Saturday, April 30, 2016

that's entertainment

Television is not evil, no matter what George Orwell or anybody says. I grew up watching television and I grew up loving television and I turned out okay.

We had a big black & white TV set in our den that my family gathered around to watch programs like Bewitched, The Flintstones and my parents' favorite, Gunsmoke. On Sunday evenings, like most Americans, we'd watch The Ed Sullivan Show. On Saturday mornings, I'd plop down on the floor with a big bowl of Froot Loops and watch cartoons. Later in the afternoon, my brother would commandeer the set to watch wresting, so I'd just go upstairs to our shared bedroom and watch the smaller television that we shared as well. We had televisions all over the house!

When I was in 9th grade, my mom won a color television in a sales contest at her job. This pleased and excited the whole family, especially my father, who was relieved of the thought of shelling out a portion of his hard-earned salary for a new TV. A color television opened up a whole new world. We marveled at Jeannie's Arabian costume in its full, hot pink glory. We "oohed" and "ahhed" at Lucy's bright red hair. And, during the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy opened her front door after the twister set her down, the beauty of Oz finally made sense. (Before this, Oz looked a lot like Kansas.)

In the early 1980s, home entertainment took on a new dimension. My parents broke down and bought a VCR, the first piece of advanced modern technology that my father purchased since buying a car with an automatic transmission. Now, we were in full control of what the Pincuses would watch and when we would watch it. We recorded shows and watched them at our convenience. We could fast-forward through annoying commercials and rewind to hear dialog we may have missed. Plus, we could rent and watch theatrical movies (including pornography that my father would sneak in when the house was empty). This was the future and it was happening right now! 

When my wife and I bought a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia, our first order of business was arranging for cable television service. In 1986, cable was not available within the city limits, despite its abundance in the suburbs for over a decade. As movers carted boxes, bureaus and beds into our new home, a technician ran wires and tightened connections to bring us the likes of MTV and the debut of QVC. We also purchased a giant, state-of-the-art VCR, complete with an imposing, multi-button remote control, most of which we never used (or understood).

As the years went on, we supplemented our two televisions with several more, including a TV/VCR combination for our son's room, a 13" TV that nestled next to the printer in my wife's third floor office and a huge, 32" monster — with the enormous, ass-end of the picture tube protruding from the back like the posterior of a hippopotamus — for our newly-renovated basement. That thing weighed a fucking ton and has not moved since the day it was set upon its stand. And that's how the entertainment status remained for years in the Pincus household.

Until recently.

My (much younger) co-workers always joke with me about my television-watching habits. When I start to tell them about movie I saw on TV, they immediately interrupt, asking if it was in color. When asked if I own a flat-screen, high-definition television, I reply, "What's the point? Everything I watch is in black & white and everyone in the cast is dead." But, in an effort to reduce our outrageously high cable bill, my wife called our "pals" at Comcast for a little chat. After a few minutes of automated answering and rerouting of our call, Mrs. P finally got to talk with a real live person. he explained — in perfect nonsensical Comcast logic — that our bill could be lowered if we upgrade our service to their signature X1 platform. Upgrade service to lower the bill? Typical Comcast. Nevertheless, we agreed and after a few service and equipment replacements (and mishaps), we were up and running with the entertainment miracle that is X1. 

The first thing we noticed was that the new cable boxes were automatically switching, whether we liked it or not,  to high-definition (HD) channels. We do not own HD compatible televisions. We still had our our old reliable, giant-backed, picture tube-equipped models — and those tubes were displaying a very blurry picture. So, here we were with brand-spankin' new service paired up with our stone-age TVs. There was only one thing to do. We bought a 43" LG HD flat-screen smart TV for our den and a 32" Samsung version for our bedroom.

Oh. My. God.

43" baby!
I don't know how I manage to leave the house. It's a TV watcher's dream. Bright, vivid colors. Clear, crisp images that are so real you can count the blades of grass on a baseball field, see the few hairs that are left on Matt Lauer's head and examine every pore and imperfection on everyone's face. (Proactiv commercials are the best... I mean the worst!) Not only that, but the new system allows you to stop and rewind live broadcasts. You can start an already in-progress show from the beginning. And, best of all, you can talk to the remote! That's right! Just like the Jetsons! (The Jetsons was a cartoon in the 1960s that..... oh, never mind!) Just push the little "microphone" button and say "Watch Channel 6" and it goes to channel 6. (Actually, it goes to channel 806, the HD version of our local ABC affiliate. It's that smart!) You can also tell the remote to find specific shows by name. This is pretty cool, although as a 55 year-old man, I feel weird asking the remote to watch iCarly. (I think the show is funny. Go fuck yourself.) The system has an expanded and extensive channel guide featuring actors' bios and related viewing, as well as a cool "last channel watched" feature that logs the previous eight channels that were viewed, even from the last time the TV was turned off. It is truly a marvel of entertainment and technology. (This from someone who was instantly fascinated by the now-obsolete fax machine.)

And The Andy Griffith Show never looked better.

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