Friday, May 07, 2004

Five Reasons Not to Smash Your Television

I've had a love/hate relationship with television for years. As a boy, I was drawn to the warm glow of the cathode ray tube and the two-dimensional images that flickered on our Hitachi screen. Socially awkward and frightened of my own intellect, I would immerse myself in the safe, happy world of "Degrassi Jr. High" or contemplate the enormity of the universe with Carl Sagan in his series "Cosmos". I noticed that every problem in TV Land could be solved within thirty minutes, including commercial breaks, and everybody made the right choice in the end. It was quite comforting, I suppose.

Years later, in the midst of my post-teenage rebellious phase, I began to scold my friends and neighbours about their natural fondness for television. (I've always been somewhat dogmatic, for better or worse) This was during my college years in Gaspé, that maritime village that calls itself a city. While my roommates would be watching "WWF Monday Night Raw", I would hide in my room reading Nietzche and feeling oh so superior. I know that this makes me sound like a pretentious fuckhead but I was 16 and I had to turn against the child I used to be, that TV-admiring little panic rat who lived in a virtual paradise.

Part of the reason that I turned away from the Blue Box was because of what it represented: I thought that it was a mind-numbing influence that eliminated the need for conversation, possibly signifying the death knell of modern civilization. If our eyes are fixed on the screen, we're not reading great literature or painting a watercolour: we're just absorbing the dreams of a hack writer who lives a stone's throw from Beverly Hills, or waiting for the Wheel to stop spinning so that we can guess the next letter.

Although I never really stopped watching the damned thing, I eventually reached the point where I couldn't watch a program without criticizing it for all it's flaws, or at least savagely denigrating the commercials that appeared every 10 minutes or so. Before long, my friends were tired of my posturing and let me know that I was being an ass. Soon, I gave up trying to criticize TV and just tried to ignore it.

Today, I am proud to say that I have reached a balance of suspicion and admiration for the "Idiot Box". I am still very resistant to commercials (except that Dairy Queen one where the baby kicks the father right in the crotch. That one is hilarious) but the following programs have won my heart. They are the reason why I don't smash my television. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: A highly-addictive form of fake television journalism that never ceases to amaze me. Host Jon Stewart serves up witty, acerbic commentary and interviews many high profile guests with a level of poise and honesty rarely seen on American television. Although the satirical news thing has been done before, the Daily Show just does it better than I've ever seen. In case you have any lingering doubts, take a swig of chocolate milk and try to listen to one of Stephen Colbert's segments without blowing the milk out of your nose. Rob Corddry and Steve Carell are also violently funny. It appears here in Canada on Comedy Central every night @ 11 PM EST.

  • Trailer Park Boys: True "Canadiana", this faux-documentary series covers the life and times of some troubled Nova Scotians and their near-brushes with law enforcement. Set in an authentic trailer park near Halifax, main characters Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles are always trying to stay one step ahead of getting busted. Some of their recent episodes include backyard wrestling, cars being flipped by a Ricky-piloted Caterpillar Loader, Ricky and Julian scheming to buy out the trailer park by growing thousands of outdoor marijuana plants, and a massage parlour run out of the park that attracts some negative attention. Combining comedy with some compelling characters in a familiar rural setting, this series is in it's fourth season. You can catch it on Showcase every Sunday night at 9 PM EST.

  • Hockey Night in Canada: The "coolest sport on earth" beamed live into living rooms and bars across this great nation. People watch HNIC almost religiously, regardless of their background or first language. I'm quite certain that this is the unknown "X-factor" that holds Canada together. Without it, we'd be nothing more than a former British colony that hugs the continental United States. Hockey is fast-paced, exciting, and has enough drama to rival any popular soap opera. Don't miss the slapshots, bone-shattering body checks, and if you're really lucky, double overtime that will leave you breathless. CBC is kind enough to provide HNIC throughout the hockey season. Visit their website for the Stanley Cup Playoff schedule (we're down to four teams!).

  • The Simpsons: Nearly ubiquitous animated weekly satire that pushes all the right buttons and takes no prisoners. Although the quality has been diluted over the years--they're running out of ideas but can you blame them?--the Simpsons are still good for a laugh from time to time. They've appeared on Fox for the past 15 years (Sundays at 8 PM EST) but I suspect that their broadcasting days are numbered. Enjoy their hijinks while you can.

  • Crossfire: File this one in the "Guilty Pleasures" category, right up there with Pay-per-View Porn. Crossfire is the American template for a political discussion program but it is more like watching a hybrid of Ultimate Fighting Championship and C-Span, complete with a bell that sounds every minute to signify a change of topics and bi-partisan hosts that can barely contain their contempt for one another. In a fairly obvious form of symbolism, they place the Democratic supporters on the left side of the stage and the Republicans on the right. When the shouting begins, you know that you're in for an enjoyable show (although they never really resolve anything because both sides refuse to admit when they're wrong). It still makes for some compelling television. Crossfire appears on CNN every weekday at 4:30 PM EST.

Honourable mentions include Elimidate (for the hidden voyeur in you) and Family Guy (although cancelled, you can still find FG on Teletoon at 10 PM weekdays).

Have I left any exceptional programming off this list? Please comment below.

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