When we first moved into our apartment, Belle and I thought carefully
about television. With Netflix, we didn't really need movie channels, but
I'd gotten used to having an onscreen guide from digital cable. You get
that with TiVo, and Belle really wanted one. So we went with regular ol'
analog cable and spent the extra money on the TiVo subscription, and
everyone was happy. Well, except for Comcast, but I'm not really shedding
any tears over that.
There are lots of nice things about TiVo, little advantages that you don't
get with the generic DVRs. Like the way that the fast-forward takes your
reflexes into account, and rewinds a little bit so you don't overshoot the
end of the commercial break. That's very thoughtful. It's also nice that
the box will record recommendations if there's space left on the hard
drive--most of the time it's stuff we'll never watch, but sometimes there
are jewels, or programs that we meant to record but forgot to add to the
Turns out there's some really good stuff on basic cable nowadays. Even
besides Galactica. I remember a few years ago, the general
consensus seemed to be that if you wanted quality TV, you probably needed
HBO. That was back when the reality show craze was in full swing, and all
the news outlets screamed that we'd be watching nothing but reality
TV in just a few years. So much for that.
- Psych: At some point, USA apparently decided that they were
going to be the quirky mystery network, only to be informed that audiences
no longer respond overwhelmingly to Murder, She Wrote and
Matlock. Not to be deterred, they made their own, starting with
Monk, which I never watched but I'm assured is very clever.
Psych has a similar gimmick (superobservant, smart-alec
investigator who couldn't cut it as a cop starts a fake psychic detective
agency with his friend), but suffers no illusions about being fluffy,
formulaic fare. The result is an amusing (if not shocking) show that
usually has at least one great line per episode.
- The Closer: TNT is a weird bird. I always thought of them as
the network that ran the same movie twice a night, three nights in a
row--on-demand for cheapskates. Then they always advertised their
home-grown movies, stuff like The Librarian or innumerable westerns
starring people like Tom Selleck. But I guess that's really been working
out for them. The Closer was one of the TiVo's recommendations, and
it turns out that it's actually very, very good--and this coming from
someone who normally hates police drama. The cast is talented, the writing
is good, and it's usually light on legal wrangling and authoritarian
nonsense (the worst part of the Law and Order franchise). They have
episodes up on tnt.tv that
you can watch for free, which is always a nice bonus for people who don't
have DVRs (or cable, for that matter).
- Doctor Who: Never watched the original show, but this is not
bad. A little cheesy at times, but all in all it's clever, progressive
entertainment, aimed primarily at younger viewers without talking down to
them. Great theme music. I don't think I really have to write much about
- Top Chef: You know what cracks me up about reality shows?
They're only three seasons in, and people are making comments like "well,
the most anticipated episode is always such-and-such," or "I always enjoy
this challenge." I'm sorry, but when you've only got two finished seasons
in your sample, it's a little bit hard to buy any talk about the show's
traditions or recurring events. It's not an institution yet, is what I'm
saying. Anyway, Top Chef is good, and the cheftestants are less
annoying this season.
- Eureka: Oh, Sci Fi Channel. Talk about a roller coaster ride.
Some of the network's original shows have been critical successes, but
more often (Flash Gordon, Painkiller Jane, etc.) they're
low-budget disasters with bad scripting and worse set dressing.
Eureka is one of the few exceptions. It's based on a premise that
I'm surprised no-one had yet exploited: a rural city is populated
almost entirely by genius scientists working on secret government
projects, like a Mayberry Manhattan Project. If Eureka doesn't
always reach brilliance, it still nicely twists small-town drama around
1950's-style pulp science.