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…

Why I’m Still Watching SURVIVOR (And Why You Should Too)

A few months ago I was having a conversation with my brother and made a reference to Survivor, one of the first television programs to merge the conventions of reality television with those of the games how. “You’re STILL watching Survivor?” he asked, clearly incredulous. Though most of my other reality TV affairs have come and gone (America’s Next Top Model, Hell’s Kitchen, The Bachelor), I still find myself tuning into Survivor each season.

The success of so many reality shows today are fueled by our enjoyment of the schadenfreude that comes from knowing that we would most certainly never defecate on the floor in front of a group of people while wearing a formal gown (no matter how badly we had to go) or puke into our hands at the dinner table, the way contestants on the dating shows Flavor of Love and Rock of Love , respectively, have done. That’s because in these and in other shows (Nanny 911, The Real World, Bad Girls Club, to name just a few) the viewer is positioned above the cast member. Producers are banking on our elitism and disdain.

I don't watch this show. Seriously.

I don't watch this show. Seriously.

These women make me feel better about myself.

These women make me feel better about myself.

Likewise, shows such as So You Think You Can Dance , Project Runway and Top Chef, position the viewers below the cast members. With these shows we lift our eyes to marvel and envy the innate and cultivated talents of the contestants, knowing that we could never achieve that same level of skill. As one Top Chef contestant, Dale, put it a few seasons ago, “You sit on the couch watching the show and be like [sic] ‘Oh I could do that shit.’ Um, well you know what? Most of you? You can’t. ‘Cause it’s really fucking hard.” Dale may not win a spot on the newest season of America’s Next Top Grammarian but he does make a good point. The average viewer cannot whip up an artful amuse bouche in 5 minutes using only items pillaged from a convenience store. But the great thing about Survivor is that it showcases ordinary people — people just like you and me — pushing themselves to do extraordinary things.

Here are a few other reasons why I tune in season after season:

1. The Man
Jeff Probst is, in my opinion, the best game show host of all time. His detailed play by play commentaries during reward and immunity challenges are always informative and often funny. And during tribal council he has the uncanny ability to ask exactly the questions we were hoping he’d ask. He can put contestants on the spot — by challenging their circuitous logic or by bringing up an issue he knows they do not want to address — and somehow not come off as exploitative or mean-spirited. Probst IS Survivor.

The Man. Period.

The Man. Period.

2. The Premise
After 19 seasons, Survivor is still great because it is built on a brilliant premise: take a group of average Americans (with the occasional super-athlete or former member of the military occasionally tossed in) and put them on a desert island for 39 days. Require these people, many of whom have never even been camping, to build their own shelter and forage for their own food (sometimes the show’s producers give them rice and beans to start the game and sometimes they don’t even give them flint to make fire). When the contestants weak from hunger, thirst and lack of sleep, force them to compete in grueling physical challenges. And the amazing thing? Even with all of this to worry about, when their legs are covered in rashes and spider bites and their clothes are brown and brittle, these people still find ways to strategize, strategize, strategize.

The cast of Season 19

The cast of Season 19.

3. The Hunger
Watching a video of a malnourished family compete for their dinner would be horrifying and even sickening. But watching people who have chosen to place themselves in extreme living conditions compete for their dinner is completely engrossing. I love watching a prim Southern belle eat grubs from under a rock for “protein” or a large, muscled man make do with a few bites of rice. Nothing will match the joy I felt back in season two when Elisabeth Hasselbeck (then known as Elizabeth Filarski) pulled out a clump of her own hair, a side effect of malnutrition. “She really is starving!” I said to myself with glee. This is sick, I know.

Elisabeth--before she got all scary and right-wingy

Elisabeth--before she got all scary and right-wingy.

4. The Challenges
The reward and immunity challenges alternate between physical and mental competitions, but they are always difficult and intricate. Contestants have to dig holes and shimmy through them, dive under water to unlock treasure chests, assemble puzzle pieces to build ladders. Even the simplest challenges — such as having contestants perch on top of a tiny ledge to see who can stay there the longest — are endlessly fascinating.

One of my favorite challenges.

One of my favorite challenges.

True there have been some weak seasons (Survivor: Palau) and weak premises (breaking down the tribes by race?) but on the whole Survivor remains a consistently satisfying reality TV powerhouse. So while the premiere of Survivor: Samoa was down 22% from last year, I for one will continue to watch.

You Haven’t Seen WHAT? And Other Humiliations

It’s week 2 for my little blog and with classes having just started and a head cold ravaging my senses I was all out of blogspiration (if this is not already a word it should be). Besides, the first weeks of baby bloghood are so unsatisfying: why am I doing this? is anyone reading this? should I take a nap? But today I received an e-mail from a colleague in my department (hello Randall!) who said this regarding my inaugural post, “The Watercooler” :

Interesting comment during your water-cooler post. I’ve also noticed how little we talk about lit and film. I wonder if some of the lack of wc talk is due to a fear of showing ignorance, revealing that you have not seen a particular movie or read a particular book. I certainly don’t want Marianne [our department's Shakespeare expert] to know that I haven’t read most of Shakespeare’s plays and can’t remember much about those I have read.

I say we come up with a log in which every one lists their most embarrassing literary or cinematic oversights.

Upon reading this I thought “Eureka! I have something to post about this week!” So in the spirit of Randall’s e-mail I have assembled a list of the films I am most embarrassed to have not seen:

1. Rambo: First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)
As a child of the 1980s, this is unacceptable.

rambo

2. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)
My friend, Ali, is devoting a substantial portion of her dissertation to the films of David Lean. When I admitted that I hadn’t seen Lawrence, she replied “It’s long.” That pretty much sums up why I’ve avoided it.

lawrenceofarabia

3. L’avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni)
I have brought this film home from the library at least twice. And then I’ve opted to watch something like America’s Next Top Model instead. Oh the shame.

bfi-00m-obx

4. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler)
I have read numerous critical essays about this film and even sat though several conference presentations that address this classic WWII flick. Does that count?

77172-004-9DF641D2

5. The Grapes of Wrath (1940, John Ford)
I haven’t read the book either. Nail me to the cross.

the-grapes-of-wrath

6. Shane (1953, George Stevens)
I am embarrassed about this one primarily because I always show a clip from it when I teach the Western to my Intro to Film students. Shhhh, don’t tell them.

celeb_movie_alan_ladd_shane

7. Pather Panchali (1955, Satyajit Ray)
My knowledge of Indian cinema is woefully thin.

pather

8. Rashômon (1950, Akira Kurosawa)
I know, I know, bad me.

rashomon2

9. Way Down East (1920, DW Griffith)
As with #6, I always show a clip (the one on the ice floe) of Way Down East when teaching melodrama. I should watch this tomorrow.

Way Down East

10. Thelma and Louise (1991, Ridley Scott)
I’m an American chick who was in my teens when this film was released. What the hell is wrong with me?

Thelma and Louise

That was oddly liberating.

Care to share your own list of embarrassing cinematic oversights? Yes, you may use an alias…