It was only a few short years ago that I said (mostly to myself, a habit I'd try to rid myself of except that, really, blogging is kinda all about that), "Television is actually pretty amazing these days.There may be a higher percentage of garbage, but there's so much television that there are some really great shows. I can watch my fill of TV (admittedly, I fill up relatively quickly) just on 'good stuff.' Stuff like Junkyard Wars. Powerpuff Girls. Samurai Jack. MythBusters. Good Eats. Firefly."
Something Happened. Of the above list, only two shows are still on the air, and even with a diminished appetite, I cannot fill the Replay with good television. Junkyard Wars was wildly successful, and had two spin-offs, and it's utterly vanished from the airwaves (or the cable voltage fluctuations, for the picky among you). Not even reruns grace the signal path. I have not yet found anything remotely as good and as personally interesting as Samurai Jack for an animation fix. "Tripping the Rift" is not an acceptable replacement (shudder, gag, barf).
I have no SF television at all! Preposterous! Of the three even remotely eligible candidates, "Charlie Jade" is broadcast everywhere in the world but the US (and if it fulfills the promise of the pilot I got to see at CascadiaCon, actually has a chance to usurp Firefly for "best SF series I ever saw"), "Doctor Who" is not currently on the air, and "Battlestar Galactica," while inarguably a rich, sophisticated tapestry of SF, is so depressing and negative that I simply don't like it. The over-the-top cinema verité style of anti-SteadiCam camera shake-n-zoom used to add dis-realism to space shots and confusion to battle scenes also strongly influences my opinion.
We are deluged in Reality TV, There are a few (well, one) of these that I actually enjoy. I think putting "real people" in artificially manipulated environments is sort of like regular TV but with bad actors. "What Not to Wear" (admittedly, much to my surprise at first) is the only show currently on the air that makes the grade. I'd really started getting bored with the formula; apparently they had too, since they've started fiddling with it a bit. This is good, but I think it also means that the show won't be on the air too much longer. They have the unusual talent of leaving their victims far happier then when they find them, despite their surgically precise catty remarks and put-downs. They (or whoever's editing the show) seem to have a very well-honed sense of who's going to give them sass right back, and who might just break down and lose it if they get too nasty. Still, it'd be no fun to watch them being petty and mean except that people are so very grateful at the end of the show. That's what makes it so much fun; watching fashion disasters twirl, strut, and smile in their classy new look.
"Project Runway" was the other Reality TV show that astonished me. It was a more traditional elimination-by-episode format. However, the projects in the episodes were usually reasonably thoughtful, real-world projects, often with real-world consequences. "Design a Dress for So-and-so to Wear to the Grammys." And she did. "Design an outfit for Banana Republic's Fall Line" and it was, in fact, sold by Banana Republic. The special prize of being immune to elimination for one episode was usually tied to an outsider's opinion in some obvious, intelligent way (who's dress did So-and-so pick, which outfit was selected by Banana Republic), and rarely did I disagree with the opinion of the judges when deciding who to eliminate. I hear they're working on a sequel; I'm looking forward to it.
I'm not sure if Iron Chef America counts as Reality TV or not; it's kind of weird. It makes it into the regular rotation on the strength of Alton Brown, Mario Batali (what a fun guy!), and the professionalism of the producers. Judges are always qualified food critics (at least marginally, they had "just an actress" once, but she really was a competent commentator and critic nonetheless), odd ingredients are identified, supplementary information about the main ingredient is there, and watching the chefs react to the commentary is always fun.
And then . . . nothing. I'm watching "Unwrapped" for crying out loud! I'm that desperate. (The narrator sounds like he studied at the William Shatner School of Voice-over. "The cookies are . . . baked! . . . at five hundred . . . degrees.") Reruns of CSI. Reruns of Monster House. Reruns of The Simpsons.
What is my Replay currently trapping for me? Reruns of CSI (Las Vegas, I don't like the others as much); Futurama (I've think I've seen them all, although two months ago it snagged an episode I hadn't seen before, and next time it grabs "The Why of Fry" we'll move it to tape since we named our beat-up Corolla after the space scooter from that episode); Good Eats (although the Food Network keeps rebroadcasting episodes I have seen, instead of the approx. 50% of them I have not); Iron Chef America (I'm sorry, but the US version is just flat-out better than the Japanese original, which fell below my minimum requirements for Something I Want To Watch On Purpose); Monster House (which I watch about half the time, and erase w/o watching the other half); MythBusters; Queer Eye (which I also mostly don't watch anymore); and What Not To Wear.
Things I have traps set for, but which have not caught anything (in some cases, in over three years): Red Dwarf, Max Headroom, The Flash (it was a short-lived and quite cheezy TV series, but kitschy fun, and I'd like to see it again), Muppets (in almost three years, I've caught just one thing; Muppets co-hosting America's Funniest Videos. I didn't save it to tape); Junkyard Wars.
When I turned on the TV today, I accidentally caught "History Detectives," so I added it to the list; we'll see if it manages to stay there.
And no, I do NOT want to read a book instead. TV is for when my brain hurts, and wants something nice and soft and mushy to not-quite-think-about.