I Love Commercials

I love commercials.  I think TV ads are cute, little, itty bitty movies.  So it doesn’t bother me that, for the most part, they’re lying to us.  Look, folks!  Like SkyfallTerminator and Iron Man, they’re fiction!  Sit back and enjoy the show.

The thing that I don’t understand, though, is how TV commercials ever actually SELL anything.  The ads all exist in these weird-ass Never-Never-Land dystopias that can’t be a good idea to showcase the product.  For example:

Household Cleaners – The houses in these ads are filthy.  They’re disgusting.  Who lives there — trolls?  The furniture and floors look the family pet is a buffalo.  The kitchens are the greasiest, greasy combination of greasy-spoon diner and salmonella experiment known to humanity.  And the bathrooms!  OMG!  They’re covered in so much crud Gollum wouldn’t poop in there.  Even the worst hillbillies I know don’t live like that.  If you live in this kind of squalor, you don’t need “Extra-Strength” anything to clean it up; you need a match to burn it down before the Health Department shows up and does it for you.

Feminine Hygiene – Menstruating women are not that happy.  They just aren’t.  And if they do smile, it’s a lot more evil-looking than in the ads.  It’s not a good idea to remind women of this.

Automobiles – Everybody knows the internal combustion engine is a dick to the environment, and car ads prove it.  First, they drive the SUV through a stream, turning the fish habitat into mud pies.  Then, it’s up the mountain, in a 4-wheel-drive rampage to catch the sunset from the summit.  Perfect view!  Except they parked their three tons of automotive junk on a hundred-year-old lichen that just got its endangered species life smeared into the tread of an all-season radial.  Yeah, we’re not destroying our planet fast enough.  I want one of those.

Drugs – I don’t care what wonders the newest wonder drug does, the “side effects” litany scares the hell out of me.  Honestly, “may cause dry mouth, tremors, depression, heart attack, vomiting, internal bleeding, external bleeding, massive bleeding and your tongue’s going fall out” leaves me a little reluctant to try taking it for “occasional arthritis pain.”

Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise etc.) – Nobody puts that much mayo on a sandwich.  It’s like they’re painting a barn — with a trowel.  The bread would be slimy, for God’s sake.  And take one bite and you’d have white crap shooting up your nose, down your chin and all over the room.  You’d look like a werewolf who just murdered an albino.

Snack Food – I don’t know anybody who delicately puts one potato chip on their tongue like it’s a communion wafer.  Nor have I ever seen anybody put chocolate in their mouth and suck it to death.  Nobody chews in slow motion, and not one person — ever! — eats just one cookie. Honestly, if people ate snack food like they do in the ads, they wouldn’t eat snack food at all.  why bother?

And finally:

Yogurt – There isn’t a man alive who doesn’t wish some woman would look at him the way all women look at yogurt – in the advertisements.

Originally written – March 2015

I’m An Addict!

They say that the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  Well, here goes!  My name is WD, and I’m an addict.  Hard to believe, but it’s true.  Despite what you see, I’m stuck in a secret cycle of abuse.  Oh, I’m good at hiding it, denying it.  I only use it to relax – unwind.  I can quit anytime I want to.  But no, I can’t.  I’ve tried.  I’m an addict.  For me, one is one too many and even a whole series is never enough.

I guess my story’s the usual one.  It all started innocently enough; just a few schoolboys having a bit of a vicarious adventure.  I don’t remember who tried it first, but by the end of the summer, all my friends and I were doing it every weekend.  For a while, it was all we could talk about.  Fortunately, the habits of the young are fickle, and when school started, most of my friends drifted away to homework and hockey practice.  However, I remained, every weekend, watching black and white back-to-back reruns of Richard Greene’s Robin Hood and Roger Moore in Ivanhoe.  Soon, an hour a week simply wasn’t enough, and I began experimenting on my own – searching for a bigger thrill.  It was then that I discovered … Doctor Who.  I remember thinking, I’ll just try it; I can always change the channel.  But I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  I watched it all, even the credits, in the gathering twilight of an autumn afternoon.  It was a wonderful excitement, exhilarating and confused.  I was too young to truly understand what Time Lords were or the symbiotic relationship Who had with the Companion, but I wanted to know.  I wanted to open my perceptions to the sophisticated storylines, explore the language, and fill my senses with the ideas that I never found on regular TV.  I didn’t know it then, but I think I was already addicted — to British Television.

Emma Peel

From Doctor Who, it was easy to graduate to watching The Saint.  After all, Roger Moore was just Ivanhoe in a tuxedo – wasn’t he?  No, he was more than that — stronger, with deeper plots and worldly situations.  Then it was The Avengers.  Just as my pubescent friends were discovering the hidden fantasies of Barbara Eden’s belly button, I had Diana Rigg all to myself.  For a teenage boy, Emma Peel had a dizzying depth of character, compared to Anthony Nelson’s do-as-you’re-told Jeannie or the submissive Samantha Stevens.  She was my fee verte, and I was a slave to her.  Sated with suggested sex, mystery and espionage, when The Prisoner was broadcast in the early 70s, I was unable to resist.  I wallowed in its nonlinear drama, letting it wash over me, week after week, until — hauntingly unresolved — it ended, and left me empty and cold.

I should have stopped then – gone cold turkey — but I was ready for the hard stuff: Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Speedball comedy with a walloping high so potent that even today I find myself laughing outrageously in its etherealic flashbacks.  The Pythons opened my mind to non sequitur, the absurd, the tilted storyline, bizarre characterization and oh, so much more.  I don’t know how many traditional motifs I abandoned that winter.  It’s all a blur to me now.  But at the end of it, I knew I was never going back to North American TV.  I was hooked.

Since those heady days, I’ve spent forty years searching, always searching, for more of the roll-off-the-sofa/pee-your-pants highs that the Pythons delivered.  Through Fawlty Towers; Black Adder; Yes, Minister; Red Dwarf; Ab Fab; The Office and so many others.  Even Mr. Bean!  That’s how complete my habit has become.  And it wasn’t just comedy; it was drama, as well.  Mysteries, espionage, political intrigue — I’ve tried them all.  Night after night, I’d tell myself just one episode, but hours later, I’d still be slumped on the sofa — covered in cookie crumbs and stinking of Earl Grey tea.  The only thing that saved me from utter degradation was I’ve always had a violent allergic reaction to Jane Austen.  Otherwise, I would have been up to my eyes in costume drama.  Then along came Downton Abbey and I was lost.

Today, British television is easy to find.  My dealers were always PBS and The Knowledge Network, but now there are so many other ways to feed my habit.  Netflix, Prime, Acorn, Britbox — they’re all there – whole seasons of Sherlock, Broadchurch, Vera (back to the days of David Leon) House of Cards (the original with Ian Richardson) and even Lovejoy and Agatha Christie — if that’s what you fancy.  This year, I watched all ten seasons of MI5 again, 60 years of murder with Morse, Lewis and Endeavor and, of course Top Boy and Shetland.  But it doesn’t end there because late at night when my skin crawls for long vowels, Manchester accents and proper pronunciation, I surf through YouTube for snippets of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Cracker, The Inbetweeners and even grainy bits of Jimmy Nail’s Spender.

My name is WD, and I’m an addict.

Originally published 2013, and gently edited for 2020

6 Really Tired TV Trends

tvI just noticed that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has produced a new TV series called Pure.  It’s a scripted drama about (and I’m not making this up) a Mennonite family of drug dealers.  A Mennonite family of drug dealers!  Now, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.  But I digress.  So — uh — wow — a television series about a dysfunctional crime family.  What a novel idea!  (Sometimes I wish sarcasm had a font.)

I hate to say it folks, but the fantastic days of glued-to-the-sofa television are over.  The Sopranos, Band of Brothers, Dexter, Deadwood and Breaking Bad are all gone — and they ain’t comin’ back.  There are a few leftovers from that 20-year entertainment banquet (notably, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead) but, in general, TV has gone back to the same old crap.  Why?  ‘Cause studio executives are beating audiences over the head with really, really, really tired ideas.  For example:

Cop Shows — There have been so many cop shows on TV recently that half the population of Hollywood has worn a badge at one time or another.  There were at least three NCISs, four CSIs, and God only knows how many Law and Orders.  People, it’s the same program!  All they do is change the skyline in the opening credits.

Paranormal Everything — Ever since aliens got the jump on agents Mulder and Scully, television producers have been trying to recapture those ratings — and, believe me, they’ve tried everything.  The litany of ghosts, trolls, witches, mutants, aliens, vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, superheroes and telekinetic, super-powered, extraordinary beings reads like an Aleister Crowley nightmare.  And have you ever noticed these programs never actually come to any conclusion?  They just keep going sideways until you’re so pissed off you could scream.

Talent Competitions — The format hasn’t changed since The Original Amateur Hour debuted on the DuMont Television Network in 1948, but since the 80s, there have been a ton of talent hunt programs like Star Search and American Idol on TV.  The problem is last year the market got so saturated that, for the first time in television history, there were more contestants than there were viewers!  OMG! Andy Warhol was right.

Cooking Shows — No, guess again; they’re Game Shows.  Cooking is now a competition, and any way you slice it, the formula is basically the same.  Several teams are given a bag of weird ingredients and told to make dinner (or dessert) before the third commercial break or get kicked to the curb. It’s basically Beat The Clock with butcher knives.  The only deviation is that sometimes a celebrity chef gets to swear at the competitors.

Quirky Ensemble Comedy Shows — And it came to pass that MASH begot Cheers and Cheers begot Seinfeld and Seinfeld begot Friends and Friends made piles of money, and so Friends begot How I Met Your Mother, Community, 30 Rock  and every other sitcom that’s looking to become the new Friends.

And finally:

Celebrity “Real TV” Reality Shows — If this were a more civilized time, the purveyors of these programs would be dragged from their homes and horsewhipped through the streets.