Before I even start this update, let’s acknowledge that Michael Jackson died a couple days ago. He started out eccentric and then gradually moved into downright creepy and weird, but he was genuinely talented and it’s a shame to see him go. Sentiments similar to these have been gumming up the airwaves an awful lot recently, which, thanks to Comcast, has been even easier for me to notice.
As I mentioned last week, my family recently bought one of those specialty Comcast DVR boxes, because without it we would be unable to receive digital broadcast signals and, thus unable to watch Wipeout, which is arguably the most beautifully crafted and intelligent summer replacement show of all time. This considerably changed our TV watching experience around here.
My family has been a longtime adherent to basic cable, which gives us access to the major networks plus a few other channels that we absolutely can’t live without, like Spike, BET, and Country Music Television. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “5000 channels and nothing’s on,” it’s even more true when you only have about 60, because out of those 60 channels at least three are home shopping, two are in Spanish, four are variations on C-SPAN on the local, state, and national level, five are public access showing religious programming/Aryan Nation Adventures, and one is video of Earth from space as recorded by the International Space Station, which is only interesting if there’s a hurricane or a meteor shower. This leaves you with stuff like SciFi, which has been straight up bullshit since they cancelled Mystery Science Theater 3000, Oxygen, which implies that women are the only people who need to breathe, and The Golf Channel, which in spite of my letter writing campaign refuses to show Caddyshack on a continuous loop. American Movie Classics (AMC) defines “classic” as “whatever movie we have the rights to show” (hence why Ghostbusters II and The Birdcage are classics), and TNT may as well rename itself “Home Improvement Network” between 12:00 and 5:00 PM.
So already I’ve got it pretty rough, what with the poor selection of TV channels in the climate controlled house I live in rent free with no job, but what makes it worse is that the TV Guide channel allows you to see the awesome stuff showing on all the other channels that you don’t have. It’s like being a kid in a candy and Brussels sprouts store, and you’re only allowed to have the Brussels sprouts, but then there are 768 types of delicious candy that you have to watch everybody else eating. Some of the candy tastes like commercial-free presentations of The Dark Knight while it’s still in theaters, other types taste like Flight of the Conchords, and a fair number taste like pornography with ambiguous titles. But you can’t eat them – enjoy your Brussels sprouts, which taste like Andy Griffith on TVLand.
But now, we have the Comcast box, which gives us access to Comcast InDemand, which we had never used before. My Dad’s fascination with technology keeps us pretty up to date on all the latest gadgets (many of which involve lasers, none of which are in lightsaber form). However, the ability to press a button and have a movie beamed right onto your television screen is still a shocking novelty to me. I look really closely at the box sometimes to see if I can spot the little men inside who illegally torrent the movies online and play them for us, but I haven’t found any of them yet.
Of course, you have to pay for a lot of the best stuff available on InDemand, but the content that’s free is almost better, in a way. Sure, AMC shows crappy movies for free, but most of those are crappy movies that everybody’s heard of, and they’re censored. The “Free Movies” section on InDemand is a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of movies you’ve seen in dark corners of the video store or in cardboard bins at Safeway but have never been willing to spend 99 cents to see. Right now, there’s a movie freely available on InDemand called Robot Holocaust. The mind boggles! Is it like Schindler’s List, but with robots? Are the humans perpetrating the titular holocaust, or the robots? Ordinarily, these questions aren’t enough to make me rent a movie, but now all I have to do is press a button and then I just don’t even have to worry about what I’m going to do for the next 83 minutes!*
*It is thanks to OnDemand that Mike and I were able to watch Starship Troopers for the first time since either one of us was in middle school. We picked up on a lot of stuff this time around that we hadn’t realized a few years ago – the humor in a futuristic army with guns that uses a strategy of “run up within 10 feet of the aliens and shoot them,” the brilliance of Neil Patrick Harris being in the movie, the fact that poor writing can make even Neil Patrick Harris look like a bad actor (“We’re going back to P!”).
Really, though, none of the new TV available to me is any more entertaining than the old TV I grew up on – there’s just more new fluff to be distracting. But really, that’s what television ought to be, anyway – a distraction (said the guy who made his own TV show). Whenever it’s been a rough day and you’re tired of taking active part in the world around you, TV is there to tell you it’s okay and show you tits and explosions for a few hours until it’s time to go to bed.
And let me tell you, in the walking nightmare of my life what with the getting up at noon and playing video games and not having a job, I need the comforts of TV all the time.
Truman Capps will never say “Comcastic” again.