Comedy By Remote Control (2018)

I bought a new television the other day and I’m reminded of something I wrote 5 years ago.  Nothing has changed.

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A certain acceptance comes with age.  As you get older, you realize that the world is not going to change that radically between now and the time The Grim Reaper takes your pulse.  Walmart is going to remain the mighty retail monolith it’s always been.   McDonald’s will sell more burgers than Africa has cows — despite the interesting fact that no one you know has ever eaten there.  And Microsoft, Google and Apple are going to continue to rule the world in an unholy triumvirate worthy of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus.  However, just because you’ve accepted the inevitable doesn’t mean certain things don’t continue to drive you nuts.  Our world is loaded with stuff that simply doesn’t make any sense.  For example, in North America a two-fisted gigantic bottle of Coke™ sells for 99 cents, the smaller (smaller!) bottle costs $1.50 and the bottle of water (that beverage you can get free out of any garden hose.) is $1.89.  Just let that sink in for a moment.  It makes you wonder what Dasani actually means — you just got robbed?

However, the single most ridiculous thing in our world that sends me loopy every time I think about it is the remote control.  This is the point and click device that revolutionized our society.  It changed us from a vigorous, dynamic people into lazy swine with the attention span of a hummingbird without its Ritalin.  It does everything but deliver the potato chips and chew them for us.  I swear, if you knew the correct sequence and pointed it at NASA, you could launch the Mars Rover.  I (the original techno-moron) have recorded Games of Thrones in my living room while lounging through Spaghetti alla Vongolese and a bottle of Amalfi Red (I had to fight to get that combination) on a rooftop in Rome.  It is the most important item, aside from the coffee pot, in any household.  So why, by all that’s holy, is every single one of those little bastards different?

We live in a homogenized world.  If you were magically transported to a shopping mall in darkest Bavaria, when you opened your eyes, aside from The Gotterdammerung music playing in The Food Court, you would have no idea where you were.  You could be anywhere from Indonesia to Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  The utter sameness of most of our planet is worthy of Groundhog Day.  Yet, when your television finally hits the wall of planned obsolescence and you have to buy a new one, you’re about to enter the undiscovered country.  You’re reduced to re-inventing the 21stcentury wheel because the brains of the operation, the remote, has changed its shape, its size, its colour and rearranged all of its buttons.  The first time you use it, you think you’ve paused Breaking Bad: the Teenage Years to go for the Orville Redenbacher’s and suddenly you’re recording a 24 hour marathon of Everybody Loves Friends, in HD, on a channel you haven’t even paid for – yet.  So, you start pushing buttons like a Rhesus monkey in a primate behavioural study.  Nineteen clicks later, you’ve selected the adult classic, Boob Chaser III, which Channel 531 casually informs you, has been “shared” with your Facebook friends.  “Thank you for choosing Pay Per View!”

And it’s no use trying to beat the system with one of those Universal control-everything-but-the-toaster jobbers.  That’s just madness.  You need an advanced degree in binary engineering from M.I.T. just to turn one of those babies on.  By the end of the first hour, you’ve screwed up the set-up so badly the instructions are now in Hebrew and the one channel available for your viewing pleasure is The Weather Network from McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  Finally — $19.95 plus tax, poorer — you give up and go back to fighting with the original villain that came in the box.

I know that, in fifteen minutes any twelve-year-old can reconfigure my system so she can run it off the microwave.  It’s not that technology is all that smart; it’s just that it’s smarter than me.  However, I don’t understand why, when all technology is basically the same, every piece of equipment is so utterly different from the last one that you need to hire Thomas Edison to figure it out.  I can’t be the only guy on this planet old enough to remember Ronald Reagan.  What’s wrong with one size fits all?

We have cars that can parallel park themselves, murderous drones that search and destroy across the wilds of Pakistan from a Wii™ system in Wiesbaden; we’re on the verge of creating nanobots that literally eat disease.  Yet, when I want to watch an old episode of Arrested Development on Netflix, I still need six (different) little boxes to do it.  If this isn’t Comedy Central, I don’t know what is!

The Television Cure

remote-controlWe live in a complicated world.  There are any number of hairy, scary ooglies out there, trying to do us harm.  External germs, internal neuroses, the dolt down the block with his motorcycle — it just never ends.  Luckily, I’ve been around for a few decades now, and I’ve discovered that just about anything can be fixed with television.  Think about it!  When you were a kid and you got sick, what did your mom, dad or legal guardian give you to make you feel better?  A day off school and full control of the TV remote.  Parenting was a lot easier in those days, but it must have worked ’cause you’re still here.  So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at a few other ways to cope with these troubled times.  (BTW, for some of the bigger problems, we’ve added alcohol to the mix.)

Stress (Men) — Any television game that involves a ball — and beer.

Stress (Women) — Braless, red wine, chocolate and back-to-back-to-back Kate Winslet movies

The Common ColdMad Men and mimosas. It will dry the snotties, make you feel better about your lot in life, and the orange juice will give you a jolt of vitamin C.  (Plus, it kinda drags in the middle, so you might fall asleep.)

The Flu — Chicken soup and Daytime TV.  Trust me!  Bob Barker, The People’s Court and Days Of Our Lives have done more for the general health of this world that any pharmaceutical company.

Depression — Any recent Ben Affleck film.  Seriously, if that guy can succeed in this world, your sorry ass shouldn’t have any problems.

Road RageGame Of Thrones!  The worst commute in the world doesn’t hold a candle to what those poor bastards have been going through — for 7 years!

ProcrastinationLost!  This pointless piece of junk goes so far sideways that eventually you’ll just walk away and do anything — ANYTHING! — rather than watch another minute.

And finally:

A Broken Heart — Pizza, red wine, baggy pajamas and a weekend binge of Ryan Gosling movies.  For really serious breakups, throw in a couple of Ryan Reynolds movies and a tub of Rocky Road ice cream.

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.