Love and Television, aka First World Problems

 

Their haircuts are cooler but our TV is bigger.

My husband and I have been together for over 11 years. And except for one year back in 2001, when we thought we’d “experiment” with not having cable (a terrible, failed experiment, by the way), we have also been watching television together for 10 years. Generally, if a couple is compatible with each other — sharing similar views on politics, childrearing, home decor, and food — then their tastes in television will also be compatible. Let’s call this our “TV relationship.” Our TV relationship has remained healthy and thriving for the last decade since we share key viewing preferences: we will watch any HBO “original series” at least once and will likely keep watching it, even after we determine that it is awful (John from Cincinatti, I’m talking to you); we will watch every single season of Survivor, ratings be damned; we will watch any series featuring characters who regularly get shot, beheaded, scalped, or mauled (but not eaten); we will watch any MTV reality show that makes us feel better about who we are and the life decisions we have made (i.e., every MTV reality show); we will not watch any comedies containing laugh tracks (bye bye, Whitney). I should also point out that TV watching takes place during a specific time-frame in my house: a. after the children are asleep and b. when all other work has been completed. So we generally watch TV between 9 pm and 11 pm. Likewise, there is just one DVR in our house, so if TV is being watched in my house, my husband and I are probably watching it together.

You should have seen what he did to the other guy. No really, he SCALPED the other guy.

A few years ago, there was a definitive rift in our TV relationship, precipitated by the premiere of a new “cycle” (not season, Tyra doesn’t like seasons) of America’s Next Top Model. My husband and I love gamedocs (Survivor, Top Chef, So You Think You Can Dance), and this one delivered the works: competition, delusional bulimics, and most importantly, Tyra Banks. “Top Model comes on tonight!” I called from the den. These sort of TV-based announcements are like foreplay in my house. In fact, my husband and I send each other links to reviews/publicity about new TV shows in the same way that other couples might send each other sexually suggestive e-mails. The subject line is “Oh baby” but the e-mail itself reads “We should watch this, right?” But when I announced the new cycle of America’s Next Top Model, my husband was not very excited:

Him: I think I’m done.

Me: What do you mean?

Him: I think I’m done watching America’s Next Top Model.

Me: [incredulous] You mean you’re just … not going to watch it anymore?

Him: You can watch it without me.

So I did watch America’s Next Top Model without him. Alone. But it just wasn’t the same. Every time Tyra told some ingenue to “smile with your eyes” (later becoming the portmanteau, “smize”), there was no one on the couch next to me with whom I could commiserate over the stupidity of asking someone to smile with a part of the body that cannot smile. And every time a contestant explained “I’m not here to make friends!” there was  no one on the couch next to me with whom I could say “That’s the 10th time someone has said that this season!” I made it through that cycle of America’s Next Top Model, but it was to be my last. The show just wasn’t as much fun to watch without my husband around.

After that first blow to our TV relationship, it became easier for one of us to drop out of a show. When this happens, it is customary for desperate campaigning to ensue, with one partner attempting to convince the other that a terrible mistake has been made. The dropped show is the “BEST SHOW ON TV!” or the dropped show has finally “hit its stride!” “Don’t you want to come back and start watching it again?” For example, when I gave up on the 90210 reboot after just three episodes (I missed the original cast too much), my husband, an ardent fan of all teen melodrama, would make casual comments like “It’s a shame you stopped watching 90210 because this is the best season yet.” Or I’ll tell my husband, “There was a scene in Parenthood last week that was an exact replica of the conversation we’re having right now. Isn’t that funny?” And my husband, aware of what I’m doing, will reply, “Yeah, I’m not going to watch that show again.”

Deal breaker.

Of course there are certain shows that I watch, knowing full well  that my husband will never watch them with me (Project Runway) and there are shows my husband watches that he knows I will never ever watch with him (Walking Dead). There is no attempt to convince the other person of the merits of these programs. I will not watch a show containing zombies and my husband will not watch a show in which  people discuss asymmetrical hems and “taste levels.” These are “deal breakers.”

DEAL BREAKER.

Yes, differences in TV preferences are a part of any couple’s life. They cannot be avoided. But there are ways to keep your TV relationship as stable and functional as possible. This is important because, as the old saying goes, the family that gazes together, stay-zes together. To that end, here are some tips for promoting the longterm health of your TV relationship:

1. Don’t Box Him/Her Out

I enjoy HBO’s How to Make it in America. It’s not my favorite show, but I like it’s focus on fashion and hipsters, as well as it’s wicked awesome opening credit sequence, which is worthy of it’s own blog post. But my husband is lukewarm about the series; he only watches it because I do. Just after Season 2 premiered a few weeks ago my husband went out of town. 2 episodes of How to Make it in America sat on the DVR, beckoning, “Watch me, Amanda. Your husband doesn’t even like this show. He won’t care….” And so I did. The next week, I watched another episode without him, noticing that we had acquired 3 in our DVR queue (I hate an unwieldy DVR queue). When I encouraged my husband to catch up on the series, he was dismayed. “You’re boxing me out,” he whined. It was true. What motivation did he have for watching a series he only mildly liked on his own? Conclusion: if one partner is lukewarm on a series, make sure you watch it together. Otherwise, you will be watching it alone forever and always.

2. Give it a Chance

Blerg.

Sometimes when I get those not-sexy-unless-you-love-TV e-mails from my husband, in which he attempts to seduce me into watching a new series, I think “Ugh, this looks terrible.” I feel like the authority on these matters since it is I who has the PhD in visual media. What does the software programmer know? I’m the expert here! But there is something to be said for allowing your significant other to select some programming, even if you are sure that the show is going to be horrible. Case in point: my husband decided to put Whitney in our DVR queue (Whitney for crying out loud!!!). I was resistant, but ultimately agreed to watch the series premiere. The show was not nearly as awful as I thought it would be, but it had a laugh track, and that is a deal breaker. So even though I am no longer watching Whitney with my husband, I did try it. And that’s all you can expect in your TV relationship. Conclusion: take your partner’s preferences into account and give all new programs a chance.

3. Watch it Anyway

Foreplay.

Another key to harmony in your TV relationship is something you are probably already doing, and that is “compromise.” Longterm relationships are all about compromises. Especially when those relationships involve the watching of TV. Earlier in this post I mentioned that my husband and I always watch Survivor – in fact, my husband and I have watched every single season  of Survivor together, except for seasons 1 and 2 (which predate our moving into together in 2001). So in a way, Survivor is most representative of our TV relationship. But the thing is, I have lost some of my love for Survivor over the last few years. I still believe that it is the greatest game show of all time, but I started watching it at a time when reality TV was far more compelling than scripted television. But right now TV is just so good that I would prefer to spend the limited amount of time I have for TV viewing on something else. But I don’t.Why? Because Survivor is what my husband and I watch together. Some couples have a vacation spot or a restaurant or a song that symbolizes their relationship. My husband and I are united by Jeff Probst and “The tribe has spoken.” So I will continue to watch Survivor even though I’d rather be watching Parenthood, because only one of those shows includes my husband on the couch. And that makes TV viewing 65% more enjoyable (these are hard scientific numbers).

But now I’m curious about your own experiences with watching TV with your partner (current or former). For those of you in long term relationships, what hardships have you faced in your TV relationships? Are there shows your partner loves and that you despise? Do you have more than one DVR in your house?

I’m also curious about TV relationships between non-romantic couples. For instance, do you regularly watch TV with a roommate, sibling, or parent? If so, how do you keep that relationship stable?

Please share below…

My TV Pet Peeves

I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post. Please forgive me, readers, and blame my pet humans instead. Both of these humans will be in some form of regular day care starting in August and yes, the thought of  putting #2 in daycare does give me the weepies and intermittent panic attacks. However, daycare  means that I will be able to return to blogging with some regularity. “Phew!” you must all be thinking, “Thank God she’s coming back!” Well, you’re welcome.

Now on to my post, before #2 wakes up. He has a sixth sense about my productivity. That is, he frowns upon it and likes to disrupt it with all the tricks of his trade:  too-short naps, poop bombs, and my personal favorite, big, gummy smiles.

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There are several blog-worthy shows currently on the air – True Blood, Top Chef, and soon, July-25th-soon, Mad Men! But I wanted to use this post to write about something that has been percolating in my brain for a few months now: my television pet peeves. As an avid TV watcher, I am pretty adept at suspending my disbelief. I accept that vampires, werewolves, and demons exist when watching shows like True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I accept that there is a magic island filled with polar bears and electromagnetic energy when I watch Lost. I even accept that the idea that the teenagers in shows like Gossip Girl drink martinis at hotel bars without getting carded. And I always accept most of those overused TV tropes documented at the great site TV Tropes. But there are a few tropes that I cannot stomach and which force me to yell at the television set every time they occur (which is a lot). I don’t have a good explanation for why these particular violations drive me up the wall, but here they are in no particular order:

1. My Water Just Broke!

"My water just broke!"

Despite the fact that approximately 490,000 babies are born every day, television shows rarely get the details of childbirth right. Most labor scenes begin with a character saying — usually at some inopportune time, like in the middle of a kidnapping (Desperate Housewives), in a stalled elevator (Saved by the Bell) or, in a car during a traffic jam (Blossom) — “My water just broke!” Despite its prevalence on television, most women  will go into labor long before their water breaks. This trope sticks in my craw because I believe it does a real disservice to first-time parents, who, despite reading all the books, still don’t recognize that labor has started without the iconic (but relatively rare) rupturing of the membranes. Case in point: when I went into labor with my first child, it took me several hours to convince my husband that I was truly in labor. I kept telling him, rather undramatically, “I think I’m in labor.” And he kept saying things like “Did your water break?” and  “The doctor said you wouldn’t have the baby until next week.” and “Let’s watch the end of  So You Think You Can Dance.” I did watch So You Think You Can Dance, but I was totally in labor. Had we been trapped in an elevator and had I yelled “My water just broke!” I’ll bet my husband would have believed me. Stupid TV.

2. Where’s the Umbilical Cord?

Don't worry, I'm a doctor. And a monster.

Giving birth to a baby is an exciting plot event and therefore TV scribes like to stage childbirth in all sorts of wacky places: see # 1. The  brave laboring woman will often yell to a scared bystander “Whether you like it or not, this baby is coming NOW!” Or conversely, a brave bystander will yell at the scared laboring woman, “Whether you like it or not, this baby is coming NOW!” Much chaos and sweating and fetching of hot water will then ensue, followed by the birth of the baby, who is  immediately placed in her quivering mother’s arms. It is at this point that I yell at the TV “Where’s the umbilical cord? You people need to cut the umbilical cord! That baby’s still attached to the placenta!” I get so agitated by this omission that I can’t fully enjoy the melodrama of the moment. Please writers, next time have someone cut the umbilical cord. That’s all I’m asking.

3. Going to Bed/Waking Up with Lipstick On

That's a lot of bronzer, lady

On the Glee episode “Home” (2010), April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth) must spend the night at Will Schuester’s (Matthew Morrison) apartment. As she slips into bed, singing some song I can’t remember, all I can focus on is her lips. Her shiny, lipsticked lips. I keep thinking about how, the moment she rolls over in bed, that nice white pillow case will be covered in sticky lipstick. Then she’ll roll back and get sticky lipstick in her pretty blonde hair. Gross. No woman goes to bed with lipstick on unless she’s drunk and passes out before getting the opportunity to wipe it off. I hate this TV trope. It drives me up the wall. “Take off your lipstick!” I scream as characters slip beneath their crisp, clean sheets. I understand that TV shows like Glee, Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl (all prime offenders in this regard) do not aim for realism. But it is possible to make a character look like she isn’t wearing make up and still make her look pretty good. At least take off the shiny lipstick, people. No one goes to bed wearing shiny lipstick. No one.

Even perpetually poised Betty Draper appears make up free when going to bed

4. Children who Don’t Resemble their Parents

Darby and Damon with their mother Jessica, on HUNG

When two very good-looking humans have sex with each other and make a baby, that baby usually ends up good-looking too (see Shiloh Jolie-Pitt). When a very good-looking human makes a baby with a funny-looking human, the results are less predictable (see Alexa Joel). Thomas Jane and Anne Heche are both very good-looking humans so it stands to reason that their offspring would be hot, or at least, not too shabby. But on the HBO show Hung, the offspring of Ray (Thomas Jane) and Jessica  (Anne Heche), played by Sianoa Smit-McPhee and Charlie Saxton, are pretty darn unattractive (sorry, I’m not trying to be bitchy here). My guess is that this is the point of this miscasting — to be funny. Ray lives in a dying city, has a job at a underfunded school, a catty ex-wife, and two sullen Goth teens who failed to inherit his dashing good looks. Hilarious! But I find this visual joke distracting since these children look NOTHING like their parents. It’s just too hard to accept that they’re related. I was also frustrated by the casting on a much better show, Six Feet Under. I love Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, and Lauren Ambrose, and I can’t imagine any other actors in their roles, but those three look nothing like each other.

5. Teenagers with Too Much Power

Brandon Walsh, big man on campus

This pet peeve dates back to my 90210 days (the original, not the reboot). I was always amazed that Brandon Walsh (Jason Preistly), the student body president of fictional California University, was so important to the university’s daily workings. He was always meeting with the Dean and being asked to join task forces and to advise big university muckety-mucks on major decisions. In the Season 5 episode  “Homecoming” (1994), Brandon is pressed to challenge the presence of a visiting dignitary, Quintero, who has been accused of torture. Brandon launches his own investigation into the accusations (conveniently meeting a gardener who was a victim of Quintero’s regime), and serves Quintero a subpoena. Because administering international justice is the responsibility of the student body president. On a related note, I also hate it when teenagers achieve things that it takes adults years of hard work and dilligence to achieve. For example, I scoff everytime a character on Gossip Girl mentions that Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) was published in The New Yorker. The odds of getting a story published in The New Yorker is so slim, and yet broody old Dan Humphrey gets his banal work published there.

6. Newborn Babies Who Are Actually 6 Month Olds

One of the few believable newborns on TV

I understand why a television show cannot use a newborn baby when portraying the birth of a newborn baby. First, newborns are ugly. They are wrinkly, swollen, and many of them have coneheads (due to being pushed through the birth canal). Newborns are also highly susceptible to colds and infections and so it’s not a great idea to have them on a crowded television set. I get it. Nevertheless, it drives me bonkers when we are shown a fresh-from-the-womb baby and he is fat and bright-eyed and not at all smushy-faced. Once again, this trope does a disservice to novice parents, who, when handed their fresh-from-the-womb baby, are probably wondering “Why is my kid so ugly?” Friday Night Lights is one of the few TV shows that used a baby resembling a newborn. Gracie Bell Taylor, when she first appeared on screen, was bug-eyed, scrawny, and splotchy. Of course, as she got older, Gracie Bell continued to be bug-eyed, scrawny, and splotchy, so um, at least that kid’s getting some sweet royalty checks!

These were all of the pet peeves I could come up with before # 2 decided to take his signature too-short nap. He is currently offering me big gummy smiles and attempting to poke a slobbery finger in my laptop’s USB port. He is a productivity-disrupting super genius. But, I’d like to know what TV pet peeves you have — particularly the ones that don’t seem to bother anyone but you.

Initial Impressions of the MELROSE PLACE Premiere

The CW is awfully fond of rebooting television shows of the past. Last year they resurrected Beverly Hills, 90210, calling it simply 90210. I quit the show after a few episodes (I had reached my quota of trashy teen-targeted television shows for the season), but my husband hung on. He was a die hard Beverly Hills 90210 fan in the 1990s and he didn’t want the dream to die.

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As a die hard fan of the original Melrose Place I had similar motivations for putting the new version in my DVR queue. Deep down I knew this show was going to suck, but I was drawn to it like a stupid moth to a stupider flame.

melrosethen1

Did the first episode suck? Well, I suppose that depends on what you were expecting. I was expecting a beautiful young cast (check!), soapy storylines (check!), clunky dialogue (check!), cameos from Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro (check! check!) and girl on girl action in a convertible (wait, what?). Yes, the show did exactly what I expected it to do. But, there were a few moments that had me screaming at my TV (I was pleased to see that Defamer also had a post devoted to Melrose Place‘s implausible plotting):

1. Lauren
I found Lauren’s (Stephanie Jacobsen) storyline to be very confusing. First, people address her as “doctor” but she is still in medical school. I asked a doctor friend of mine about this and she assured me that had she been addressed as “doctor” while still a medical student, she would have corrected the mistake. Next, I found it odd that Lauren’s suitor kept attributing his mother’s speedy recovery to Lauren and her wonderful doctoring skills. As my doctor friend informed me, while medical students do have their own patients “they are also the patients of your attending and resident. You never make your own decisions or write your own orders.” So either the show’s writers have no understanding of how the medical profession works or they want us to believe that Lauren is an egomaniac who takes all the credit for the recovery of a shared patient and allows herself to be addressed as “Dr. Yung” when she is not yet a doctor. This is a lot like when Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestly) had all that pull as student government president at California University or when Gossip Girl‘s Dan Humphries (Penn Badgley) got his short story published in The New Yorker (The New Yorker for crying out loud!), that is, it’s the common TV trope of giving the show’s young protagonists way more power and pull than they would have in the real world.

melrose-place-stephanie-jacobsen1

2. Jonah
a. The 5 year anniversary video Jonah (Micheal Rady, of the short-lived Swingers) made for Riley (Jessica Lucas) was a sweet idea. But who filmed all that footage of Jonah and Riley kissing in a swimming pool, having pillow fights, and romping on the beach? The camera was clearly not on a tripod since it often moved to follow the couple’s actions. So do Jonah and Riley normally bring a camera man into the bedroom while they engage in clichéd cute couple behavior? Because she seemed awfully surprised to see that video.

b. So let me get this straight Jonah: you are a struggling filmmaker living in Los Angeles and an A list director offers you $100,000 to write a script based on your “award winning” student film. But you reject that offer because you know that said director is just trying to ensure that you don’t put the footage of him making out with his daughter’s BFF on the internets? Jonah, is that because you are a true “artist”? Because, as Ella (Katie Cassidy) gushes, you have a “point of view”? Ella, did you see Jonah’s anniversary video? Jonah, you are a douchebag.

melrose-place-michael-rady14

3. David
For the first 5 minutes of David’s (Shaun Sipos) conversation with his father, Michael (Thomas Calabro), I was thinking that he was the son of Michael’s ex-wife, Jane (Josie Bissett). Yes, that would mean that David had an affair with his aunt Sidney (Laura Leighton). Then I realized he was probably Kimberly’s (Marcia Cross) son with Michael and felt MUCH better [note: since publishing this post the second Melrose Place episode has aired and it turns out David's mother is neither Jane nor Kimberly. Michael Mancini was quite the man-whore!] . But this little misunderstanding proves that the writers need to do a better job of reminding us about the various plotlines of the old Melrose Place if they are going to reference them in the new Melrose Place.

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4. Ella
I have seen Amanda Woodward (Heather Locklear) and you, madame, are no Amanda Woodward.

melrose-place-amanda-woodward

Will you watch Melrose Place again? I will, but only to watch Ashlee Simpson-Wentz butcher her lines.