Tag Archives: television

I Got Rid Of My Old Television

12 Apr

We moved into a nice, affordable two-bedroom apartment at the beginning of 2003, coinciding with the departure of a downstairs neighbor about a month later. He was not vacating his studio apartment voluntarily, mind you, but at the firm, legal request of our mutual landlady. He hadn’t paid rent. In a while. Presumably cash-strapped, he offered to sell his lightly-used, practically brand new Samsung high-definition television–at less than half of its original price, to boot. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Though we, ourselves, were light on loot at the time, having just moved and all, we scraped together the five-hundred bucks our neighbor wanted for the television and a shitty TV stand that looked half put-together. We were satisfied in the feeling of having come out ahead in this particular transaction.

Until we tried to move the thing upstairs.


This television weighed four-hundred pounds, if it weighed an ounce. Why such a television would be made for the home consumer, considering it required a pair of professional weightlifters to move it, beggars explanation. Compounding the problem of relocating this appliance to our apartment was the fact that it had been designed by some Lovecraftian aficionado well-versed in non-Euclidean geometry, for though it seemed to have a number of corners and crevices, the television could not be accurately gripped or held by any being with an outstretched span less than that of an orangutan. We moved the television upstairs, step by step, taking frequent breaks to pant and curse. Several times, I considered giving up, leaving the television on the stairs, and navigating around it when entering or exiting the apartment. But we got the thing up to the second floor and somehow–I do not remember how–perched it atop its accompanying television stand.


A couple of years later, our pairing parted ways and we divvied up our belongings. I gave her my older television, a second-hand tube set with roughly a thirty-five inch screen. I took what I believed to be the better, newer television. And so began seven years of lugging this terrible behemoth from apartment to apartment, anxiously worrying whenever tasked to budge it, expelling deep relief once I’d secured it in a location from where it would not need to be shifted again, at least for a while. I actually moved only three times since 2004, which is relatively stable for dwelling in New York City. Twice, I hired movers, once I moved myself with the help of a very strong friend. Each time, the Samsung television needed to be moved, and each time it presented the biggest problems. The television became a proverbial elephant in the room, and weighed about as much by my estimation.


Over time, the television’s other limitations surfaced. For one, I had lost or had never received a remote control. More importantly, though this television claimed to have high-definition resolution, it simply did not. I don’t know if the meaning of high-definition changed from the early part of the century, or if it was a bold-faced lie, but the very year we got our massive television, I got a high-definition cable box and invited a bunch of people over to watch the Super Bowl. The total lack of a crystal clear picture was obvious and immediate, and we ultimately switched back to regular digital television before the second half started. More recently, since most newer programs are broadcast in widescreen, I was missing the extreme left and right of my picture. It was screwing up my Netflix and Hulu menus and generally soured my television addiction. Watching that Samsung television in recent years was probably akin to a junkie on methadone: it does the job, but it’s not quite the same as the uncut dope. So, I endeavored to get a new television.


Of course, the new TV is almost twice as large, screen-wise, but weighs one-fifth of the Samsung. I shoved the Samsung into a corner while setting up the new appliance, and it stayed there a week. “How are you going to get rid of it?” my knowledgeable friends and family asked. “When do you want to move the old TV?” my girlfriend gently prodded. I despaired. I didn’t know how to get rid of this television. People suggested I advertise it on craigslist, but since the thing could only be moved by two or more stalwart lumberjacks, I envisioned a stream of people trampling through my house to look at this pig in a poke, rightly decide that they couldn’t budge it, and exiting only to leave me with the monstrosity and the dirty feeling of having a stranger judge me for my Batman comics collection. I considered taking the television apart and disposing of it in pieces, but a friend advised against this as a substantial charge can remain within the recesses of older television sets. I worried, I fretted. I tried to ignore this gigantic television lying dormant right next to my seat on the couch. “Maybe I can pass it off as sculpture,” I pondered. I wondered how much trouble I’d get into for shoving the television off of my balcony, and even how I would shlep the thing four measly feet to do that much.


Then, in a fit of hopeless exuberance, my girlfriend and I got rid of it. How we did it is not important, and I don’t know that I could even describe it. The important thing is the extreme feeling of relief upon expelling the beast from my apartment, from my life. It was more than the weight and size of the physical thing, that Samsung television amounted to a quarter-ton badge of shame signifying my familiarity with shitty prime-time sitcoms and interminably boring sporting events. As with many such feelings, I wished I had gotten rid of the damned thing sooner. We all carry our impossible televisions through life, metaphorically and sometimes literally, feeling like these are our crosses to bear, the things we’re given with which we’ve got to make do. It isn’t true. I’ve got a new television, but it doesn’t carry with it the worry and discomfort of my old immovable, anxiety-laden set. Getting rid of that headache sooner would have been worth missing all of the episodes of Family Matters re-runs that I watched in the interim.

Here’s How We Know that Television Writers Have Zero Fucking Integrity

7 Mar

It can certainly be said that I watch too much television. I’m an old hat at watching too much television, having put in four- and five-hour days of watching TV before I was in junior high school. You’ll never find me extolling television’s many virtues: truth be told, it has very few. However, when you want to be passively entertained, and you don’t mind being subtly mocked by the very thing that’s entertaining you, television is your best bet. Advanced television viewers can suffuse themselves in the hyper-irony of MTV reality programming, but most of us will have to do with the idiot box’s written offerings.


How I Met Your Mother on CBS is about one and a half notches better than your average moronic sitcom. The only thing that sets it apart from other programs, except for more recently-debuted shows which are ripping it off, is that we already know how the series ends: the main character meets the woman of his dreams and marries her. How I Met Your Mother is actually told in retrospect, a narrator relating the events which led up to meeting the mother of his children to his children. It’s a reasonably clever premise, one which demands continuity and therefore regular viewing. Often an episode will employ storytelling devices you don’t see too much of in prime time. Plus, Neil Patrick Harris is a very capable, funny actor: I dare say the show would be unwatchable without him.


So we’ve been going on for however many millions of seasons already, each episode getting closer and closer to the Mystery Woman that is the lead character’s future (or present?) wife. There have been hints throughout the series, points where the future married couple have brushed past each other at a party or whatever, but from the vantage point of the viewer, we haven’t met this woman yet. I assumed that, for the sake of keeping continuity and an overall story arc that wouldn’t just peter out and diminish the entire series, it was all coming to a preordained conclusion, hopefully sometime before I start collecting Medicaid. I mean, these television writers, they’re artists too, right? They got into the business because they had a bunch of great ideas to share with the public, they wouldn’t want to belittle their own talents by beating this thin premise into a dead horse? Right?


Wrong. I’ve just found out that How I Met Your Mother has been extended to the 2012-2013 season. What this means up front is that we’ve got at least another year and a half before we meet this invisible, fertile dream woman. But the implication is that the writers of this show have not devised a cohesive, finite storyline, but just a stupid premise, a lazy storytelling device which can be extended or shortened at will. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it’s sort of disheartening. The show isn’t How I Met Your Mother, it’s How I Milked Your Studio. It’s not the story of these characters, but the story of how the writers and producers can buy their fourth summer homes.


Most people reading this probably wonder why I am assailing a show like How I Met Your Mother in the first place. It doesn’t profess to be high art, it’s a diversion, a fictional story that impacts nothing real unless we allow it to. But I know that it isn’t like this everywhere. The best example I can think of is to compare the BBC and US versions of The Office. The BBC version is two seasons long and only becomes redundant by the end of the second season. The US version on NBC has been running for-fucking-ever and is painful to watch these days. We could demand more, and not even a lot more, just a little more. How about instead of pitching unending premises, people start pitching tight story lines? Three’s Company put the sitcom premise shit to bed thirty years ago.

Big Bang Theory Isn’t That Fucking Good

7 Mar

I’ve been watching seasons of the CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory on DVD recently. It’s a decent sitcom with a serviceable premise: four genius-level nerds with differing and severe social disorders cope with life in Los Angeles, city of beautiful people. Plus, a hot chick lives across the hall from two of them which adds to the stammering merriment. It’s pretty satisfying in the way I feel that most television should be: each episode is fairly well encapsulated and the situation resets to its default by the time each half hour is up. In the current season I’m watching, season three, the main character begins dating the blond woman from across the hall, but this is no more a progression in the story as it is fodder for several more ludicrous premises.


So I’m pretty okay with Big Bang Theory. However, I find it unbelievable that it’s the highest-rated sitcom on Thursday nights and one of the highest-rated comedies on television, period. Thursday night, my patient readers and millions of television watchers will recall, is when NBC runs three hours of comedy programming, at least an hour of which is worthwhile. And the kicker is that one of the more worthwhile shows, Community, goes up against Big Bang Theory head-to-head each week, and loses.


If you’ve never seen either show, well you’ve probably stopped reading this essay by now. But if you’ve seen both shows, then you might be as befuddled as I. Using my New York myopia, I can see how Big Bang Theory might be more palatable to middle America than Community, but the former blows the latter away in ratings every week, practically quadruple the number of viewers. And part of me (the same New York myopia, just a different facet) feels like Big Bang Theory wouldn’t sit will with the Bible Belt and fundamentalist America. I mean, the show’s theme song describes the creation of the universe through the big bang theory and goes on to detail evolution. The main characters are physicists trying to determine the behaviors of subatomic particles. And there was even one episode where the most autistic character decried Christmas as a pointless sham. I don’t think that would fly in Kentucky.


Seems to me that the real culprit here is the Nielsen ratings system, a technique developed by Arthur Nielsen in the 1920s to establish demographic groups, then applied to radio in the 1930s, and finally to television in the 1950s. Even armchair statisticians would be thoroughly impressed with Nielsen’s model, which extrapolates the entire nation’s television viewing habits from a small sample. There’s only one flaw with the Neilsen ratings system, and that is the system doesn’t really work.


I think it worked many decades ago when the sampling was much lower. To have a television in 1950 was a big deal, they were expensive and often entire families and groups of neighbors huddled around them to watch the flickering screen. There were only three broadcast networks which ran during daylight hours; programming was limited. Now, most homes with televisions have two or three in them. The kids have their own, the parents have one in the living room, one in the bedroom. Often, people could be watching PBS downstairs and American Idol upstairs. So the notion of “household viewing” doesn’t apply as much any more. It didn’t even apply when I was a kid and would be watching Growing Pains in my room while my parents watched Some Boring Foreign Movie downstairs, and my grandmother would watch Dynasty or Some Shit on the first floor.


But the main problem with the Nielsen ratings system is the stupidly small size of the absolutely not random sampling of the populace by which they make their determinations. There are twenty-five thousand households participating in the Nielsen system–all of them by choice, all of them aware that they are contributing to these ratings–and that only constitutes 0.02% of the total households in America. So 0.02% of the television watchers in America determine which show is most popular, and therefore which show can charge the most for advertising. I don’t give a shit what anyone says, Community is far and away a better show than Big Bang Theory, though some manufacturers might not bode well the idea of advertising during a prime-time television show where the main character wears hair gel. And so these companies might have a vested interest in perpetuating the outmoded Nielsen technique.


Or maybe not. It may not be a great conspiracy, merely a bumbling, shitty system that we’re saddled with, even though the technology exists today that can determine viewers’ habits to a much more specific degree. Our own cable and digital satellite companies know more about America’s viewing habits than the Nielsen ratings system, for crap’s sake. It seems unfair that a relatively witty and creative show like Community must be relegated to obscurity, and probably an early cancellation, because this one statistics company has turned its sights on a lot of hardcore Big Bang Theory fans instead of taking a better sample. However, the fact that we’re using this antiquated system does give me some hope that perhaps people aren’t as entranced by American Idol as the numbers purport. Now I’m really kidding myself.

Well Parks & Rec is a Pretty Awesome Show

21 Feb

I was raised on the situation comedy, and by God that’s where I think television should shine. When crafted well, these half hour slices of life are so satisfying in their composition that it’s hard to tell which came first, the television or the television sitcom (NOTE: it was the television). It’s kind of disheartening to see how reality programming has obliterated much of the pre-scripted work that once dominated prime time. When you really look at it, most of these reality type game shows are merely opportunities for us to laugh and jeer at our fellow Americans. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we could do with fewer hours a week of it.


Television’s least-watched network is running three hours of situation comedy on Thursday nights, traditionally “their” night from when The Cosby Show was on, and perhaps even before that. It strikes me as a pretty ballsy “all in” kind of move, an attempt to plant their flag against other networks’ ratings powerhouses like Big Bang Theory and American Idol. I’ve been watching many of these NBC shows lately, and I declare that an hour and a half of this three-hour block of programming is worth your scrutiny!


It starts at 8 PM with Community, starring Joel McHale and Chevy Chase and other people you’ve probably never heard of. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed this show for the past year or so when it was plugged on Talk Soup, McHale’s show on the E! Network. Like everything plugged on that program, I ignored the publicity completely, until this year when I decided to watch an episode of Community, and learned that the reason it’s called Community is because it’s about a bunch of disparate people in a study group together at a community college. It’s a pretty good gimmick, at that: having taken classes at a community college, I can say that it might be the only place where people just starting out, or starting over, or just spending their retirement time all combine together to argue about dead philosophers. Upon starting to watch this show, I was afraid that I might have trouble taking Joel McHale’s smirking mick face seriously. And it is a problem. However, his character is pretty self-aware and in more recent episodes he’s mercifully been given less camera time. In fact, the most recent episodes have been where this show shines, as Community breaks the typical sitcom format and satirizes other popular movies and television programs. I could probably write a whole essay about this show, and perhaps I will eventually, but for now it should suffice to say that this show is worth watching.


After Community is a new show, having started mid-season, called Perfect Couples. I wanted to like this show a lot because it features Olivia Munn, who has not only induced many boners from yours truly, but is someone I think is reasonably funny and talented, and who I’d like to see succeed. This show is about three couples that are totally different from one another: you’ve got this totally combative couple, then this totally new age couple where the dude is all sensitive, and then a hapless “control” couple that routinely deals with shit from the other four assholes. It’s about as boring and stupid as it sounds. I don’t believe it’s really a problem with the acting, but that the premise is thin and a little ham-fisted, even for fans of romantic comedies. This show also features the waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, incidentally, though she sucks here for sure.


At nine o’clock, you’ve got The Office. The Office is NBC’s longest-running current sitcom accomplishment, but I think only the most die-hard fans wouldn’t say that the show hasn’t run its course. I don’t even watch it on Thursdays anymore, I catch it a day or two later On Demand or on hulu.com because my girlfriend isn’t interested in watching. I’m curious to see what happens with Michael Scott and Holly, but less and less as the weeks drag on and there is little in the way of interesting progress. And has there been a more annoyingly sweet television couple than Jim and Pam? The only satisfying solution to this show would be if Jim steps in front of a speeding bus one morning and turns Pam into an instant widow. If you’re caught up in the stupid melodrama like I am, then you can join me in my shame, but if you haven’t been watching The Office up to now, then there’s no point in starting. I can’t imagine this program will last another season past the next, which would still be about four seasons too many.


At nine-thirty is my favorite show of these Thursday night offerings, Parks and Recreation. This is created by the same guys who did the US version of The Office and features the same phony shaky camera that is well overdone in movies and television by now. Yet this show seems to use it to good effect, or is good despite its effect, because I think its funny as shit. It’s about local government employees working for the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana, but the real payoff from this show comes when you immerse yourself into the stupid world of Pawnee. There are a couple of other nice things about the show which set it apart from sitcoms playing the same evening, like the genuine friendship between Leslie and Ann, which is unlike other catty relationships between women seen on much of TV. I highly recommend this show, I’ll probably write more about it later and repeatedly, as I intend to be the first internet geek to declare that this show is finished once it fails to make me guffaw appropriately in the near future.


After Parks & Rec is NBC’s other long-running successful sitcom, 30 Rock. I didn’t watch this show for years because 1) I kept forgetting when it was on, and 2) a show by members of Saturday Night Live about the behind-the-scenes stress of putting on a show just like Saturday Night Live, as I understood it, seemed too “meta” to me. 30 Rock is technically about the background of putting on a weekly sketch comedy show before a live audience, but the comedy is in the surreal situations and outrageous things Tracy “Tracy Jordan” Morgan does and says. It looks like this show is also past its prime, but it’s still pretty funny and worth checking out. Of all the shows mentioned in this essay, it requires the least investment; you’ll probably find an individual episode funny whether you follow 30 Rock faithfully or not.

The final show in this Thursday night laff-fest is Outsourced, which I’ve never seen. Chances are, you haven’t either. I mean, if you’ve faithfully watched the previous five comedies as per NBC’s recommended allotment, your eyeballs are pretty fried by now. It’s likely that you haven’t watched two and a half hours of straight television, but you get my point. In any case, I have enough stupid shows to follow and I don’t care about this one. It could be hysterical and I’ll never know. Unless it gets syndicated on cable or something.

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