Going Out, Because Staying In Is the New Awful

January 7, 2012

Somewhere in the desert near Rosamond, California; October 2011

One of simultaneously the best and the worst things about life as a self-employed freelance journalist is that you spend a lot of time at home. This is obviously great in terms of the time you don't waste commuting, the money you don't spend on workplace cafeteria lunches, and excellent news for any pets you may have, who know they can count on a free and easy food resupply mechanism throughout the working week. However, in January - with the tax bill imminent, client payments often delayed because accounts department staff haven't been at work for the thick end of a fortnight, and coffers low after the expenses of Christmas - you tend to spend just about all your time at home, evenings as well as daytime. As a result, I tend to get to see more TV in January than at other times of the year, and this isn't always to be advised.

Last night, for example, I found myself watching Celebrity Come Dine with Me, a show I have never seen before, not even when I used to do two days every week previewing TV shows for The Times (a period during which I sort of became immunized to bad telly). The highlight of this programme seemed to be the point where Paul Danan - that household-name superstar - tried to explain what prosciutto is to three guests; a Liverpudlian whose name escapes me, David van Day out of Dollar, and a Welsh woman in a bikini top. He didn't eat ham, he explained, then ate it, because nobody else at the table was doing so, and it was expensive. Later on, Danan expressed surprise that he found van Day's wife sexually attractive. He dressed up as Michael Jackson while van Day sang old Dollar hits. Watching it was sort of hypnotic - you were wondering what it was for, who it was aimed at, and whether it was deemed a success against those yardsticks. And at the same time you're sitting there telling yourself that you're just losing 30 minutes of your life that you'll never get back again, but you're somehow powerless to do anything sensible about it (such as turning the damn thing off). It was like being drugged.

I didn't feel quite so delusional earlier in the week, because I wasn't really watching Absolutely Fabulous - it was just sort of on, while I was doing something else. I've never really seen the appeal of this show: to be fair, I was far from a regular viewer, but the bits that I've seen which were supposed to be funny generally weren't, the characters don't appear to have many redeeming qualities and remain resolutely unlikeable, and its ability to get big-name guest stars seems to be a kind of magical perpetual motion engine - they get the names because the show is so revered, but the only thing that really sets it apart seems to be its ability to get these big names. It was fun to see Mark Kermode sort of taking the piss out of himself, but when you're reduced to finding observational humour in an explanation of fish pedicures, you kind of have to wonder whether the shark hasn't been jumped so much as pole-vaulted then hacked to pieces. 

Still, it could be worse. In Venezuela, so I gather, the president hosts interminable chat shows where he's the only person talking (insert obligatory "he's Caracas" bad pun here). The death of Kim Jong Il has, if nothing else, exposed the rest of the world to the mind-numbing banality of North Korean TV. In America, the ad breaks are so intrusive as to make most TV stations unwatchable. Watching TV in Italy, you end up realising that The Fast Show's Channel 9 sketches weren't comedy but reportage.

And it's not as if there's nothing good to watch. Sherlock has started as strongly as the first series ended, there's a new series of Hustle starting next week, the live broadcast of Newcastle's victory over the forces of darkness from Salford was of course a highlight of my week (and likely of the entire year), and while I only really paid passing attention to it, Public Enemies seemed to bring the atmosphere and ethos of Play for Today back to prime-time BBC. I've got about 40 hours of stuff on the hard drive that I wanted to see enough to have recorded it but never seem to find time to watch. It's probably a generational thing - as everyone else gets into the whole "schedule your own programming" thing, I'm of that generation where TV-watching is a one-way experience: I don't want to interactively construct my own TV timetable, I expect to just switch it on and for there to be something I want to watch. I suppose I'll just have to add it to the list of things I have to make a conscious decision to do: ensure I don't lazily watch just what happens to be on, but ensure I choose to watch stuff that makes a positive impact. Shouldn't be that difficult - but probably will be. 

Note: this post was in response to this. As such, its worth and point may be moot. 


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