Friday, September 24, 2010

Too Much T.V.



The chain of ownership on the seventeen year old's Volvo is a nightmare. I buy it from some Chassids at a body shop who say they are selling it for a friend. I spend hours on the phone with the Auto Club and it seems like most of the week on hold for the DMV. I arrive at the actual office to register the car and receive officiously delivered and completely conflicting information and they’ll only issue a temporary registration. I’m not sure how the Chassids got involved and despite my urgent faxes and phone calls, obviously upset about the title on the car I bought from them, they do not contact me. I look for some quotes about business ethics ascribed to their Rebbe Schneerson whose portrait sneers from above as we conduct the transaction. My intention is to fax the Rebbe’s pearls of wisdom along with the DMVs report regarding the problem title to the Chassids but I can't find any appropriate attribution regarding cheating and lying that I can attribute to Schneerson. I’m not sure of the Chassid connection but the problem with the car seems to boil down to a conflict with the original Greek owner and an Armenian body shop owner and six unpaid parking tickets. The Greek guy calls me and prefaces the conversation by saying, “I hate doing business with Armenians.” I refrain from adding, befuddled even further by the Lubbavacher missing link, that I hate doing business with Jews.

After I get the temporary tags the car needs a visit to the mechanic for a few tweaks and it takes over a week from the date of purchase until I permit the seventeen year old to actually drive his very own first car. There are a number of prescriptions to be delivered for my mother, newly returned from hospital to board and care. I deliver other meds in the morning and adapt a late to the office countenance so I'm not expected to stop in for a moment to see her, although no one cares when I arrive at work. I decide the seventeen year old can test drive his first car before driving it to school by delivering my mother's medication and therefore avoid a second opportunity for a visit. To not be a complete a-hole I slip the kids a few bucks for a frozen yogurt afterwards, naturally requesting one for myself.

The keys to the new car are missing. My mental lapses grow more frequent and egregious as I pass the half century mark but I am pretty good with keys. The kids dump the contents of my briefcase and purse, sneering at the candy wrappers. We clear off the kitchen counters. We fear the puppy Oprah may have snatched the plastic coated key and we patrol the yard with a flashlight. The only unexcavated area is the trashcan and I remember that I’d thrown out some papers from the car and there amid the coffee grounds and carrot peelings I find the keys. I probably unconsciously sabotaged the seventeen year old’s efforts to get his license by arriving at DMV without the right documents again and again and now the car keys are in the trash.

It seems like the kids are gone forever on the new car expedition and I am going to call Spuds and ask what’s taking them so long but Himself yells at me that they’ve only been gone ten minutes. It seems like a very long time until I hear the car on the street. There is a grinding of gears and a thud and the screeching of brakes but the boys enter nonplussed and deliver my yogurt. I ask Spuds what the noise was about and he reports that his brother has had a bit of trouble parking and that he’d backed into the hill and the lady from around the corner who plays the mom on Everybody Hates Chris advises him tocheck the tail pipe for dirt clods. I go out to inspect. The parking job would have been better accomplished by Stevie Wonder and the interior light as been left on. The yogurt however is very delicious.

I complain to Lito about how nervous I am when the seventeen year old is out with the car but also note the advantage of retirement from my nearly eighteen year long chauffer stint. He has three young adult daughters and while he owns at least a dozen cars, that he admits to, none of his girls has a driver’s license. All three of them are in the military though so he gets the parental panic thing. He asks me what I was doing with the extra not driving time. I rack my brain to present him the my meaningful alternative use of the freed up hours, but the truth is it makes for more t.v. time.


Himself for some reason prefers my seafoam fluffy bathrobe to his own grey plaid masculine model and I hold my tongue when I find it flung over the bathroom door with used kleenex in the pockets and spattered with stains from the strawberries he eats, with yogurt, for his breakfast every single day. He is fussy about his own things and discourages borrowing. Before the seventeen year old receives his own wheels he uses Himself’s car to get to school. He reports returning home to find Dad waiting in the driveway, hose and rags at the ready, and in a big hurry to wash the vehicle before taking off for his own night class. Himself soaps up his car several times a week but becomes annoyed with me when I request that, after spending the day barefooted, he wash his feet before climbing into bed. Himself is ever vigilant with regard to food wastage or recycling indifference but while I can’t imagine he doesn’t think less of me for it, he never gets on my case about the amount of t.v. I watch. He grumbles at the kids and the boob tube but I’m not sure whether he considers me a lost cause or he appreciates that when I am engrossed in a show I am less likely to blab at him and interrupt his reading.


Theoretically I hate the idea of competitive cooking but despite the dripping artificiality, the seventeen year old gets me hooked on Top Chef and subsequently the Great Food Truck Race. The Top Chef candidates are obviously all goosed up to fabricate tension and mean spirited competitiveness, but as a pretty ambitious amateur cook, I get into figuring out what I would do when faced with the same challenges. I also score good points with both of the kids because I am able to indentify, in advance of the judges, blunders like storing raw tuna in a metal bowl overnight or using store bought puff paste. I prefer the challengers who try to rise above the fray and avoid bad mouthing, baiting or shoving the competition. The three remaining finalists are whores to reality show conventions and play for high entertainment value. The few candidates who manage to avoid manufacturing drama are eliminated. I tell the kids that I that I don’t get caught up in the pumped up personality aspect and am drawn to the creative preparation of food but truly, the formulaic reality show crap has become a guilty pleasure.

The Great Food Truck Race is really fun and has a lot less sniping then Top Chef. Success is not only based on cooking skills but requires business acumen and it is cool to sit with the kids and speculate on what is smart, like scouting good locations sales spots in advance and buying provisions directly from restaurateurs to save time and money and what is stupid, like forgetting to fill a propane tank. Top Chef shows the kids a lot of cooking technique and raises their consciousness about what they eat and it shuts them up about asking why dinner is taking so long. But, behind the fun of the Food Truck Race are some good lessons about logic and organization and many of the basics of running a business are beautifully illustrated.

We are also all hooked on Entourage but because it pushes the acceptable limits of cable sexual content we usually don’t watch it together. This is probably the most satisfying half hour cable show, and one I’d mention in the same breath as shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, the Wire or the Sopranos. I watch some half hour premium cable dramadies all by myself. It’s just as well. Nurse Jackie. Weeds. The United States of Tara, Hung, The Big C. All of them are way better than most of what I grew up on but they’re all sort of lost. They have good premises-a perfectly ordinary seeming person with a dark secret, stellar talent and the freedom of cable but the need to proceed from one season to another, or sometimes even to get from one episode to another, seems daunting and all consequently, all suffer a lack of credibility.

Edie Falco struggles to make Nurse Jackie believable and it is pretty much her efforts to connect with broadly drawn supporting characters that keep me watching. I watch Weeds, despite the ever growing more ludicrous and over the top plot because the ensemble casts connects as such a real family that it is delicious to watch. Originally a sardonic look at suburban life it’s morphed, probably not for the better, into a violent tale about a family on the run.

Toni Collette is a tour de force as a victim of multiple personalities in The United States of Tara. When she’s on her meds and doesn’t transition from uptight 50s housewife to hard drinking butch biker dude to teenage slut, everything else is predictable. Patton Oswald is remarkably sweet as the husband’s business partner, but the plotlines pertaining to Tara’s teenage daughter and son are icky and embarrassing.

Hung is another example of a cable perfect idea: a dynamo cast in a show about a male hooker but it doesn’t add up to much. Jane Adams is the pimp and her bug-eyed, unsettling intensity compensates for the implausible character (who may hold the record for a woman using the word “fuck” on cable) foisted on her. Although I really do watch a lot more hours of t.v than movies, I will add, that Adams performance as the blind date in Little Children is one of my favorite of all time.

A newcomer, The Big C, was originally titled “The C Word” which shows that Showtime does have some limits. Laura Linney is far too radiant to be dying of cancer and her madcap/secretive reaction to the diagnosis is hard to buy into. Nevertheless, Linney is so deft with nuanced and complicated emotion she is more true to her character than any of the writers. Oliver Platt is given the cartoon role of kicked out husband and poor Gabi Siddoubey is stuck in a thankless part that proves only that she speaks King’s English and that she really is fat.

There is a lot of crossover in our television watching but there are several taboos. Spuds knows not to watch football while I’m in the room. In The Deadliest Warrior, the superiority of, say Navy Seals vs. Israeli Commandos or Ming Warriors Vs. Musketeers, is determined via scientific simulations involving a lot of ersatz blood and bone crunching sound affects. It’s a brilliant concept I wish I’d thought of but it must be watched after my bedtime.

Himself will pay half attention to Colbert but I am forbidden Jon Stewart, whose shrillness my husband cannot abide. I too wish Stewart would take it down a notch but the show is usually quite funny, except for Samantha Bee. No one explicitly, out of some perversion of political correctness I suspect, asks me to turn off RuPaul but since I’ve been watching the spinoff, Drag U, in which drag queens makeover straight women to look like drag queens, Ru can really clear a room. I have stopped watching it myself because there is a pathos about a good drag queen which renders the whole makeover thing pointless and not fun, even as camp.

Himself is working and the kids drive themselves to rehearsal. I am unsupervised and alone with the remote. Carpe Diem. Glee! I have heard the word “seminal.” Smart people I know slaver. There are two episodes back to back and I tune in midway through the penultimate show of the season and watch the concluding one too. Jane Lynch is a cheerleading coach with a burr up her ass and out to abolish the glee club. The glee club is mortified when Lynch, who’s blackmailing the married principal of the school, having had an illicit liaison with him, is chosen to judge the state glee club competition. One of the singers goes in to labor during the finals. She delivers what appears to be an eight month old baby. The teacher in charge of the glee club cries a lot. There are a lot of Journey songs. My sons return home and are appalled that I am watching Glee. The seventeen year old goes downstairs, disgusted. Spud joins me on the couch. The Glee teacher sings Over the Rainbow to the Glee Club to comfort them after losing the state finals. The singers cry and hug and hold hands. Spuds and I hug and simper and feign weeping. The seventeen year old screams for us to turn down the volume and of course we crank the tv up full blast. The seventeen year old storms upstairs. Spuds and I are still doing our Glee impressions of the wacky gay guy with the sailor cap and the kid in the wheel chair fawning over each other when the seventeen year old furiously switches off the set. I retreat to bed and try to sleep as the echo of skulls being smashed and vital organs being penetrated wafts from downstairs.

MTV, the people who bring us Jersey Shore also airs 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. These are reality shows that feel much more like cinema verite and social guidance is primary to entertainment value. Some of the kids are nice and smart and others are dullards but they all feel real. The show is cut with a steady hand. It’s never didactic or moralistic but never fails to hammer in how a teen pregnancy changes a girl’s life in profound and in sadly disproportionately negative ways.

I happen on a new MTV show called Jenk’s World. Andrew Jenks, Room 336 is a documentary Jenks made while a sophomore in college. In order to better understand his grandfather’s plight, he moves into a nursing home. The film is widely lauded but the institutionalization of the elderly theme is a turn off, for obvious reasons, so it never made my list. This new MTV project has Jenks living for a week with a young person whose life experience is out of the mainstream, this season a rap star, a boxer, a cheerleader and an animal rescue activist. Jenks, who looks Shaggy in Scooby Doo, in episode one, moves in with an autistic teenager. The kid is sweet but obsessively attached to ritual. Jenks takes the kid to visit Manhattan and the honking traffic noise causes him to freak out. Jenks begins to unglue but he sings to the boy and you can almost see him blasting out love and ultimately getting the kid to chill.

Jenks is not a simpering twat like the glee club teacher but I am stymied to name another person, living or dead, real or on the television, who exudes more love for his fellow man. Jenks sleeps on concrete beside a homeless girl Danielle on a cold San Francisco night but questions the extent of her own culpability for her condition of destitution. The girl describes a troubled childhood. Jenks helps Danielle collect recycling in order to purchase a bus ticket to travel to Oregon and see her family. They futilely attempt to hitchhike the final leg and end up in the production van. The parents are indeed dissolute and when Jenks confronts them about Danielle sleeping in the street they reply that she’s better off homeless than in the bosom of her family. Jenks tells them that Danielle is his friend and he is worried about her but they resist his efforts to compel them worry about her too. Jenks is somber on the way back to San Francisco but Danielle glows when she asks Jenks if he meant it when he told her parents that he was her friend. Maybe it’s my used kleenex in the pocket of the robe.

There is still a real snobbery about television among certain film people, but having been born a film person I am delighted that television has come into its own as an art form and some of the great cultural masterpieces of my life time have been produced for t.v. This of course helps rationalize the enormous amount that I watch. I’m too lazy to go to the movies much these days anyway. I’m thankful that I can loll on the couch in my night dress and be distracted a bit from the anxiety of having teenagers out on the road. It’s nice to know also that when they do get home they’ll be watching pretty good stuff.

2 comments:

FionnchĂș said...

You sure watch a lot of tv. I wash off my car with water, rarely soaping it, about every fortnight. I guess multitasking as you also do crosswords on the computer or maybe "work" as you sit on the couch makes it all efficient, more fun, and relaxing. I hope so, for you've earned it. xxx me

Anonymous said...

i laughed out loud - when you spoke about passing the half century mark and yr finding the keys in the trash!

Admit to being a TV Junkie as well. Does the mind well, when too tired to read or worried about teenagers. Also just discovered Jenks.
yr mom is lucky to have you nearby.
Gut Yuntif to you and family,
Barbara