Remember when your parents told you TV would rot your brain? I think perhaps the most compelling evidence of the truth of this statement is what passes for TV today. Those who are passionate enough about television to choose to make it their career were likely exposed to it as children, and the fact that their brains were affected negatively is evidenced by what they produce.
For example: until I rented a Looney Tunes DVD, my kids didn’t know TV cartoons were meant to be laugh-out-loud funny. Everything they had seen up to that point either A) taught them Important Life Lessons and Thinking Skills, B) counteracted A with brainless humor and bodily functions, or C) was primarily meant to sell collectible cards and toys. Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, and the Roadrunner were comic revelations (not to mention the music)! They laughed until they fell from the futon, laughed until tears fell from their eyes, laughed until they hurt and begged between great gasping breaths for more.*
Then we sent the DVD back, and they returned to Blue’s Clues, Dragon Tales, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Sponge-Bob.
Earlier in our marriage, Jodi and I watched a handful of shows regularly. Most were sitcoms: Seinfeld and Friends, the short-lived Sports Night, Mad About You, Everybody Loves Raymond. We were hooked on Alias for a few years, and I used to love This Week (with Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, and George Will) each Sunday morning, just to get the juices flowing.
I remember the Seinfeld finale: how the joke was on us; how it drove home that we had spent countless hours over the past countless years watching four awful people behaving like selfish children and hurting those around them. The friends on Friends were also whiny and self-centered, and Raymond made a career out of the miseries of married life. Don’t get me wrong: I laughed at these shows — but sometimes afterward I wondered why.
Today my bride and I watch two sitcoms: The Office and Community. We used to watch 30 Rock, but found the humor less and less to our liking. Community is now in the same tailspin for me. It’s still funny at times, but some of the jokes are beginning to clog my filters. Like 30 Rock this year, next year I suspect I won’t miss missing it. The Office edges into that territory from time to time, then redeems itself…we may stick with that one.
So this spring we found another show. They hooked our whole family with a free burrito at Chipotle. (Good bait.) We watched America’s Next Great Restaurant on NBC, a reality show in which people with ideas for a restaurant competed for the chance to partner with four chef/restauranteur/investors to open a new chain of restaurants in NYC, LA, and (yes!) Minneapolis. Aside from about 43-too-many jokes about the Joey’s original name for his meatball shop (Saucy Balls, which ultimately became Brooklyn Meatball Company after the 43-too-many jokes), the show was clean, the food was good, the winner had a great story: his father rescued him from a bad spot with his mother when he was little, and the soul food recipes that helped him win were his Dad’s. The winner was the favorite of all of us except Trevor (he was Trevor’s second pick); a great cheer went up in the Thorp house when he won; and Emma has asked that her belated birthday dinner be at the new Soul Daddy in Mall of America.
And now it’s over. We enjoy a few other shows that we watch online or on demand — History Channel’s American Pickers and Top Shot and Travel Channel’s Man v. Food, in particular. They are fun, interesting, educational…but they insist (in the case of Pickers and MvF) to edge toward adult humor at least once an episode, or (in the case of Top Shot), machismo and obscenities (bleeped and unbleeped). I used to watch Nature on PBS as a kid, which was narrated with a sense of wonder and mystery; the recent LIFE series on Discovery Channel (with Oprah narrating) seemed to relish describing the mating habits of the creatures they filmed as though both the subjects and audience were lusty teenagers.
I want a TV show in which I never have to say, “Okay, gang — what that guy just said? Never say that.” Or, “Yeah, you don’t need to worry about what she meant just yet.” Or, “Sorry, Trevvy, if he was your favorite character; nice people don’t act like that.”
Yeah, I know. I’m getting older, and older-fashioned. The good news is, in my Second Third, we watch way less TV than we used to. And I don’t miss it.
Now get off my lawn.