As we all know only too well – and feel it in our aging bones (you young readers are not aware of it yet; in time you will be) – the times are changing. And so is the nature of TV viewing.
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Don’t take my word for it; I’m quoting James Poniewozik, who pondered the nature of the change in last Sunday’s New York Times. He juxtaposes our former state as viewers – at the mercy of the programming schedules of various networks and channels that feed us weekly portions of their offerings – to the way it is today more often than not, when we are either “streaming” a series, parts or all of it, in large chunks according to our will and times of leisure, or “bingeing” on a series, which usually means taking all of it in one huge gulp. Poniewozik calls the new way of watching “The Suck,” as it sucks viewers in and changes their ways of living with it: no cliffhangers, since there are no “suspension gaps” between episodes; and no “spoiler” fears, as there is no way – or time – to spoil your anticipation of events to come.
He goes on to mull the consequences of this new state of affairs, mainly on the nature of series and sitcoms based on U.S. offerings. Here is where I wish to part from this train of thought, in order to tell you something about my mini-binge last Friday, which proved, to my mind, the validity of the claim that there can be too much of a good thing, and it can be detrimental to one’s pleasure. Duke Orsino (in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which falls on January 6, the 12th night after Christmas) clearly knew what he was talking about when he said (about music, supposedly the “food of love,” and not TV, which is at best the “food of boredom”): “Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting // The appetite may sicken, and so die.”
My mini-binge was a result of the Israeli providers’ need to fill in the “dead” hours on the schedule of their channels – afternoons, mostly – with something on the air. That something turns to be chunks of several consecutive episodes of reruns or recently defunct series. You get stuck on one episode while idly zapping through, and find yourself a couple of hours later sucked in by it.
That is how I spent several hours on a Friday afternoon watching (make that “gazing at”) five episodes of the sitcom “Anger Management,” starring Charlie Sheen (on HOT Comedy Central).
In retrospect, I might have zapped away from “Anger Management” (which concluded its run of 100 episodes on FX channel in the U.S. in December 2014 with less than a million viewers, down from more than 5 million for its opening episode in 2012). But Sheen was in the news not long ago, revealing that he is HIV positive, and has been since 2011; he went public because he was blackmailed about it, he claimed.
The sitcom itself is based on the 2003 movie of the same title starring Jack Nicholson. The premise is that a former patient in an anger management course becomes a therapist himself. In 2011, when the series was conceived, that fitted the public image of Charlie Sheen as a “troublemaker” (i.e. unruly, unbearable and unmanageable due to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction issues). He was fired from the “Two and a Half Men” sitcom, of which he was the star (and the highest paid actor on TV, with $1.8 million per episode). In retrospect, again, it stands to reason (if this is a pertinent faculty here at all) that Sheen’s meltdown in 2011 was connected to learning that he was HIV positive.
My additional interest in seeing what “Anger Management” was all about was the fact that Charlie’s father in real life, the actor Martin Sheen, was billed as a “recurring character” in the sitcom, as the father of the protagonist, never making it to a main character in the 100 episodes. And Sheen Sr., for all the uninitiated out there, was for seven seasons, 154 episodes, President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, in Aaron Sorkin’s series “The West Wing.”
Which was sort of a rough awakening, seeing an actor who was just recently a character with gravitas, earning our appreciation and approval both as an actor and a character of merit, reincarnated as a garrulous pensioner who makes a nuisance of himself every couple of episodes. But I should have been immune to it by now, with Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg in “The West Wing”) prancing around as the funny dysfunctional granny (and former drug and alcohol addict) in the “Mom” sitcom, which shares the long afternoon hours on HOT Comedy Central with reruns of “Anger Management.”
While watching several episodes lumped together, somewhere toward the last quarter of the sitcom’s run, I asked myself: What is it all about? It’s not about anger management anymore: Sheen’s character, Charlie Goodson, is almost never angry on the show, and neither are the characters he is supposedly trying to help in the therapy sessions he conducts in his house, with neighbors interfering. My conclusion – based on few hours of in-depth research prone on my back in bed: The series is mostly about Charlie’s efforts to get between the sheets with any female character as soon as possible and as many times as possible, with no strings attached (except the G string, of course). For those of you who think that is a chauvinistic view of relations between the sexes, let me put your mind at rest: the female characters in the sitcom are as eager to get laid as the male ones.
Being “sucked in” to a series means that as a viewer you sort of accept anything that happens in the plot, as inane as it can get, your higher instincts lulled into slumber. Until your better half enters the room, looks at the screen, and after a couple of minutes, clearly resistant to being sucked in, inquires: “And why, pray, are you watching this (expletive deleted)?”
To which I had to find a good, swift answer. And I did: “I’m trying to understand what makes males in a position of power attempt to bed any female around, no matter what,” I explained, “since this is what happens to our esteemed (?) MKs and ministers again and again.”
I will spare you the answer I got from my better half, expletives deleted again. Next week I’ll try to get sucked into something more worthy of my – and her and your – attention.