My DVD player is talking to me.
Just ask Kevin McCallister. When one is deprived of human contact, even the most inanimate of objects can become animated. And if anyone has been deprived of human contact, it’s me. I’ve spent the last week hermetically sealed in my room, viewing no television except that released onto the DVD format. It was an experiment to see what happened when TV was removed from its social context – the commercials, the other viewers – and placed in a vacuum courtesy of DVD, the most efficient medium for cataloging seasons of TV shows.
I started the week off on an optimistic bent: I would finally acquaint myself with the forgotten gems of TV days past. On Monday and Tuesday, I watched the first season of “Kids in the Hall,” a phenomenal and largely forgotten sketch-comedy show that could be laconically described as “SNL on acid.” Wednesday and Thursday I watched the majority of Aaron Sorkin’s smarmy series “Sports Night,” a fast-paced, deadpan-filled spoof of a fictional “Sportscenter”-like show.
After this comedy bender, I had planned on switching proverbial teams by viewing HBO’s critic-adored and audience-ignored crime drama “The Wire.” To complete the week, I would gorge myself with season one of “The Sopranos.”
Sadly, I never watched either of those shows. Because after watching a Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episode on Halloween night, I spent Thursday and Friday revisiting that show’s best seasons (Three, Four, Five and Seven). The acerbic wit and quick-paced humor of Matt Groening’s progeny reminded me of another (relatively) old favorite: “Arrested Development.” So by the end of the week, I was watching the same stuff I had already watched ten times, and enjoying it as much as anything else.
There are two conclusions I can draw from my experiment. The first is that TV viewers will never be as adventurous as they are predictable. Sure, we all love watching new shows, but, when faced with the gift and the curse of a monstrosity of a DVD collection, (as I was) the average viewer will venture a bit, but in the end return to his old favorites. This is part of the reason why shows like “The Wire” hover under the radar: it’s like nothing else on television, and its complex plotlines ask for an investment a lot of viewers will be hard-pressed to make – especially if “Family Guy” reruns are showing at the same time. TV viewers are inherently drawn to what they know, but there’s a lot of undiscovered entertainment out there if you can break out of your comfort zone.
The second conclusion is that TV viewing is a shared experience. As I watched my DVD’s without the company of others, I realized that much of the fun of TV viewing comes from the response it elicits from others: the reaction of your friends as Michael Scott makes an unintentionally off-color joke on “The Office,” or their collective cringe as Larry David asks Cheryl for an ultimatum. This is the idea behind laugh-tracks: people feel more comfortable laughing if others laugh with them. Also, TV – like all pop-culture – provides a shared experience that can link dissimilar people together. An acquaintance of mine and I only discuss the previous week’s episode of “Weeds” – of course, I had nothing to say to him this week. Without people to join you, watching television loses its context, and you forget why you’re supposed to care.
So this week I’m sitting on the couch and watching programs I like, with people I like. And my DVD player is now as harmless as Old Man Marley.