Saturday, March 1, 2008

Thanks, I Think: Two Major TV Revelations I Had During the Strike

I have a very serious procrastination problem. I would think that my long intervals between blogging here would have made that quite painfully obvious, but just in case anyone hasn't caught on yet: I have a very serious procrastination problem. I know that it drives Caroline crazy, although she only mentions it in short fits of rage every few months or so (fits that I find endearing and that make me laugh out loud), and so I promised her that this weekend I would stop putting it off and focus on writing down all of the thoughts that have been running through my mind over the past few months. Because that's the thing - it's not as though I'm at a loss for discussion ideas. I'm simply at a loss for motivation to do anything that feels like "work," even if it is something completely wrapped up in my love of fandom and television. I just kind of generally suck in that sense.

Plus, the strike sucked a lot of life and eagerness out of me. So what better way to jump-start my return to blogging life than to talk about that very thing; the writers' strike and how it has forever changed my TV-watching world.

1. Reality vs. Reality: Screw the Networks, Love to Cable

For three months during the strike, the networks scrambled to fill time slots every week with new (and completely mind-numbing) reality television series in the hopes of garnering or keeping some semblance of a strong ratings audience. I apologize in advance if you happen to be a fan of Dancing with the Stars, Dance Wars, My Dad is Better than Your Dad, American Gladiators or any of the other ridiculous filler shows that have been all over my TV lately, but I personally think anyone who would willingly choose to watch those shows instead of intelligent, scripted television is - well - probably a major reason why the overall American IQ is terribly lower than it should be in my opinion. What is so fun about not having to use your brain? There is no point to them! And yes, I do know that Dancing with the Stars is not some new replacement show - it has been (along with it's crazy-high ratings) baffling my mind for a few years now. There are better things to watch, people!

And even with the strike going on and absolutely nothing - and I do mean nothing - scripted worthwhile on TV for the past few months, I managed to find some reality television that didn't completely drain me of hundreds of brain cells every time that I tuned in week to week. It can be done, if you're willing to boycott the networks and branch out to cable. Because of the strike, I was channel surfing and found myself completely addicted to the ways of Food Network, TLC and A&E. I used to be addicted to A&E anyway, because Dog: The Bounty Hunter was a show that completely fascinated me for years. But alas, it is gone now. Still, I found 3 months of solace and joy in shows like Ace of Cakes, Paranormal State, Little People Big World, and Jon & Kate Plus 8. For starters, Cakes is brilliantly funny with the staff of Charm City Cakes being completely quirky and so far from your typical idea of people in a bakery. And the skill of what they can do! Ugh, I literally fawn over their work and long to achieve such greatness. No seriously, for real - in the past 3 months I've decided to completely change careers and become a cake maker. I'm moving (again.) this summer to go to pastry school and begin my journey toward becoming the female Duff Goldman. You'll see. As for Paranormal State, I can totally understand not watching this one if you 1) are entirely creeped out by the paranormal and believe, as my mother does, that watching shows like this will allow evil to enter your home through the TV or 2) just plain don't believe in anything paranormal at all. But I totally believe in ghosts and demons and other spirit sorts haunting our world. And Ryan and his PRS team from Penn State pull off every week what hardly any other "ghost hunter" show has managed to do: it scares the living shit out of me and I completely believe in what they've found and accomplished. I love it. I watch it every Monday night after catching up with the Roloff clan and the Gosselin 8.

Oh, TLC. It keeps me happy all day whilst I'm at work by providing me shows like A Baby Story, Bringing Home Baby, and Take Home Chef with the absolutely delicious Chef Curtis Stone. But on Monday nights, I get 2 full hours of joy from Little People, Big World and Jon & Kate Plus 8. I had watched LPBW long before the strike, but only sporadically and if I happened to come upon a re-run when nothing else was on. I think the Roloff family is completely hilarious and totally loveable in how they interact with one another. I forget all about Matt, Amy and Zach being LPs because they really are just people trying to raise their kids right, put up with annoying siblings and not kill one another on a daily basis - sounds like the typical American family to me. The atypical American family comes into play an hour later when Jon and Kate Gosselin let us watch their lives play out as they try their best to wrangle and properly raise their 8 children. Twins Cara & Mady, along with sextuplets Alexis, Aeden, Hannah, Collin, Leah and Joel, are really the highlight of my week and I can't get enough of them. Jon and Kate have said many times how amazing it is that viewers seem to know their children so well and feel so attached to them, but it's true. I know those kids' personalities and all of their little adorable quirks. Aeden with his love for animals and ability to name them all and be a different one every day, is so cute that I just want to eat him up - adorable baby glasses and all. Alexis is my favorite of the 6, with her sassy ways (so much so that the family nicknamed her "Sassy") and constant temper-tantrum throwing. She's such a little drama queen, and I can't get enough of it. Cara and Mady are so completely different that it's a bit surprising, but Cara is the calm and responsible child while Mady is an older, more dramatic version of little Alexis. Like Kate has said before, she's sure to make a lovely teenager. To top it all off, the relationship and interaction between Jon & Kate just completely cracks me up. Some people may not appreciate the way that they talk to each other, but to me they're just a real American couple doing the best that they can to survive with all of these kids and still attempt to keep some love, humor and realism in their relationship.

I love these shows desperately, and if you really have no other options aside from reality TV... channel surf through the cable networks and try to find some of these reality shows. They're not designed to suck you in with celebrity names or dumbed-down concepts. They don't bank on the fact that the audience is too stupid to catch on to the gimmick. They just tell real stories about real people (okay, it's possible that Paranormal State is totally joshing me, but at least I'm aware of that possibility) and it's fascinating to learn so much about life from how these other people live and what they can achieve. Try them on for size next time you're tempted to watch celebrities dance around or do the bidding of The Donald.

2. A New Appreciation for LOST: Be Still, My Shipper Heart

Aside from all of the above-mentioned cable shows that I spent my strike time watching, there was only one bright and shining beacon of hope on the actual major networks. This is one year when I suddenly was not complaining about ABC and Jabrams withholding the season premiere of Lost until the end of January. It used to be incredibly torturous and annoying, but this year it has been like a saving grace amidst all of the bitterness and ugly feelings. Now, we all know that I'm not a newcomer to the show. I've been watching all along, although I didn't really pick it up with week-to-week addiction until the start of Season 2. But even over the past couple of years, I've been obsessed with watching simply because it confuses the hell out of me and I love JJ Abrams so much that I absolutely have to know how he's going to make this work in the end. I think the main clue to my lack of overall obsession (despite how backward this may sound) is that I never read any of the spoilers. Nor did I ever feel the need. I always said that it was just more fun to find out week to week what was going on. But the glaringly obvious truth now is that any show that I've ever been completely and unbearably addicted to - any show that has landed on my life-long list of "Favorite Shows Ever in the History of Television" - have been shows that I was desperately reading spoilers for every week. Alias, Grey's Anatomy, The X-Files, ER... I was up to my ears in spoilers for every single one of them. Still am for Grey's, and always will be.

Two weeks into this new season of Lost and I was beside myself with addiction and adoration. I have always, always, always been on Team Jack when it came to the question of "Who should Kate end up with?" and that has never swayed. But it was never a 'shipper OTP love in my heart like all the rest of my loves have been. Until the premiere this year. Really, until the finale last year... but I somehow managed to put it out of my mind and carry on without need for information. Why should I be concerned or bothered with obsessing over a new OTP in my life when I have Derek/Meredith already exhausting my every emotion from week to week? Or my new battle to bring back the original House team so that I can watch Cam/Chase finally as a couple? I had too much fandom 'shipper craziness going on inside my head, and I couldn't be bothered with taking on a new one full time.

That is, until the strike happened. Suddenly Derek/Meredith were off the table and trying to put up a fight with the House production team was completely useless. I had absolutely nowhere to direct my 'shipper emotions. And any truly good 'shipper knows that we cannot actually function properly without somewhere - some romantic pairing - to direct our fandom obsessions. It just doesn't work, I can't explain why - I've tried to give up 'shipping entirely once or twice before, but I think fandom 'shippers are inherently built to 'ship. If we're stripped of our usual OTPs, we will inevitably go out and find a new one as soon as humanly possible.

Which is exactly what I did. No new Grey's or House or even Brothers & Sisters to focus my OTP needs upon, but there absolutely *was* new Lost. And in the blink of an eye, all thanks to this wretched strike, my love for Jack & Kate grew to full-on Jater obsessiveness. I was on within two weeks of the season premiere, and soaking up everything I could possibly take in from Lostpedia within 24 hours of that. I'm reading fanfiction, I'm watching fanvids on YouTube, I'm fantasizing about jabies and a complete mommy/daddy household for Aaron. The Jason Mraz song, "Plane," has taken on an entirely new meaning in my head now - despite my having loved that song for years. My cup runneth over with Jatey love, and it's been a long time since I've felt so overwhelmed by a romantic TV pairing. The angst, guys! The angst! Oh good heavens, there is nothing that sucks me into a couple faster than a good long dose of angst. And I never would have truly noticed or bothered to give it my complete attention were it not for my need to direct my desperate fandom heart toward something adorable in the midst of no new TV elsewhere.

So, despite how completely frustrated I was (and still am, in hindsight) with the WGA and their need to strike for what felt like endless months and years... I suppose I do owe them a bit of thanks. Without their annoying ability to hang in there and fight it out for as long as they did, I may never have discovered the wonders of cable network reality shows. I may never have realized my calling to go into the pastry business. But most of all, I may never have fully realized the wonder that is Jate.

And a 'shipper heart without any Jate in it is quite possibly a 'shipper heart completely wasted.

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