Alex Yarde remembers sitting down as a family to watch TV together, and thinks about the ways in which entertainment has changed over the years – for better and for worse.
I loved TV. I don’t anymore. I guess the television era I grew up in is gone and not to return. American Idol and the Bachelor aren’t my cup of tea. I get why networks make these shows –they’re cheap to produce (since the Writers’ Strike, writers, like all other Union employees in this country are being marginalized) and for some reason, millions tune in. Basic cable offerings are not much better. I am not interested in Megalodon (for the reportedly 70% of viewers that believed in a prehistoric super shark, It was fake.), Amish Mafia, or Duck Dynasty (even as guilty pleasures). HBO and Showtime currently have some of the best dramas on television but that does require the viewer to pay a lot just for a handful of shows that are worth it. For every Boardwalk Empire or Game of Thrones there are a dozen 16 and Pregnant or Catfish shows.
Given the lack of actual entertainment, I have begun to replace traditional TV with Netflix. Netflix was revolutionary when it first started sending DVDs to its customers through the mail. I was an early adopter. It wasn’t the first company to offer this service but at the time, it had most of the content anyone could want. Suddenly there was no need to waste any precious weekend time dealing with surly english majors/aspiring screenwriters who lorded over local video stores and acted as if they couldn’t be so bothered to assist the patrons they were paid to help, or dealing with khaki-clad Blockbuster kids, who knew zero about the films they endlessly restocked. I was thrilled every time I found a crisp red envelope in my mailbox. I knew it would contain obscure Asian cinema classics like Shinjin Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter, 70’s exploitation epics like Jack Hill’s infamous Switchblade Sisters or sweeping, Mandarin-subtitled, costumed period dramas that my wife was into at the time (if there wasn’t kung fu involved I typically slept through those).
Today, a lot of Netflix content is streaming (and the cost of DVD delivery has gone up). In addition, most of the streaming content is TV-related as opposed to feature films. So if I am patient I can see most “must see” TV on Netflix. My primary reason to stick with the service is that Netflix has begun to produce its own content, shows of remarkable depth and quality across the board.
After the thoroughly enjoyable, “Sorkin on steroids”, political potboiler House of Cards, I devoured the awesomely gruesome Gothic horror Hemlock Grove. This series is best described as if Twin Peaks and The Howling had a secret love child… then smothered it in its crib. Currently I am forcing myself not to binge-watch Orange Is The New Black which is outstanding in every regard from the topically brilliant but never preachy writing to the pitch-perfect ensemble cast. Streaming content on demand is here to stay. It’s how I watch TV now – when I want and where I want it, which has its definite advantages.
However, I still miss the content and the ritual of watching TV from when I was a kid.
I recall racing home from school during Monster Week on WPIX Channel 11 in New York, which aired each spring, the cheesy Japanese Godzilla vs. movies with rubber suited actors smashing miniature Tokyo never got old. The original Star Trek series, Twilight Zone and Honeymooners marathons I watched religiously every New Years Eve. My intro to Japanese Anime—Robotech, was via broadcast TV. It aired at some ungodly hour on Sunday mornings and I never missed an episode. If you lived in the New York City Tri State area during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and, are a certain age, you remember the “Yule Log.” It was a four-hour program that I kid you not, consisted of a close up of burning logs in a quaint, provincial fireplace while cheery holiday tunes played in the background. My wife, who grew up in the Midwest, to this day doesn’t believe this show existed.
Nowadays you don’t have to consult the TV Guide or race home to watch your favorite show thanks to the DVR and streaming on demand and I miss that. Getting together at a prescribed time and watching TV together, as a family, was great. Today you don’t even need to watch TV on a television anymore. My kids, as young as they are, can each be on a device watching the shows of their choice whenever my wife and I permit it. The benefit is that my wife and I do not have to resolve fights over what is going to be watched, but the ritual of planning the night’s entertainment because one can only watch a show when it aired, like dinner time, is slowly going the way of the Dodo Bird.
I do realize nostalgia about watching TV is a bit silly. But, when I think back to my own childhood, some of my fondest memories are of watching Norman Leer-produced comedies like Good Times, All in the Family and The Jeffersons with my family. We laughed hard, but also talked about the underlying themes of the shows which were smart, topical and touched on everything form Women’s rights to racism and politics. Mini-series like Shogun interested me in the true history of Japan. I recall being so terrified by The Day After TV movie that I learned all I could about the Cold War, nuclear proliferation and geopolitics of the day.
These television shows were intros into terrific family discussions that I still remember vividly. These weighty issues were important to me growing up; fed my imagination and intellectual curiosity (and do seem more important than Keeping up with the Kardashians). I guess that fuels some of my nostalgia for the programming from “back in the day.” Luckily, via Netflix, iTunes, Hulu and other streaming content providers my wife and I can expose our young kids to the shows we loved growing up, such as the original Sesame Street series and Electric Company featuring Spider-Man and a young, hip Morgan Freeman as “Easy Reader.” I still sing a number of beloved, catchy tunes from Schoolhouse Rock every time we watch. It’s how my generation remembers the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. I hope my kids share fond memories of shows from their childhood when they get older, as I do. I just have to accept that their TV experience is vastly different than mine and that “Mother Necessity” (one of my favorite Schoolhouse Rocks episodes) has created another invention and ushered in the age of what content you want when you want it.