When we were kids, there were maybe three channels on TV. We’d just gotten a new color model, and we had to get up off the couch to change the channel because remotes hadn’t been retconned from alien technology yet. There was a little plastic dial to turn that went up to 12, and, a couple weeks after we got it, it popped off and got lost under the couch or eaten by the dog who was then lost under the couch. (Our couch was on a point where two leylines had met but couldn’t remember each others’ names so just said, “Hey, you,” and nodded a lot.) This left a little stick that the dial had been on, which we then had to turn with a pair of pliers, dodging dodo birds and low-flying pterodactyls. We kept the pliers on top of the TV, which was in a huge wooden box but still only had a 27-inch screen.
One channel came in pretty good. A couple more were okay but a little jumpy. If it was cloudy, we might get a few more. If there was a big storm, there was no telling what we’d get. Maybe aliens or people from other, superior dimensions where novelty blogs are considered the highest form of art. Of course, a squirrel might knock out the power, and we’d be left to eat each other in the gloom.
The point is, we didn’t have a lot of options, back then. We’d watch what was on. Sometimes, on a holiday or when the federal refund came in, we’d rent a VCR at the IGA in town and watch the same two movies six or seven times until we took them back. Dad wouldn’t let us rewind it because he thought we’d break the tape, so we had to secretly do it when he went to the bathroom. The more we describe this, the more terrible it sounds. And it was. It was terrible. And boring. And the couch smelled funny.
But now, we have the opposite problem. There is a never-ending supply of stuff to watch. Back then, we’d watch anything because we had no other options. What were we going to do, talk to each other? Have you met our families? A show about a talking car that solves crimes with the dude from Baywatch? Sure! A show about the formative years of a megalomaniac who’d grow up to think bananas evolved naturally and therefore were proof that God exists? Bring it on! A show about a little girl robot? Yep. John Ritter pretending to be gay so he could live with two women — actually, that one was pretty good. The point is, we couldn’t really pick and choose too much. If it was on, we watched it. In a way, this was good. We were exposed to things we didn’t care about, and learned some stuff about those things. Like how you take the good, you take the bad, you take it all, and then you have the facts of life. Or the fact that we’ll never be Lorenzo Lamas, no matter how much we pray.
There is so much to watch now, we can compare things and actually try to find something we might enjoy. Which means we become harder to please. The thing is, we don’t have more time than we used to. In fact, considering stagnant wages, we’re probably working more than our parents did for lower pay. Maybe that’s balanced out by us not being able to afford going out. Regardless, our time is finite and TV shows are quickly becoming infinite, which means that we have to be covetous of our time. What if the show we’re watching isn’t the best show for us? We’ll never get that time back. And we might not be able to watch some other, better show. Sure, it’ll probably be on Netflix or Hulu or somewhere, but they’re making new shows all the time. To make it worse, there aren’t just new shoes to consider, but practically every show ever made is available somewhere.
It can be difficult to navigate. How difficult? Studies have shown that for the average person with a lifespan of 79 years, 73.5 of those years will be sent trying to find something on TV. So, how can you decide what to watch?
First, you have to figure out what will entertain you, or if you’re even capable of being entertained. If you’re a staunch realist, for example, you’re going to have a hard time. Television writers tend not to understand how life works. Things like money, work, transportation — these are all beyond their comprehension. So, if you’re easily annoyed by obvious logical fallacies, you might want to stick to the BBC. But if you like flashing lights and loud noises, as the writers of this blog do, you’re in luck.
Netflix or Hulu will suggest things to watch, but those are often terrible suggestions because you clearly have no discernible taste — neither good nor bad — for the algorithm to pick up on. Because that’s how people are. Most of us don’t watch just one kind of show. We need a much more complex set of criteria to really nail down what we like. This includes the things we don’t want to admit we like and the things we don’t like but tell everyone we do.
To understand your personality, arrange the following phrases in order of appeal from most appealing to least appealing. Remember that there are no wrong answers:
- Lukewarm oatmeal as a sexual position.
- A duck named Jeff with strong political views that he refuses to keep to himself.
- Colors with names that are also the names of things.
- People talking about some cultural event you totally missed, but you have to pretend like you know what they’re talking about because when they first started, you weren’t paying attention and said you’d seen it. And now more and more people are joining in the conversation, compounding your lie.
- A lingering smell that whispers supportive things to you while you’re going through a difficult time.
- The realization that complaining is not the same as humor but those around you don’t seem to realize that and keep laughing at someone complaining into a microphone.
- Fruit mixed with vegetables without a trace of shame.
- Horrible people facing no consequences for their behavior.
- An impeccably organized desk.
- Rich people acting like they’re poor and you’re supposed to just cheer on their non-struggles.
- Black licorice that wants nothing to do with you.
- The void that all of our hopes and dreams will disappear into — but it owes you twenty bucks and never pays you back.
Now that you’ve arranged these, we have to tell you something. We lied. There are absolutely wrong answers, and you got them. Best to move on.
This can take a while, so you’d better open up some space in your schedule. It’s also pretty messy. But before you do something gross, let us clarify — we’re not talking about chicken entrails. That’s weird black magic. We’re talking about Nielsen family entrails. See, the way that television companies tell which of their shows are popular is by kidnapping a handful of families, locking them in a room, and making them watch TV, nonstop, until they OD on laugh tracks. Then, the bodies are dumped, the couches are hosed off, and another family is brought in. Whatever these doomed souls choose to watch remains on the air.
The viewing process for these poor bastards is often so intense that the shows imprint on their entrails. If you have a functioning augury and bribe a guard $20 to leave you alone with a body, you can see clips. If you’re squeamish, well, let’s try something else.
Who are you? Don’t try to answer that, because you have no idea, no matter what you think. That’s why there’s psychoanalysis. Most people will go to a shrink because they’re in pain, suffering mental anguish, and not able to function day to day. Yes, that’s just like the rest of us, but isn’t not being able to find something to watch now that Power Rangers is nothing but reruns also painful? Of course if you tell the head doctor you’re only there to figure out what TV show you can watch, your doctor is probably not going to take her job as seriously as she would otherwise. She may be reluctant to take you on as a patient. The solution to this is simple: lie. Make an appointment and tell Dr. F. Reud you dreamed that there were a bunch of wolves with your mother’s face in a tree and they wanted you to go into a tunnel and play a bunch of Moody Blues songs. This will get you started. Slowly bring the analysis around to what someone as neurotic as you might want to watch on TV. Your analyst will either unconsciously make suggestions, or will get you to realize what television shows your Id is really into, probably Two and a Half Men or the 1/2 Hour News Hour.
So, first off, the thing about Jim is he likes everything. If something is awful, he usually recognizes that, but plenty of shows he seems to love are pretty bad. Of course, it seems like everyone loves terrible TV shows, but most folks eventually figure out that they’re just gullible, once some time has passed. Not Jim. Jim is more of a student of television than a watcher. He appreciates things across genre, across cultural mores. He’s in love with the form. There’s a kind of childlike innocence to his appreciation of shows, so if you can get on board the non-jaded train, he can give you some solid recommendations.
Just Give Up And Watch Whatever
This is how you’ve found most of the things you’ve watched — and, let’s be honest, it’s how you probably picked your car, apartment, job, spouse, etc. You can try some of the recommendations from the sites, that one show whoever it was said was good, watching a few episodes here and there. Soon, the sweet embrace of death will take you from this sad existence into the warmth of oblivion. Or the next season of that show you actually like will come out.
Whatever you decide to watch, the important thing is that you’ve managed to fill some of the miserable hours you have to live between childhood (when you’re happy) and the sweet relief of retirement (because of the discount McDonald’s coffee). Then, finally, we’ll be able to catch up on everything. Or so we tell ourselves. It doesn’t matter, because we’re not really listening, anyway.