Binge-TV-Viewing, Roku, and Cycling through the WinterMarch 13, 2014
Left: Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch in Amazon's trial series "Bosch." Please go and watch this show and VOTE for more episodes to be made because I need more episodes of this show. Pretty please, do that for me right now. Thanks in advance. (Fine-tipped dye-based Pentel brush pen on kindergarten paper.)
Spoiler alert. I’m going to talk about shows you may or may not have seen and I might just let some details slip, so just beware. Normally I try to avoid this, but today I just don’t care.
I am the original binge-TV-Viewer. And I’m not ashamed to say so.
Years ago, no decades ago, when HBO was a start-up and Ted Turner was just building his empire, I remember watching the entire 13 hours of a “Have Gun, Will Travel” marathon run by a local UHF station (look it up). We didn’t have a VCR at the time so I had to sit through commercials, take speed potty breaks, and Dick was kind enough to bring me water and treats periodically.
All I can say is I have always had a soft spot for Westerns; I don’t know what I was thinking; some of the episodes are really bad (but then they were writing and producing like a hundred episodes a week when that show originally aired); and yes, I can sing all the lyrics to the theme song. (But then that can be said about a whole lot of theme songs—and I use the word "sing" loosely.)
Frankly I don’t like to watch an episode a week. I get invested in my favorite characters’ choices and then can’t bear to wait a week to find out what they’ll do. Right now all the episodes of the latest season of Downton Abbey are on my DVR, unwatched. I was waiting for the season to end so I could watch them all on one weekend. (Or in a day. What the hell, who am I trying to impress with suggestions of self-restraint? And yes I did that for the last season and didn’t even know who died in a car crash until the day before I watched the episodes—I went for months avoiding spoilers and just needed to last one more day. Sigh. It’s a high risk life.)
I remember when “Terriers” was on I couldn’t watch the final episode because I was plowing through a ton of deadlines. I let it linger on the DVR for a month or two, and then the dreaded news came: “Terriers” would not have a second season. I was inconsolable. And I couldn’t bring myself to watch the final episode for another two months. (One of the best all time show endings, right up there with the end of “Newhart” where he wakes up next to Emily [Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from “The Bob Newhart Show”] and “Newhart” was all a dream. Thank you, thank you, thank you.) And I’m still sad that “Terriers” didn’t have another season. It was well-written, the acting was great—there is a moment in the first or second episode where Donal Logue meets his wife for coffee and looks at her, his maybe already ex-wife, certainly his estranged wife, and in about 3 seconds of coverage of that look we know all there is to know about Hank (Logue’s character) and how he feels about that woman and life and…well after that you just couldn’t look away. This all happened in 2010 and if you missed the series you can see it on Amazon—all 13 episodes.
I wrote a post about the show, but never published it. I didn’t have the heart. I still miss those characters. I can’t believe they aren’t around. I still see the actors on new projects now and then and that brings it all up again for me.
As I wrote a few paragraphs ago I get invested.
So now we come to the point of today’s post Roku.
I think this is the best invention since, well, anything related to TV. I only wish that when my friend Tim first told me about Roku I’d rushed right out and bought one. I waited about 2 years.
Then last fall Comcast put up a screen saying they couldn’t give me the video I’d ordered “on-demand” because of unusual volume. It was Friday night and I wanted to watch a movie and eat my popcorn. I turned to Dick and said, “we’re getting a Roku.”
You may remember my post about the purchase of the Roku 3 in November 2013.
Well I’d had enough and I wasn’t going to wait for any younger generation engineer to come over and set it up. (Dick is deeply ambivalent about all things television.)
Here’s the thing: it took almost no time to install. You have to be sure to get an HDMI (or something like that) cable (the kid at the store will tell you what you need) and your TV has to be compatible with that and have one of those connections. But then it literally takes only a couple moments to set up an account, connect it to your wireless network (OK you have to have one of those) and you’re done. Really.
It’s the only technical thing Dick and I have ever done together without my attitude going sour in frustration!
I think everyone should have a Roku.
The first weekend I had it I watched all the “Jack Taylor” episodes in a day and a half and at then end of Sunday could be heard around the block bellowing, “I need more ‘Jack Taylor’!” while Dick stood helplessly by offering to run out and bring me back some “tidbit” or other treat to bust me out of my funk. He even suggested we go to Barnes and Noble and browse for a while—the ultimate sacrifice as he has to take time off his projects to read “Woodworking Magazine” while I browse.
It doesn’t help that "Jack Taylor" ended on a cliffhanger with one of the characters dead or dying.
I RAN to my computer and started Googling the heck out of the show, scanning news articles to see whether or not there was another season. There is of course a series of books, but I won’t go into that.
“George Gently” posed similar problems. I LOVED that show and devoured it happily—until the final episode (then available) when I reran and reran the final moments in the church when everyone gets shot. Desperate I ran upstairs to get Dick. “You’ve got to watch this right now,” I demanded. “Tell me what you think,” I said sitting him down in front of the TV. Then I ran it again. He watched in horror as characters he could care less about blasted away at each other. "Look again," I said gasping as I rewound the scene, not waiting for him to comment, afraid of what he might say.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked, holding my breath. “Are they alive, are they dead? Is one alive, did that one breathe? Was that his last breath?”
Dick responded as only someone who has lived with me for decades could. He stood up (I was standing, hovering in front of the TV, rocking from foot to foot, and pointing from character to character) and enveloped me his arms. “It’s OK Munchkin. It’s OK. Oh, Sweetie,” he said, in his most comforting voice.
“Arrggh,” I replied, my screams muffled against his chest as I broke away and ran to the computer to Google the fate of the show and the characters. How do you even set such a search, “All dead at end of George Gently”? “New season coming for George Gently”?
Moments later I called up to Dick’s study, “Dick, Dick, It’s OK. I’m OK. There’s going to be another season. They both survive.”
“I’m glad Cutie,” came his voice.
Typically I’ll watch two shows at a time, alternating which one I’ll watch on any given day, and in that way work through the episodes. There is a certain added tension to the process because show contracts can disappear (I use Amazon Prime). That rather encourages binges.
Sometimes I just can’t stop watching something because I can’t decide if it is really good or really bad—like “Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous.”
I decided it was really good, if horribly cringe inducing, and a marvelous commentary on society, life, the desire for celebrity; and damn, Bo Burnham believes so I simply could not look away.
I now have two Roku 3 devices. I have one upstairs attached to the TV I use when I’m doing my indoor cycling—which this long, long winter is a lot of cycling.
I know that the first 3 years I had the upstairs trainer to attach the bike to (CycleOps) I watched Robbie Ventura speed through a race, or do various types of drills. Those are all excellent DVDs and I recommend them. But I couldn’t take it any more.
So in the winter of 2012-13 I switched to television and movie DVDs, watching three half-hour shows, or two one-hour shows, to end up with workouts that were about 90 minutes long.
I went through all the DVDs that I own (which isn’t a lot because I got tired of formats changing all the time and stopped buying shows). What I can tell you is that “House, M.D.” is abso-f**king-lutely as marvelous a TV show as I remembered it to be because I rewatched all 8 seasons of it in a couple months this winter and I could barely stand the wonderfulness of it that filled my chest each morning as I pedaled. (Of course I do have a special place in my heart for the “buddy genre.”)
Conversely “Reilly Ace of Spies” with the young and hunky Sam Neill should not be attempted under any circumstances, but especially not as morning workout viewing. We know that at the end of the series Reilly is going to die. (That’s history.) But way before that all the stupid, vicious killing (and that’s by the governments not Reilly) just gets to be too much. I found myself pedaling slower and slower. Then I’d realized that I’d stopped pedaling and had no idea how long I’d just been sitting there in stunned depression about “the world.” I was in an existential funk and that’s no way to burn up calories.
“Inspector Lewis” is another great show to pedal through. I went pilot to final episode over the course of a few weeks this winter watching one a day. It was a little sad to see the episodes all in a clump and realize how many of the deaths are young university students, but in a way that makes the drama and the loss more substantial—youth cut down in its prime and all that; you share in the policeman’s growing sadness. The good thing was I knew Lewis and Hathaway would both come out at the other end. A good finish to pedal towards.
Once I got through "Inspector Lewis" I had to have a Roku, because "Reilly" wasn't doing it!
“Single-handed” was an interesting Irish “cop” drama about an “honorable” man who can’t always control his reactions. The scenery in that show is incredible. The storylines are sad, more sad, and really, really sad. And a couple are so twisted as to be deeply f**ked up. Together with “Jack Taylor” and the early episodes of “Ballykissangel” (yes let’s electrocute a main character!) I’m wondering how oppressive life is on the emerald isle.
I’ve just finished cycling through “The Hour,” a two-season British show about a one-hour news show in late 1950s London which also ends on a cliffhanger. Sadly my Googling informed me there were no new episodes to come, but it threw me a bone by telling me what the writers had hoped for the characters and so I was somewhat comforted. Sometimes it is good to leave them before things get too messy.
If I have a morning meeting and can’t put in the time I’m currently watching one episode of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” which, because it was originally an hour show clocks in at 44 minutes or so, allowing me to get in my physical therapy weight lifting, shower and still show up on time to early meetings. There’s a lot that’s irritating about this show—like the fact that of the three main stars of the show within the show only D.L. Hughley is believable as a comedic draw. (When the show ended its original run I could be heard screaming "I want more D.L. Hughley.") Still it’s fun to watch characters sparring verbally using multisyllabic words.
If I want to put in some time but am a little tired I’ll watch “Cadfael” which is about a medieval monk who basically does CSI with no modern tools and a lot of knowledge of herbs. It stars Derek Jacobi who is almost always fun to watch; and it runs about 1:15.
You get the picture. That’s me, pedaling away. Streaming with the Roku. I can’t even remember life before it. (OK vaguely.) It is getting me safely and sanely (with an outburst now and then) through this long, LONG winter that has been so very cold.
So there you have it. Binge-TV-viewing has its downside. When you finish a series and there really is no more you have to go into a little bit of emotional letting go. It’s like reading a great book series and coming to the final book, or even just catching up to the book the author has last written.
That recently happened to me when I got current on the Julia Spencer-Fleming Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries. Dick says I’m a sucker for ecclesiastical sleuths (it’s a long standing joke I won’t go into here), but that’s really not the case. And I didn’t even expect to like this series where Clare is an Episcopal priest and Russ is a married smalltown sheriff in New York State. But the writing is well done and I’m hooked and when I put “Through the Evil Days” down a couple weeks ago I went into a bit of a decline because I couldn’t find when the next book might be coming out.
I am so looking forward to the melt and getting out onto the roads so I can clear all this out of my head…I need a little time off from the roller-coaster of my serial monogamy.
Note: This post wouldn't be complete if I didn't mention I have a particular fondness for "Luther," (and there is a startling episode where Pam Ferris, perhaps known to you from "Rosemary and Thyme" plays a stone cold villian-mom); "Whitechapel" (with Phil Davis); and "Justified" (two episodes of which have just enough action to make a pretty good pedaling accompaniment—and it is pretty much after all a Western.)
Update 4 p.m.: Joanne wrote in to say she watched "Life" with Damian Lewis, and I had to mention it here because it is one of the best TV shows ever and I was very bereft when it went off the air. I have the two seasons on DVD and watched them 2-at-a-time while cycling, before I moved on to "Inspector Lewis." If you haven't seen "Life" it's great! Lewis is fantastic. And as if great writing and acting were not enough it also stars Sarah Shahi. I could draw her face all day long. There is a segment in the final episode (I won't tell you which because you should see it for yourself and that I won't spoil) which is one of the great moments of TV—economical, pure expression of character.