Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Peek At My DVR's Auto-Record List

You can tell a lot about a person by the television he or she watches. Or if they watch television at all, for that matter. Anyway, for the consideration of any armchair psychologists who want to analyze me, after the jump is my list of television shows that I currently have my DVR set to record automatically.

  • News: The news shows I regularly watch are The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. Don't let them fool you when they say they are comedies, not news shows. Comedy with a point. Jon Stewart is to 21st century American politicians what Jonathan Swift was to the 18th century Whigs. Smart satire. Politicians can't resist matching wits with Stewart. Recent interviews included former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the king of Jordan. Stewart's critiques of Fox News, MSNBC and CNN demonstrate why the best news on television today is on Comedy Central.

    Watch Stewart for the news (and comedy), then watch Colbert for the comedy (and sometimes news).

    I also record 60 Minutes, unbelievably still relevant after forty years, but sadly, not as influential as it once was. This week's story on Jews undermining Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem (literally) should be required watching for anyone still hopeful for a two-state solution to this age-old conflict.

    Finally, I have my DVR set to record the weekly meetings of the Richardson City Council. For that show, you are advised to keep the meeting agenda handy and keep your thumb on your remote control's fast-forward button. Maybe if the show were turned into a drinking game, it might draw an audience, but viewers would be under the table well before the three or four hour running time of the show is up each week.

  • Comedy: I have too many sitcoms in my auto-record list, but there are a couple that definitely belong there. The Big Bang Theory is still at the top of its game. Smart. Witty. What other show would have a guest appearance by astrophysicist and Nobel laureate George Smoot playing himself? The show features nerds not just as comedic foils but as sympathetic protagonists. The "dumb blonde" character is anything but dumb. Like I said, smart.

    Another must-see comedy is Modern Family. In real life, this week marked the passing of Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver, the matriarch of the quintessential 1950s television family comedy, Leave it to Beaver. With its extended family that includes a second wife from Columbia and a gay couple with an adopted daughter from Vietnam, Modern Family may just be the quintessential family comedy of the 2010s.

    The Office and 30 Rock are also on my auto-record list, but they are past their prime and are probably ready to be dropped. The Office peaked well before Pam and Jim got married. And 30 Rock will jump the shark if Liz and Jack ever get together. I'm still watching, but not laughing as much anymore.

  • Drama: I haven't watched television dramas since the 1980s (thirtysomething or LA Law, anyone?). More recently, after not watching for the first four seasons, I gave Lost a look, using Netflix to go back and start from Season 1, Episode 1. I lost interest after the first three or four episodes because I already knew from other media that the mysteries of the show had no real explanation. There's no sense paying attention to clues that you know are not going to lead anywhere.

    This season, I added Mad Men to my DVR auto-record list, in part because of the hype the show received in its first few seasons and in part because of my nostalgia for the 1960s. The show itself has proven to be mostly standard office soap opera but the show's setting is still fascinating. Not just hair styles and fashion and interior decorating, but behavior too was really different in the early '60s -- smoking and drinking on the job, blatant sexism, even littering are all taken for granted in the show.

  • Reality: This category contains my guilty pleasure -- Project Runway. Week by week, aspiring fashion designers are eliminated one by one until the final three get to send models down the runway at Fashion Week in New York City. The show has its share of human drama -- friendships, jealousies, exhilaration and disappointment -- but the competition around which the show is structured is played mostly straight. Designers are judged on their work and the viewers can agree or disagree with the professional judges. I think it's the relative honesty of the competition that's keeps me coming back.

  • Science: I record Nova whenever it's on, which is too infrequent. I love the show because it's a straight science show, not a news show that feels pressure to respect Creationism or global warming denial as serious alternatives to current scientific theory.

  • Sports: DVRs are made for sports. You can fast forward through time-outs and pitching changes and watch a game in about half the time it takes in real time. Still, there are no sports shows on my DVR. I'm relatively well-informed about sports. I know the Cowboys are 1-4 and in the midst of their most disappointing season in years, but I haven't watched any of their games. I know the Rangers are having their best season in history, but the first time I saw them on television was the last three innings of Game 3 of the ALCS. Somehow, the billion dollar stadium and the multi-million dollar mercenary athletes and the inescapable commercial hype surrounding everything almost make the sports contest behind it all look like an afterthought. I'd rather watch high school sports in person than pro sports in any form. And so I do.
All in all, I think I watch too much television. So, please don't tell me what else I just have to watch.

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