Now that some TV shows are back into production after the writers' strike, we're in a weird nether period where the filler programming is still on but some of the old favorites are going to return with new episodes. Because I am apparently the only person in the world who hasn't read Eat, Pray, Love
, I'm just now cracking into that book (juggling it with Alison Weir's biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine
), but I still maintain a relatively steady TV diet because I'm addicted to background noise while I'm working. The prospect of my favorites returning is thrilling ? How I Met Your Mother
is a particular gem, one of the very few comedies I watch these days, and Lost
has been spectacular ? but the strike hasn't been a complete wasteland. Here are a few bits and pieces that got me through the recent drought:
1) The Wire. Sunday night was the last episode ever of this amazing HBO drama (no spoilers here, I promise), and in anticipation of this final season, my husband and I rented the previous four seasons on Netflix and more or less devoured them. The cast is huge, sprawling, and impeccable, full of faces you might recognize from a Law & Order episode, or Oz, or Homicide: Life on the Streets, but who mostly exist for me solely in this universe. Each season deals with the Baltimore drug culture and the institutions that revolve around it, ranging from the cops to schools to politicians to the newspaper. It's at once heartbreaking, hard to watch, and deeply witty, and is one of the best examples of why renting TV shows on DVD is actually a really effective way to catch something you missed the first time. Sometimes we'd watch one, and other evenings we'd get so sucked in that we couldn't stop after three or four episodes.
2) The Biggest Loser. My adoration of this show is proof that I'm not a totally heartless cow. Reality TV gets a bad rap, largely because it's so inaptly named: Back when The Real World was the first of its ilk, nobody else knew what to call it when you threw a bunch of people into a situation, filmed them all the time, and then parsed the footage down to bite-sized half-hour or hour-long morsels. Thus "reality TV" was coined as a term, and the genre has spent the intervening years essentially apologizing for not living up to a label that was coined carelessly in the early nineties before anyone knew it would catch fire. Some so-called "reality shows" are more planned, like the soapy The Hills; others are just sort of icky, like the disgusting dating buffet The Bachelor. But some of them are engrossing because you get to watch people working to achieve something, or change their lives in a way they otherwise might never be able to do: become a model, get a clothing line funded, open a restaurant, and yes, lose 100 pounds. It's impossible not to watch The Biggest Loser's contestants wrestle with finding the strength to push forward, then revel in muscles they never knew they could develop. They sweat, they scream, they cry, they hug, they weep. And yes, there is a difference between weeping and crying. To cry is to let tears escape gently down your face. Weeping is what the Blue Team does whenever one of its own is dispatched home. For weeks it's been an all-male group, and the last two times anyone left, grown men have sobbed salt rivers, shoulders shaking, extolling the love and respect they feel for each other and generally acting like their arms have been sawn off with wooden spoons. All while dropping seven to ten pounds at a time. It's amazing.
3) Mad Men. The inaugural season of this period drama is in reruns on AMC right now, so I've been slowly digesting all the hours I missed the first time. If nothing else appeals to you, check it out for the costumes and the lush period accuracy ? it's set in the 1960s, and revolves around Madison Avenue's ad execs, their secretaries, their wives, and their lovers. But the miracle of the show is how it espouses all the outdated attitudes of the time without ever making any of its characters into caricatures. They're all interesting, layered people, even the jerks. And did I mention the clothes?
4) The Pussycat Dolls Presents: Girlicious. This might be the funniest show on television. Okay, so trying to be in a girl group thrown together by Robin Antin, founder of The Pussycat Dolls burlesque troupe and pop ensemble, is not quite the same as trying to lose the equivalent of a supermodel from your body mass. But it's chock full of amazing insights like, "She's just not girlicious enough," and, "It's not called TOMBOYlicious; it's GIRLicious." Meanwhile, each week the girls learn some kind of lesson about confidence, charisma, their inner sexiness, their hidden charismatic confidence, or their sexy self-confident charisma. (Translation: They perform in a series of increasingly tiny costumes.) Watching the contestants try to infuse this with gravitas is one of my not-so-secret ? and deeply shallow ? joys in life.
5) Top Chef. This Bravo hit starts up again on Wednesday ? a new season set in Chicago ? and I can't wait. Not being one of those people who can face off with my kitchen cupboards, pull out a random assortment of ingredients, and turn them into culinary magic, I'm always fascinated to watch people who can. Or at least, who try. If I watch when I'm hungry, I'm in trouble, but apparently this season they're going to start posting recipes on the Web site. Maybe this will finally help me understand how a person can turn solid food into foam.
And a quick note pursuant to yesterday's bit about the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament: It seems I'm not the only one excited for this excuse to work a butt-shaped groove into my couch. A radio ad by an Oregon clinic is encouraging vasectomy patients to book them for the day before March Madness starts, figuring that if you're going to sit down and do nothing but watch sports all day for four days in a row, you might as well do it with a pack of frozen peas clutched to your junk. The best part? The ad is working ? a dozen people have already signed up for The Snip on March 19, which comes with a promised recovery pack of a free delivered pizza, the aforementioned vegetables ("malleable enough that you can get them right in there and get the swelling down"), and a stack of sports magazines.
Presumably I could do the same with the outpatient surgery of my choice, but frankly, I need to be able to leap up off the couch and scream when my Cinderella pick drains a crucial three-pointer. I suspect those guys will have a hard time resisting that impulse as well. Maybe the Recovery Pack should come with a free installation of seatbelts onto the sofa cushions.
? Heather Cocks