Teevee Worth Watching

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Mondays are almost always strange days, although more in a busy way, not a back-to-the-grindstone way. This week it was particularly hectic, with a big list and little time. I raced over to the skilled nursing facility my friend is at, about five miles away, but he was sound asleep. Sleep is a big issue, if getting better, so I let sleeping friends lie and went on with Monday, finally making it to bed after midnight, a late meeting and some baking on the agenda.

Yesterday was a low-energy day, then, which ended pleasantly. I caught a late-afternoon bus to go visit my friend, who seemed much better physically if still a little foggy. He always asks me if I’ve brought strawberry ice cream, which he developed a taste for in the hospital. Sometimes I do, but lately I’ve been walking down the street to Dairy Queen to get him a plain strawberry Blizzard, which he loves. It’s kind of strange, the sort of thing I might expect from a much older person who fixates on some memory of a summer day with ice cream truck jingles on the soundtrack.

Julie swung by on her way home from her last day of school for the winter quarter, saying hi and then the two of us heading for our favorite Mexican restaurant. I wasn’t hungry but I ate a couple of asada tacos anyway, she had a beer, and we just chatted for an hour in a dark, fairly quiet little place that felt special all of a sudden, as if we’d just discovered it, tucked in an alley.

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There will be no love lost for this winter, not for us. Sickness and snow, more snow, more sickness. I’ve been inside a hospital or rehab facility on literally every day for nearly three weeks now, although I feel fine. The last patch of snow hung around until yesterday, I think, when the rain and low 40s erased the final trace. We’re not going to have any fond memories of this one, other than a few days in early January for me, when I was in Arizona with a 5-year-old boy (who threw up in my car, true, but that was just a speed bump).

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While I waited for my wife to show up, my friend and I watched MSNBC. These are his favorite shows, Rachel and the rest, although the whole thing felt vaguely ridiculous to me. There’s a smugness to these cable opinion shows, whether it’s Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity, that feels indulgent and manipulative. And duh, of course, but it always strikes me that way now.

It’s hard to discuss, though, with people who watch live television (I watch plenty of TV, but on my schedule and without commercial interruption, which now feels insane). It sounds like criticism of the act of watching, when it’s not (see above, my own habits). These would be mostly observations on how out of the loop I am, completely ignorant of the culture in terms of what at least a few million people watch every week, or every night. I saw an ad for something called Project Runway. I think I’ve made my point. Strawberry ice cream seems a better way to pass the time.

And yet, I spent our dinner last night telling my wife about the latest episode of The Good Doctor, which aired Monday night and I watched yesterday during lunch. I’ve mentioned it several times in this space, how I was perversely fascinated in the beginning, then compelled, hooked, and now? I look forward to it every week, and rewatch old episodes occasionally, even though it’s only in its second season.

It doesn’t really fit on my taste palette, doesn’t seem to belong. I can explain why I enjoy VEEP or Silicon Valley, or Better Call Saul. Their seasons are short, 10-12 episodes, and they show up and then go away for a long time. It’s a new way of watching, and it feels efficient and modern.

The Good Doctor is old-fashioned and feels anachronistic now, week after week of stories unfolding with glossy set pieces and reeking of network dollars. Too slick, too produced, too carefully cast.

But it belongs to me now. This week’s episode, which I’m sure a more neutral me could criticize for all sorts of nonsense, moved me with its emphasis on romance and sweetness. I led my wife through the entire episode, moment after moment of this, and she was enthralled, seriously.

I don’t feel like a snob. I have preferences, but there’s plenty of low-brow, or at least broadly played stuff, that I’m attracted to. We’re talking about entertainment, mostly, not necessarily art, and what entertains you is your business.

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I do think this is changing, by the way. We still have thousands of ways to distract ourselves. There are books and TV and film and music and plays and I don’t know what. Cable pundit mud wrestling. Shows about runways, whatever those are.

But an ethos has arisen around our entertainment, and it’s fascinating and weird. I discussed this with my hospitalized friend the other day, in fact, just after the Michael Jackson documentary was released. What many of us suspected now seems to have been true about the big weirdo, and more horrifying than maybe we let ourselves think. He has his defenders, and of course he’s dead, and it seems that his music will survive this because we disconnect from the musicians. We don’t have to see their faces and think about their private lives; we just tap our toes and hum along.

I don’t own any Michael Jackson recordings, although I don’t own a lot of music. I rarely stream it, even. It isn’t an issue for me, other than realizing once again how disappointing humanity can be. How awful, how destructive.

But Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey have become unpersons, their shows and films disappearing like Marty McFly’s family photo. I asked my friend, not in a particularly serious way, if I was still allowed to watch The Usual Suspects, a favorite that Spacey plays a significant part in. He shook his head, not particularly serious himself. “Bryan Singer directed it,” he said, and there you go. What entertains me may not be just my business anymore, at least not if I want to talk or write about it.

It’s not a problem for me. I don’t want to watch (or listen to) these monsters anymore. But judgments are made, I know, because I make them. Tucker Carlson is just the latest example, someone I’ve rolled my eyes at many times over the years, someone irrelevant to me now, but someone who obviously holds (at least held) views on various subjects that I find reprehensible. Doesn’t matter; I don’t watch his show.

But if you do? Yeah. I’ll be judging.

And what am I supposed to do about Felicity Huffman, whom I love? Or her husband and partner in crime, William Macy? They’ve given me so much pleasure over the years (Huffman in Sports Night specifically, and Macy in everything), and now they’re caught up in...what the fuck, really? What kind of parent thinks spending money to cheat a system for the sake of their children’s future is anywhere near a good thing to do? What kind of person?

I’m just hoping that none of the cast of The Good Doctor ends up with a closet bulging with skeletons. It would break my heart, I think.

And who the hell is Aunt Becky?

Chuck SigarsComment