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

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.

remote-control.png

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.