It used to be there weren't enough choices on TV. Then, with the coming of cable, there were plenty of choices -- and 99.9% of them were bad. Eventually, there were good things to watch if you hunted for them. And now there's a problem with TV I never could have foreseen.
Too much of it is good.
Back before I had kids, I felt guilty about the occasional Sopranos or Deadwood or Wire marathon -- hey, I had writing to do! -- but that didn't stop me from binging. When a new season came out and we got that first DVD home from Blockbuster, there was no way my wife and I were going to stop at one episode. Or two. Or even three (if there were four episodes on the disc).
Nowadays, however, our children aren't asleep till 10...which means my wife is asleep at 10:01, and that's when I'm heading to my desk with a cup of hot coffee to get some work done. I usually stop around 11:15, at which point there's still a dog to walk and a book to read.
I get to the TV at midnight. If it's a school night -- and if I want to be functional the next day and not have a sleep-deprivation hangover (which is the kind you don't even have any fun earning) -- I need to be in bed around 12:30. So that gives me all of half an hour to feast on the overflowing smorgasbord of goodness that is contemporary television.
And let me tell you, friends: Half an hour doesn't cut it.
Have you ever turned off a Breaking Bad half-way through? Do you have the willpower to go to bed just as the zombies finally show up in an episode of The Walking Dead? Do you think you could make it through all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica (the new, good one) in 30-minute increments?
If you answered any of those questions "Yes," you are a stronger person than I.
So now you know why I stalled out somewhere in the middle of season three of Breaking Bad, season two of The Walking Dead and season one of Battlestar Galactica. And it's why I haven't even started Boardwalk Empire, Hell on Wheels or Terriers yet, even though I suspect I'd love all those shows.
At last the vast wasteland has been transformed into a vast, verdant garden, and I don't have time to so much as pluck a few grapes. Cruel, TV. Cruel.
I mean, at my pace it would take me nearly a month just to get through a single season of Breaking Bad, and as great as that show is would you want to spend that much time watching nothing but the moral erosion of Walter White and everyone around him? Good luck with the sweet dreams when those evil S.O.B.s Gus and Mike are the last things you see every night. May flights of meth dealers sing thee to thy rest!
So I've turned mostly to movies for my late-night entertainment. If I have to consume a story in little bite-sized chunks, I'd rather complete the meal in four nights than 40. But relying on movies comes with its own challenges. Example: Most of them blow.
When I was growing up, television was, for the most part, crap and if you wanted to watch something with an I.Q. higher than room temperature you had to head to the movie theater. (This was a time, remember, when the siren cry "Hey, honey -- Love Boat's on!" could be heard from sea to shining sea each Saturday night.) Now that's been turned on its head, with the cineplexes awash in cartoons fighting cartoons and most of the smart stuff coming from TV (and, more specifically, cable).
Fortunately, they've been making movies for, oh, a hundred years or so, so I've got plenty of choices as long as I don't mind black and white. And I don't. (I still have a tough time with silent films, though. To me they're about as entertaining as looking at stereopticon slides of Niagara Falls while listening to Al Jolson on the Victrola. It might be a fun little time warp for all of five minutes, but after that I start to get twitchy.)
So thanks to Netflix, I've always got something fun or interesting to watch. What I haven't been able to do is stay in the pop-culture loop. When everyone else is gathered around the water cooler talking about the latest Mad Men, I have nothing to say because I probably spent the last few nights finishing The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
Admission: I actually haven't seen The Ghost and Mr. Chicken since I was a kid. It was just the best contrast I could come up with for Mad Men. And I like the idea of Don Draper being forced to work on the Ghost and Mr. Chicken account. Would he have come up with this? Or finally thrown himself out the window?
Hmm. I guess I'm not that far out of the loop. After all, I know Don Draper's in advertising in the '60s and I know he's not the most happy-go-lucky fella on the planet. So maybe I need to stop complaining about missing all these great shows and simply do the smart and easy thing: Fake it.
Hey -- how about that Breaking Bad last night? Man oh man, I didn't see that coming!