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In a Rut

I'm in a television rut.

It was bad enough before I got TiVo (a magical VCR-with-a-hard-drive that you might have heard about once or twice). Back then, I'd come home, turn on the television, and watch whatever hypnotizing rays came out. Because I can't be bothered to memorize all 252 million channels I get, I'd just flip back and forth between ESPN, the Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, and whatever channel has Simpsons reruns. This meant that I watched a lot of Saturday Night Live, Cow & Chicken, SportsCenter, and Friends reruns by mistake, but that was okay. I never felt too pathetic about that. Except when I'd stay up late and realize I'd watched the same SportsCenter four times in a row, and I was starting to narrate Tiger Woods' putts along with Kenny Mayne. Then I felt bad.

So I was already in a rut, but I accepted that about myself. And anyway, I blamed cable. Instead of 252 million channels that each have one good program and twenty-three hours of poop, why couldn't they have one channel made up of things I want to watch, and put all that other stuff somewhere where I wouldn't look?

TiVo promised to do that for me, and at first, it was a godsend. I'd get home and be able to watch all the good stuff, and TiVo would do all the difficult schedule-remembering. And it even searches things out; I would never have known that the Abbott and Costello Show is on TV Land at 3:00 am!

So what happens now? Has TiVo saved me from my rut? Well, obviously not. What happens now is that I get home and watch:

  1. A half hour of NewsRadio
  2. An hour of the Abbott and Costello Show
  3. An hour of The Simpsons
  4. A half hour of Kids in the Hall

And so on. Before TiVo, there was at least randomness, but now I watch reruns of the same shows in the same order every day. And it's not like I haven't seen these episodes before (well, except for Abbott and Costello. I just can't get enough Joe Besser!). Sure, new shows sneak into the rotation occasionally, but since TiVo doesn't delete them for weeks, I find myself watching them only after I've finished my reruns.

Part of the problem is that TiVo doesn't search out good shows for me anymore. That's my fault, of course, because while I say, "Why is there no quality entertainment on television?," what I actually end up watching is The A-Team. (I recently saw the pilot episode, with a different Faceman! It was disturbing! I never thought I'd long for the nuanced performance of Dirk Benedict.) What I subconsciously want TiVo to do is report that Women of Wrestling is terrible in a compulsively watchable way. But it won't. I think it looks down on me now. I have no way of explaining to it that I'm actually engaged in highly intellectual pursuits while watching Queen of Swords, so it just figures I'm a dope.

And it's right. I'm lazier than ever. Sometimes, TiVo doesn't successfully change the channel and accidentally records half a Saturday Night Live rerun instead of The Simpsons. And I'm so used to the machine doing all the work for me that I just watch it! There was a time when if someone tried to show me Gilbert Gottfried cutting up with Charles Rocket, I'd have popped 'em in the snoot. Now, I leave it on, secure in the knowledge that it'll be over in a half hour, and I can get around to finding out if Gilmore Girls is as good as everyone says.

And we still haven't reached the depths of the situation. Sure, I've got a TiVo hard drive full of terrible shows, and sure, I watch almost the same slate every time I turn on my television. But the really sad part is that I can't get around to watching everything, and I feel bad about it. Right now, for example, I have three weeks of Relic Hunter backed up. And I actually feel bad that I might not get to them! What's with that? Do I feel some kind of obligation to keep up with Tia Carrere's unconvincing archaeological exploits just because TiVo thinks I might like them? Well, I probably will like them if I get around to watching them, just because I enjoy watching terrible television. But why should I feel bad if I happen to miss a particular slice of awful television? There's plenty of it. Some days, it seems like I can't turn on my television without seeing some.

Those days, it would be nice if I could turn my television back off. Darn those hypno-rays.


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