis in a couple of months. This shit wouldn’t happen if people quit voting for Republicans. It’s that simple. Of course they’d say this shit wouldn’t happen if we’d voted for the white guy, which I guess is simple too, but stupid mean nasty selfish and racist simple, which is the whole problem with Republicans in the first place.

Since, for most of us, the events of the past two weeks came across as a particularly horrifying TV reality show, I’m going to write a few words about that vast wasteland.

Checking the list of taped shows on our DVR last night, I noticed a two-week backlog of unwatched Daily Show and Colbert Report episodes. I thought about watching a few to catch up but in the end didn’t. Based as they are on the news of the day, both shows are so topical that episodes from two weeks ago are no longer relevant or funny, so I deleted those. Then I deleted the ones from last week … what the hell, now that the shutdown is over they’re irrelevant too. Then I asked myself why I’d let two weeks of what had been my favorite shows go by without watching either of them, and realized they aren’t my favorite shows any more.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are on another of their fortnightly fortnight-long breaks (do any other TV show hosts get so much time off?), so it’s arguably unfair to pick on them now … but I’m going to do it anyway, starting with Jon Stewart, whom I increasingly think represents not part of the solution but part of the problem. He’s funny as hell when he highlights congressional idiocy, but five minutes later he’s chuckling with the likes of Mau-Mau Mike Huckabee, pitching softball questions and sitting silently by as his Christian dominionist buddy utters outrageous lies. He lampoons the likes of Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann, then tries to set up a “both sides do it” narrative by attacking the admittedly crappy implementation of Obamacare online enrollment. He’s lost his edge; ever since his September 2010 “million moderate” rally in Washington DC he’s been trying to map out a middle-of-the-road approach to, well, everything. He’s become a villager, a label often applied to celebrity journalists, members of an isolated wealthy privileged class who nevertheless presume to speak for average Americans. Part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Or, as a friend remarked on Facebook this morning: “You know the good cop/bad cop routine in every police procedural ever? Now imagine Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly as the cops.”

Colbert’s satire, on the other hand, is still razor sharp, and Colbert keeps the focus of his scorn where it belongs, on the malevolent liars of the religious and political right, with none of the both-sides-do-it pussyfooting you see on Stewart’s show. But if Colbert ever tried to seriously rally his viewers to take political action, I suspect he’d be off the air in a New York minute; he knows this and stays just on the safe side of the line.

Sure, both shows deliver laughs, but that’s as far as they go. They serve as safety valves, venting off progressive and liberal rage at the sharp rightward bend American politics has taken. I’m ready to do more than laugh and sneer at the racist know-nothings who want to bring back the Confederacy; I’m ready for action … and that is the last thing the producers and backers of these two TV shows want.

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As long as I’m complaining about TV, I might as well mention another former favorite, NCIS (the original, not the LA-based knockoff). I loved the first couple of seasons and watched every week. Along about the end of the second or third season, I can’t remember which, the characters began to grow and change: Gibbs resigned after his superiors betrayed the innocent crew of a Navy ship, and DiNozzo, suddenly in charge, began to mature. There were hints of other major developments to come. Then, when the show came back for the next season, everything was as it was before: Gibbs back in charge, DiNozzo his old immature self. Clearly, the producers were pandering to a subset of viewers who didn’t want change or development, just more of the same. And nothing has changed since. Two nights ago we watched a new episode of what is by now the show’s 11th season: still the same, even down to Abby’s goth affectations (you’d think she’d have changed her hair style once or twice in eleven years, and even my daughter no longer wears Doc Martens). Ducky? For goodness’ sake, he must be in his 80s, and he’s still working?

Surely this is the big difference between network and cable TV: sticking with the tried & true on one hand; allowing characters to grow and change over time on the other. The networks find a successful formula and stick with it until it no longer attracts viewers, then kill the show and move on to another. With cable, you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and that’s half the fun of watching. Compare NCIS with cable shows like Justified, the Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad … well, there is no comparison, and frankly I’m surprised network shows still have viewers at all.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s comforting to watch Gibbs, DiNozzo, and Abby go through their familiar paces week after week. It’s kind of like reading Peanuts in the Sunday comics. I just wish they’d surprise me once in a while; maybe let DiNozzo crawl into the sack with Ziva, maybe let Charlie Brown kick that football.

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I’m just back from a bicycle ride through our northeast Tucson neighborhood. I’m the designated hare for a bicycle hare & hounds ride this Sunday, and my purpose this morning was to scout the trail I plotted on Google Maps, making sure there aren’t any washed out sections of road, barbed wire fences, no trespassing signs, or other surprises. Trail is clear and very ridable, I’m happy to say, and everyone should have fun Sunday. The core trail is 13 miles long; with false trails and checkbacks, the pursuing hounds will probably ride 16. I hope so, at any rate; the idea of false trails and checkbacks is to slow ’em down so they won’t catch me.

Our friend Mary Ann is going to man a beer check at a nice shady spot by the side of the road at the 8-mile point of the trail. I’ll buy a 12-pack of cheap beer and some bottled water, throw it in a cooler with some ice, and load it in the back of her car Sunday morning. I’ll take off at 10 AM, the pack will take off a few minutes later, and Mary Ann will drive to the beer stop after everyone leaves. It’ll take me about 30 minutes to ride from the start to the beer check; I’ll wait there with Mary Ann until the first two or three hounds come in, then take off to lay the second half of the trail as the hounds enjoy a cooling beverage or two. Trail starts and ends at our house; we’ll grill some brats on the patio afterward. It’s a ride. It’s a party. I wish you could join us.

As for this morning’s ride, it was just under 60°F when I started, 70° when I finished. I wore, for the first time since spring, long pants and a windbreaker. It’s such a great feeling, and despite my ranting and raving above, I’m calmer than I would have been if I hadn’t ridden.

There’s a car show Saturday morning and a book club meeting in the afternoon, then the bike ride and party on Sunday. I’m looking forward to our weekend, and hope you’re looking forward to yours.

© 2013, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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