I Like to Watch

This column was guest-written by a freedom-loving Afghan warlord. That's why it sings the praises of Heather Locklear and wanders merrily through three different corpse-riddled urban landscapes!

By Heather Havrilesky
October 19, 2004 12:00AM (UTC)
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The pursuit of cucumber-scented candles
Isn't it reassuring to know that freedom is still on the march? Even while you were eating your breakfast cereal this morning, even while you picked lint from your not-so-casual Monday pants, freedom continued to slog along, through the nooks and crannies of Afghanistan, through the quaint little boutiques and day spas of Fallujah.

I mean, I assume Fallujah has day spas and adorable little stores that sell framed prints and chenille throws and soaps that smell like pomegranate, whatever that smells like. It's an international hot spot, isn't it? I would imagine that all international hot spots offer Boba smoothies and Bikram yoga and places to get your ears waxed. After all, the availability of a wide range of customized services and prettily packaged, deeply pointless products is one of the surest signs that freedom marches on, bunions be damned!


I don't know if you know this, but visualizing freedom on the march can be very relaxing. This morning, while I was luxuriating in my four-poster bed imported from Indonesia, where international world peoples hand-crafted it with their tiny little foreign hands (I also enjoy visualizing their tiny hands, crafting my fabulous bed), I was musing over how goddamn good it is to picture freedom, all trussed up in battle garb, trudging along past the coffee bars and perfumed soaps and Australian-themed steakhouses of the world, never resting for a minute, even when there are frozen fruity-tea drinks within reach!

It felt so good to think of freedom, crawling through the back alleys of the international community -- you know, where you pull up your car to pick up your merchandise from Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel and Victoria's Secret and the Container Store? -- it felt so good that I almost slept in. But I'm free to sleep in, right? Aren't we all? That's why they're doing the hard work of democracy out there among the unique novelty gift shops of Fallujah, so that we can sleep in whenever we feel like it.

True, I have a column due, but I'm considering outsourcing the job to Afghan warlords, who'll in turn rely on a company out of England, where the boss will say to the budget man, "Hey, budget man. Write us a column about TV, real quick-like." The budget man will get some international world foreign peoples on the phone, and they'll type in my column with breathtaking speed, tiny little hands puttering away on their tiny little keyboards.


Look, I don't care how it gets done, as long as it gets done on time, with only a handful of factual errors. All I know is, when the tiny international world peoples call the budget man and he calls his boss in England and his boss calls the Afghan warlords who call me to tell me the column is done, that's when I'll shuffle, like a kid through our country's sad educational system, back to bed. That's freedom, folks! Freedom on the march! Hallelujah!

Drama is dramatic
As a special favor to all of you sick, twisted individuals who refuse to watch reality TV or even sitcoms, limiting yourself to scripted dramas and nothing but scripted dramas ... Who are you people, anyway? What kind of a somber chicken watches only dramas? Someone needs to loosen you chickens up with some deep-tissue massage and a whimsical novelty gift or two.

Anyway. As a favor to you sad sacks who watch nothing but shows about detectives and supernaturally cool teenagers and politicians and emergency rooms, I tuned in to a few dramas this week, just to see what all the hullaballoo was about. Also, I'm getting a little bored with "Survivor" and its interminable puzzle challenges.


The city that never sleeps, or sips caramel Frappuccinos
Let's start right out of the gate with the newest CSI kid on the block, "CSI: NY" (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS), which, alarmingly enough, is a lot like "CSI" and "CSI: Miami," only it's set in New York and that's Gary Sinise and not William Petersen squinting into the middle distance and mumbling stuff like, "Tar. Semen. Sugar from a sugar-covered doughnut. Polyurethane. Methamphetamines. Looks like we've got another murderous perv on our hands."

Throw in some very stark lighting, an ominous soundtrack, plus the usual tragic back story for Sinise, and you've got ... well, just another brick in the "CSI" wall, as far as I'm concerned. Sure, Melina Kanakaredes is arguably a step up from Marg Helgenberger -- you know, Kanakaredes is the striking, curly-haired woman from "Providence" -- but several questions still loom large: Why, whenever someone gets killed, are there so many sticky or gelatinous substances around? Why are the killers always into kinky stuff? Why is the criminal always the evil landlord of the guy she met in group therapy, and not just her jealous ex-husband?


And why do we have to see blood flowing through brain cells or watch the killer snap the woman's neck in half? The zeal with which the "CSI" franchise illustrates the graphic nature of each crime makes me sick to my stomach. Each disturbing detail is blown up so big, the result is some cross between gritty hyper-reality and pure romanticism.

Finally, what kind of a sad chicken could tune in for not one, or two, but three different corpse-littered urban landscapes each week?

"Law & Order" in this country
Probably the same sort of a sad chicken who tunes in for three different "Law & Order"-branded corpse-littered urban landscapes each week. I'm going to go ahead and cut the "Law & Order" camp a little bit more slack than the "CSI" camp, though, because "Law & Order" is a smarter franchise, plus I think Sam Waterston and Vincent D'Onofrio could handily kick the asses of Gary Sinise and David Caruso nine times out of 10.


Still, I caught up with D'Onofrio and friends the other day (NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," 9 p.m. on Sundays) and, let's see: Here we are in New York City, solving crimes that involve codependent weirdoes, drugs, pervy hobbies ... Honestly, you'd think our cities were filled with disturbed, needy, drug-popping killers when, really, they're filled with eclectic gift shops and delightful beauty supply stores featuring sweet-smelling hair pomades from around the globe. And it's sad, almost, how New York's residents are depicted as such pathetic worms who push each other down staircases and have affairs with each other's wives when, in fact, all the residents of New York really do all day is purchase elaborate closet organizers and pricey cedar shoehorns.

I do enjoy D'Onofrio's character's obvious emotional damage, though. Far from the typical "I miss my dead wife!" back story, Detective Goren (D'Onofrio) is swimming in vague confusion and a sweetly melancholy neediness. Mostly this makes his head move in little, jerky motions. Plus, he's often distracted, but you know it's only because he's just recognized that the murderer's motive is to get the approval her parents never gave her. Also, he's a little hungry. Plus, he hasn't been with a woman in quite some time. (This is a blatant, clumsy ploy to make us women at home feel a little randy for D'Onofrio. It works.)

I just can't figure out why he's always taping phone conversations and interrogating suspects instead of, say, popping into that corner cafe for a frozen blended Macadamia-nut green-tea smoothie and an individually packaged caramel brownie.


Northern overexposure
But if, according to the small screen, our big cities are packed to the brim with attractive corpses and the detectives who scrape under their fingernails, then our small towns are populated by somber teenagers, their zany, outspoken, highly attractive parents and of course the usual line-up of delightfully quirky types who chirp out non sequiturs at a rapid clip.

God, I'm sick of those delightfully quirky types! All it took was one episode of "Everwood" (Mondays at 9 p.m. on the WB) for me to sour on the delightfully quirky vision of the delightfully quirky small town that was perhaps popularized first by "The Andy Griffith Show" and then modernized and blended with some good, old-fashioned drama by "Northern Exposure." The modern update on "Northern Exposure," is, of course, swapping out the Eskimos for lily-white weirdoes and speeding up the dialogue to that racy pace where no one can tell that there's no there there.

I'm already bored to tears by the adorable diner setting, I can't stand the girl whose love for her dead professor is so hilariously absurd and out of step with typical college life, I don't enjoy the company of the sweetly bland schoolteacher, I have no patience for the wacko who wants to patent some silly invention so that he'll get rich like his dumb colleagues, I dislike the lovably lumpy cook at the bed and breakfast, and I'm exhausted by the grumpy-but-feminine Middle Eastern sidekick. Which show am I talking about again? "Ed"? "One Tree Hill"? "Gilmore Girls"? "Everwood"?

Let's limit ourselves to "Everwood" for a minute. First of all, the zany, outspoken, highly attractive Dr. Andrew Brown (Treat Williams) is nice enough, but his strident proclamations ring false. It's just not believable that he'd be that out of step with reality. Then there's his somber teenage son, Ephram, who's cute enough, but ... what does this guy really have to say? All of this dialogue is so on-the-nose, the modern, dramatic take on "Gee, Pa, do you think I should apologize?" Plus, it's all so glowing and pretty and "Party of Five"-poignant.


Really, all you have to do is listen to that breathy male voice that says "Everwood" on the promos each week to find out everything you need to know about this show. "Everwood," the voice breathes, huskily, like it's describing some really soothing grapefruit-and-ginger-scented bath salts. It makes you feel like a wilty little wimp for even considering tuning in.

I say let's throw out the urban dystopias and darling little villages and create a setting that actually feels real. You know, one with bums begging for change from exhausted, humorless moms pushing baby strollers, one with bored Armenian shopkeepers smoking cigarettes while eyeing slutty-looking teenagers in jeans that show off their back fat. You know, something with a Cheesecake Factory in it.

Locklear jet
I guess you have to hand it to the creators of "LAX" (10 p.m. Mondays on NBC) for locating a new setting for the drama beyond sordid city streets and adorable small-town storefronts. Unfortunately, though, as "Airline" and "Airline: UK" have already taught us, airports aren't all that exciting. Once the drunks calm down and the guy with the pet ferret in his handbag goes home in tears, there's nothing but flight delays and unjustly ravaged suspected terrorists left at the party, and I think we've all had enough of the indignant, wrongly accused man of Middle Eastern descent to last us several lifetimes.

Yes, I know, racism is a very real problem. But that doesn't make it any more interesting or entertaining than the 17th episode where Isaac, the bartender on "The Love Boat," gets called "boy" by some old pig with a fat cigar in his maw.


It's a shame that even Heather Locklear can't make this airport any less dull. This might surprise you, free-range chickens, but I'm a big fan of Heather Locklear. She was obviously the best thing about "Dynasty," hands down. She absolutely dominated "Melrose Place." She even brought that telltale stride and nonchalant spark to "Spin City" just when it was getting limp and lackluster. Why, she was electric on "Scrubs," lest you forget! What's not to like about Locklear? She's no-nonsense, slightly churlish, oddly hot despite being kind of bland and blond ... She's the kind of star you really, really want to see make out with the costar. Why? Maybe it's because Blair Underwood is her costar and he's equally appealing. Maybe it's because she still looks like a teenager.

My love of Locklear makes me want "LAX" to succeed, even as its ratings falter and it becomes more and more clear that tales of the drunk and deported will never captivate quite like pretty corpses dredged from the Hudson River. I actually think the writing on this show is solid, and it's well-cast, and, let's see, the opening credits are really cool ...

OK, right about now you're probably wondering when Afghan warlords are going to stop writing my column.

Fishy soup for the soulless
Even though I usually soak in reality TV like an Afghan warlord soaks in kiwi-scented bath gel after he meets his weekly column deadline, I have to confess that I recently stumbled on what might be the only force in the universe powerful enough to get me to cut back on my reality TV watching. It's a Web site called The Fishbowl and it features so much more information on reality TV stars than you'll ever want or need that, well, you start to feel really foolish for ever caring a stitch about the bastards in the first place.


Take Rob Cesternino, once known as my Favorite Reality Star Ever. I loved Rob on "Survivor," but do I really want to know about his search for an apartment in L.A.? I thought I might, before I actually read his column about his recent trip to L.A., which reads like the blog of a particularly dimwitted preteen girl. Then there's Heidi Strobel, the alien-looking blond with the big fakies whose play-by-play of the same reality party was filled with such unique perspectives as "She was so beautiful and nice!" and "What a good time!" Heidi also explains the joys of being a reality has-been:

"Jenna and I talked most of the night about girl stuff and it just made the party that much better! That's what is great about being on a Reality show ... is that you have this new big family that just keeps growing and you all have something in common ... so it is easier to relate to a lot of them."

Sadly, we normal humans have more and more trouble relating to a lot of you, with your great, big, growing family of morons.

Look, chickens, if you want to continue to suspend your disbelief and savor the many flavors available to today's discerning reality gourmet, I strongly suggest that you avoid the Fishbowl. The Fishbowl will make you feel all dirty inside, and you can scrub and scrub with the finest loofah and the best mango sea-salt body scrub, but you'll never come clean.

But the most important thing is that freedom, sweet and sour chickens, is on the march. Will you be marching along with freedom, or will you be sitting on the curb, eating a grilled chicken and roasted red pepper wrap and sipping on a mango-blueberry boba smoothie, as freedom marches by? Will you be delighting passersby with your charming mood disorder, or will you be pulling pubic hairs from a dead woman and examining them under a microscope while you feel really sad about your paint-by-numbers tragic back story?

Either way, it's fine, really. Just keep watching really bad television and you'll do me proud every time.

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  • Heather Havrilesky

    Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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