Free TV? Whoop-doo!
I haven't had cable in nearly ten years. No satellite dishes for me, either. If I want to catch something on television, I have to wait for the DVD or watch it through the display window at Sears. Which is okay. I'm not in a rush to find out what happened on Lost anytime soon. I'm content with waiting for the entire series box set to arrive sometime in 2012. Then, I'll eat it in one really big bite (if we're all still alive). Frankly, I don't think I could be a slave to the airwaves every day. It's easier for me to digest it all in one sitting. Who wants the weeklong anticipation of a cliffhanger eating at them? I got enough of that torture when I was a kid. Lingering around the set for seven days to see if Fonzie successfully jumped over a bunch of garbage cans or a shark turned me into the stressed out mess I am today.
Sure, it was a long dry stretch to finally sit and watch all three seasons of Deadwood. But had I known what I was missing from week-to-week, and then year-to-year, I would have been driven insane. Luckily, I could just tear into it and plow through, non-stop. Each and every episode gets a hearty Whoop-doo!. And I have to wonder why I never heard much about season three. Dan's fight against The Captain is one of the best things I've ever witnessed in serialized television. And fuck me; did you see Swearengen jump off his balcony to rescue Alma from gunfire? I didn't know the cocksucker had it in him. You may wonder why I'm talking about Deadwood so many months after the flame went out. For the same reason I mentioned Twin Peaks a couple weeks back. I'm behind when it comes to televised revivals of awesomeness. That's why you hardly ever hear me Whoop-doo any episodic adventures that might be getting swept up in the American zeitgeist.
I finished watching all thirty-six episodes of David Milch's tremendous western on a Wednesday. I was sad to see it (kinda) end. But relieved to see that Ian McShane was running to television Sunday on NBC's Kings. For the first time in a decade, I decided to watch a first run show as it was actually being broadcast. And McShane did not disappoint. He is basically playing a future Swearengen, bar of soap in mouth. He has the same perfectly evil American-esque accent, and that harsh glimmer of mischief in his eyes. He delivers his dialogue like a gourmet chief serving a tasty hand-ladled buffet. But his lightening blot energy moves faster than everything else around him. Take him out of the mix, and the show is a complete dud. It is boring, and weird. Why is there only one TV station? Do these people go to the movies? What is this war about? What country is this supposed to be? Why does New York suddenly have a king? And do I really have to hear him yammer on about those goddamn butterflies again? None of it is explained away easily. It's a giant goof. If this were a movie, it would be a huge, spectacular bomb. It's just not watchable on any level. Before its two hour running time was up, I had to switch channels. Suddenly my urge to jump back into the TV wadding pool was squelched. Kings? Boo!
In the same week, I also attempted to watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I've liked both his attitude in recent interviews, and the way he is embracing the Internet age we all live in. But I was shocked to turn on his new show and see everyone in a Snuggie. Boo!. This was the exact moment that wearable blanket stopped being cool. Tracey Morgan and the rest of the audience looked like a bunch of cult members. Disturbing enough, but then I had to watch Fallon give his former SNL cast mate a praise-filled tongue bath that was icky and wrapped in warmth. It was all good vibes and hugs; just slightly less embarrassing than watching Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn on the short lived The Chevy Chase Show. Not high praise, I know. Maybe I'll have to tune in on another night. Fallon seems a bit too sweet for the late night college crowd. There's no edge to this after-hours gabfest. And the animal bit was cloying. Not funny. Conan took a while to warm up to, but he always supplied enough vigor to maintain and amass a strong cult following. I desperately wanted to turn Fallon off after five seconds. His show is custom built for overstressed stay-at home sewing moms that think cats in cowboy hats are funny. He's a San Francisco Cock Sucker!
My sudden interest in television isn't exactly new. It has nothing to do with our upcoming TVweb.com site that will be launching here soon. Last fall, we went and bought a new HDTV. As most of you should know, every single channel in America is being upgraded. If you have an old tube set, you will need a digital converter box by June 12th of this year. I didn't think too much about this up-conversion. I thought, "Big deal." HDTV with a snowstorm breezing through it sounds about as appealing as the weak signal currently dribbling off the analog antenna in the living room. Since I was a kid, I don't remember any decent channels coming in for free. Even UHF looked like a hurricane epicenter. It's always scrambled and wispy. And impossible to watch. Then a co-worker/friend of mine said he bought a new digital antenna for sixteen bucks. Now he was getting more than a hundred HD channels, handpicked from the free air. "Bullshit!" I screamed. I couldn't believe it. I wouldn't believe it. But that didn't stop me from heading to Radio Shack.
A pyramid of digital rabbit ears was stacked near the cash register at $16.99 a piece. I took one home and pulled it out of the box. It looked like the Star Trek fleet emblem attached to two periscoping metal rods. It didn't need any batteries. I simply screwed it into the back of my television with a normal auxiliary output wire. Then I turned it on. There was a snowstorm on NBC 4. And CBS 2 looked like scrambled Cinemax. Bummer. I knew it was a scam. Not willing to give up so easily, I went to the channel set up menu. I hit "add channels", and a weird thing started happening. It started downloading all of these numbers. It didn't get up to a hundred, but it did tell me there were now more than 88 channels awaiting my applicable eyeballs. I started on 2 and went to the end of the list. Sure enough, HDTV! Whoop-doo! Each channel was as crisp and clear as any Blu-Ray disc I've ever scanned through. Amazing. Sure, it's not cable. But it's free. Just what we need in the midst of this shattered economy.
Every major network was accounted for. Each with two or three sublet channels. The CW 5 is the coolest. On Channel 5.2, I found something called "ThIS TV". It's like bum HBO. On Saturday, they offered an amazing line-up that reminded me of KPTV-12 during the 70s coming out of Portland, Oregon. Things started off with Tentacles. Then it was Strange Invaders followed by Night Of The Comet. Leviathan and Child's Play rounded out the broadcasting day. I haven't left the TV playing on one channel since my mother illegally hooked up Showtime back in 1987. Alas, this new digital landscape is not all a bed of roses. More than half of these one hundred free channels are in a different language. It's neat to see Korea's version of E! Entertainment, but the novelty wears off fairly quickly. If you like your TNT, and your Spike, and your Adult Swim, you'll probably scoff at this conceit. Though, it must be noted, these new signals coming off nothing more than a couple of old school rabbit ears offer some of the most beautiful images I've ever seen. Heads up, our America: Free TV just got gorgeous!
The thrill didn't last, though. Stare at a sexy woman's new tits for too long, and she soon becomes irrelevant. Especially when the chick is dumb as rocks. Even at 1080p (Whatever the heck that means), lame shows and grating talkshow hosts can grow stale fairly quickly. Shit doesn't ever come flying out of your screen. HDTV won't serve you drinks or give you a blowjob. And it won't revolutionize your life (unless you're a poor, broke couch potato). After spending the afternoon working on yarn art and watching ThIStv, I decided it was time to move away from the newly reformed digital airwaves and return to DVD. Drunk and disorderly, I wasn't quite sure what to watch. There's been a bag of screeners sitting in the corner for three weeks now. On top of this dusty pile was a straight-to-video horror sequel entitled Return to Sleepaway Camp. Judging from the cover, it didn't look like much. I've seen the original, but none of the follow-ups. The box yells, "True Sequel". Whatever that means. Suffice it to say, I wasn't expecting much out of this late night, last minute attempt at drunken entertainment.
Holy Christ! I accidentally found this year's The Happening. Return to Sleepaway Camp? Whoop-doo! It's like a dirt and spit covered version of Nickelodeon's Salute Your Shorts on acid. I'm amazed at how they got it to look just like some lost film from 1984. If you're familiar with the original, you already know the set up. A bunch of kids and councilors get hacked to pieces at a summer camp by a dude pretending to be his sister. Here, we are introduced to one of the greatest Z grade Drive-In movie characters of all time. Alan. He is Goofus incarnate. A lumbering five-year-old trapped in a chubby teenage body. He wears the same clothes every single day, and finds sanctuary in a secluded frog pond. He is constantly picked on, but you can't really ever feel sorry for him. He takes the teasing and turns it inward, then vomits it on top of the younger kids at camp. He is a walking disaster, and his weird New Jersey accident is stunningly hilarious (heck, he's since been hired by Howard Stern). He throws a fit in the mess hall, refusing to eat the food set out for him. His group leader literally grabs him by the scruff of the neck and yells, "Eat the fucking Chicken, Alan!" Disgruntled, the slob runs into the kitchen, steals an ice cream sandwich, and then gets into a knife fight with the cook. All I could do was stare on in intoxicated wonderment. This is high art at its lowest form. Troll 2's got nothing on Alan. I can't stop watching this fucked up movie.
Observe and Report was able to pull me away from it for a short period, though. Thus lulling me back full circle: Movies, Tv, DVD, and movies all over again. It's a horrible little cyclical life. I don't want to go too much into Jody Hill's latest comedy, because there will be a full review up in the very near future. His The Foot Fist Way received a hearty Boo! here when it premiered last year. I wasn't expecting to like this new one very much either. But color me surprised. Observe and Report gets a solid Whoop-doo! It is one of the most original, unpredictable comedies I've seen in years. I don't think I've ever seen anything that is so truly funny, yet so heartbreaking and depressing at the same time. It's both brutal and extremely entertaining. Hilarious and oddly touching, this is Seth Rogen's best film to date. Beautiful and weird, it's one of the craziest capers I've seen in a long time. I loved every minute of it. And so will you, my Whoop-doo! Nation!
If you don't want to pay for cable, a one-time price of $16.99 for digital rabbit ears is tough to beat. It's a new era in free television, one that harkens back to the medium's earliest inception. Its there for the taking. Reach out and grab it! Eat food! Kill Grandma! Whoop-doo!