Comic Relief By Remote Control

remoteA 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 beyond material for a stand-up comedy routine.  For example, go to any store in the country and you’ll find the 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, while you were sleeping, 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 Blu-Ray player 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 21st century wheel becauseremote1 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 finding the food pellet in a primate behavioural study.  Six 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.  First of all, you need an advanced understanding of the Da Vinci Code just to turn one of those babies on, and, more importantly, nothing less than a degree in binary engineering from M.I.T. is going to make them work.  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, for God’s sake.  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 channel 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 electronic 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!remotes1

How Good TV Goes Bad!

Apparently, the Fox Network is going to cancel House.  I have never seen the show.  No, I’m not a television snob who only watches PBS, nor do I have a philosophical disagreement with scripted TV.  I just didn’t watch it in the beginning, couldn’t figure it out in the middle and wasn’t willing to give it any time after it had passed its prime.  Over the years, literally thousands of TV shows have slipped past me this way.  By the time my friends convince me that the drama is riveting or the comedy hilarious, the program is two or three seasons deep and already going stale.  I usually tune in just in time to catch nothing more than saggy dialogue, lame insults and baggy clichés.  Sometimes, I go back and find a program’s broadcast youth in hit-and-miss syndication, but mostly I don’t, and I doubt if I will with House.  Grumpy medical people haven’t intrigued me since Doctor Gillespie.  Anyway, House was born, lived and is now going to die without us ever becoming friends…oh, well!  It had a good life.

Actually, House is an exception: most television programs don’t have a good life.  If they are bad, they die young.  If they’re good and nobody watches them, they die young.  If they are bad and tons of people watch them, they’re still bad and become a running joke (a la Gilligan’s Island.)  Plus, everybody from the executive producer down to the teenage viewer spends the rest of their lives trying to live down their association with that piece of trash.  However, the worst thing that can ever happen to a television show is that it’s good and tons of people watch it.  Only the very best programs can survive that kind of success, and most of them don’t.

Aside from a few excellent aberrations, really good TV is based on character and writing.  All you have to do is look at the CSI franchise to figure that out, and while Miami Vice kinda needed Miami, it could have just as easily have been Malibu or New Orleans.  This is the way it’s always been, since the dawn of television.  Even way back in black and white days, 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye weren’t that much different, and everybody knows that Star Trek was just Wagon Train with short skirts and phasers.  Good characters make good TV, and good writing makes good characters.  However, this is also exactly what makes good TV go so horribly bad.

In the world of television, professional writers pour miles of work (and paper!) into creating characters.  They put them into storylines that let them shine and give them clever things to say.  The sole purpose of this is to make these characters interesting enough that we, the audience, come back next week to see them again.  It’s a hit-and-miss proposition, but when it works, a television show becomes successful.   The characters become our television friends — witty, sexy, smart, comical, caring or just plain cool – in short, everything we wish our real friends were but never are.  After all, who would you rather have a drink with, Lucy, the smart chick from Alcatraz or your idiot sister-in-law?  No contest!

Unfortunately, this is also the problem: once these imaginary people become our friends, nobody wants to get rid of them.  The producers, directors and technical crowd — right down to the guy who pours the orange juice — have a good gig going.  They’re not going to kill the goose that’s laying the golden eggs.  Furthermore, the advertisers don’t care if we’re watching dancing Bavarian mud monkeys — as long as the audience numbers are up.  And the writers will sell their own mothers before they start the whole process over again.  After all, it probably took them ten years to sell this idea.  So the characters keep hanging around, long after the professional writers (who mostly suffer from acute, undiagnosed ADD, anyway) have run out of imagination.  The stories go flat and repetitive.  (How many ways can everybody love Raymond, for God’s sake?)  They generally outlast themselves by two, three or five years and keep staggering along, like wheezing pensioners looking for the Rest Home.  Either that, or the writers, sensing imminent unemployment, go nuts and call in the aliens or reinvent someone’s parent as a gratuitous celebrity to eke out another season or two.  And that’s how most good TV shows die, shadows of their former selves, alone and abandoned by everyone (often, even the original cast) only the most loyal fans remaining.  As old friends will, we sometimes come back for the last episode, like hangers-on at a funeral, but mostly we’ve gone on to other things enthralled by our new friends who are young and exciting.

Now that I think about it, maybe it’s too bad I missed House completely.  From the looks of things, it was probably an intelligent, interesting program.  After all, the producers were smart enough to retire the old boy before he was literally on his last legs.