On Television: Part One


I have a confession to make:

The main, if not totally conscious, reason I chose to do this project of blogging 365 days for a year, was to knock myself out of the indelible, lifelong habit of whiling away the evening (the most precious free time of the day, especially for a parent) watching television. We don’t actually have a television in this phase of our lives, but we do have computers where we watch shows that were once on television. This is the habit of western culture at large. Watching TV (in whatever form of screen) before you go to bed. How many of us have spent a lifetime doing this? TV watching is the most addicting habit I know—or at least within the context of the time after dinner, before bed. There have been a few periods of life that I  was able to break this habit, which involved either a creative project that I was really excited about, or lack of access. Please understand, I love television. Well, I love some television. It has provided such pleasure to me for much of my life. At its best, it provides a unique balm to the troubled soul living in an uncertain world.  A kind of home that doesn’t quite belong to you, but gives you the illusion that it does. At different times in my life, I have fallen in love with: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Love Lucy, Freaks and Geeks, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Flight of the Conchords, The Magic Garden, The Muppet Show, Saturday Night Live, Six Feet Under, Kids in the Hall, Taxi, The Office (yes, the American version), and most recently, Girls.

When I was living in Brooklyn and pursuing my acting/ screenwriting/filmmaking career, I had the habit (as many urbanites do) of going home late after a full and tiring day pursuing my dreams or at least trying to survive in an expensive and energetic city, picking up take out on the way home, and then watching syndicated sitcoms until it was time to go to sleep. This was the period of my life when I was a syndicated sitcom serial monogamist. I went from favorite sitcom to favorite sitcom, based on what was syndicated at the right time: 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, and 11:30 at night. Two hours of time (equivalent to a feature length film.) There were some sitcoms that I thought I’d never watch, because I hated them at first, most especially: Seinfeld and Friends. Friends was extremely popular when I was in college. I didn’t watch any TV while I was in college, except during visits home, and when I lived in China for a semester. I lived in a foreign student dorm (which was really a hotel) and each room had its own television. American syndicated sitcoms were a welcome friend. Anyway, back to Friends. I had a deep disdain for it. Maybe my disdain was on principal because it was so popular. But somehow, when I moved back to New York, and started watching it in its syndicated time slot, its charm warmed its way into my heart.  And then it became one of my ten, and ten thirty favorites. I particularly loved Lisa Kudrow’s portrayal of Phoebe. I suppose I most related to her character. Lisa Kudrow was brilliant and funny in the roll. I loved how her character was almost dumb, but not quite. It was a subtly different take on the ditzy blonde. Phoebe had edge and she was always a little bit surprising. Which reminds me of my personal definition of comedy: the truth delivered in surprising package. Seinfeld I also hated at the beginning. I found Jerry so whiney and his hair so terrible, that I had to turn away. But, the show’s undeniable funniness lured me back in, and I became an ardent fan. I remember watching it on Thursdays during its Prime Time slot and then again, later, and every night, during its syndicated slot. I even tearfully watched the last episode.

There were two other sitcoms I had love affairs with during this phase that were both because the show was great, but also because I had developed an awful crush on the male star of each of them. Those sitcoms were: That 70’s Show, the crush being on: Topher Grace (Eric). Were you thinking it was Ashton Kutcher? I know you weren’t thinking that. Maybe you were thinking it was Danny Masterson? Who definitely was crushable. But no, it was Topher Grace. His boyish charm with just a hint of cockiness, which, somehow, always got teased out of him. It was also his laugh, because when he laughed he seemed like he was breaking character--it felt so real. It is said in the acting world, and I agree with this, that laughing (far more than tears), is the hardest thing to “act”. And the other sitcom? Newsradio. And the crush? Dave Foley. Dave Foley’s character Dave, had a very similar appeal to Topher Grace’s Eric. Actually, now that I think about it, they were very, very similar. In looks, in the boyish charm, with that touch of cockiness that got teased out of him. And in the very sincere laugh where you feel like you are seeing just the person. Hmmm.

This essay will have to be continued over the next day or two. I have a lot more to say on this subject, and I can’t stay up all night writing. After all, I still want to watch a little something before bed.

One more thing. A behind the scene irony:

Just today a video projector and screen came into our possession (how it came into our possession is a story in itself that I will tell at another time). As I write this, Lucas, who has hooked up the projector and screen, is watching Boardwalk Empire. The screen is set up just a few feet away from where I sit, at the painted ivory table (which I use as a background to many ZOELAB images). I can see only the back of the screen. Only just yesterday we received a bunch of shows and movies that we had ordered. Perhaps this is not at all ironic, but rather, writing this is helping me to resist the temptation to melt back into the couch with him to be blissfully entertained by new content in a new form.