I Like to Watch

All hail Adventure Week! Featuring hair-raising encounters with crappy, overpriced appliances, whiny 30-something women, devil-may-care mountain climbers, and squabbling married couples!


Heather Havrilesky
November 23, 2004 2:00AM (UTC)

Good guys, bad guys
As many of you already know, the Good Lord made each and every one of us unique. Thus, some of us have scaly skin and flat feet and really love the jalapeño poppers at Hooters. Others of us read mysteries and use white strips on our teeth and spend most of our work hours concocting detailed fantasies about Mark Ruffalo that feature chocolate mousse, thigh-high leather boots and unrealistically witty dialogue.

But there's one moment when we're all equal in the eyes of the Lord, and that's when the guy at the major appliance warehouse asks us if we'd like to purchase an extended three-year warranty on our product, one that brings our total price past the "I can barely afford it" range and into the "I definitely can't afford it and won't be paying it back before summer" range. Rest assured that we all feel confused at this point, my little piggies, and we all take a second to stare at our shoes and try to figure out whether we're suckers or not.

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Being a card-carrying sucker, I always spring for the extended warranty, and then I pat myself on the back when my brand-new TV set, which shouldn't have broken down after just three months, breaks down. "Thank god you paid way too much for a warranty to fix that crappy TV you paid way too much for!" I tell myself. "You are, indeed, a savvy consumer!"

Or, at least, that's what I did last week when my brand-new Sony TV set, which shouldn't have broken down after just three months, broke down. Still patting myself on the back, I phoned the so-called Good Guys to schedule my repair. After being transferred exactly six times back and forth between departments without a single person telling me where they were transferring me or why, some despondent-sounding human being gave me another number to call. Upon calling that number, I was informed that a repair person would come to my house in approximately three weeks.

Once again, I remind you that there are many kinds of people in this great big world of ours. Some of us dye our hair red and order ranch dressing on the side and buy stamps that say "LOVE" on them. Others of us eat caramel ice cream straight out of the carton and, when the so-called Good Guy on the phone tells us we have to wait three weeks to get our TV repaired, we say, "I'm a TV critic, OK? My TV needs to be working at all times. That's why I bought the repair contract in the first place, dig?" Then, when the guy says, essentially, tough shit, we ask to talk to his manager, someone named "Matt" who also says tough shit, but in a nicer way. ("Tough cookies," I think is what he says.) At which point we inform "Matt" that we're going to write about this experience in our column. "Matt" doesn't say anything to that, but we can tell from the silence that he's not exactly shaking in his khakis over it.

No matter! We'll show him, right piglets? We'll boycott the so-called Good Guys until they pledge to shorten their repair times, times which are abusively long simply because once we purchase their overpriced, faulty products, the so-called Good Guys don't care about us anymore. We'll show those unethical appliance-peddling goons, won't we, my little pork rinds? Won't we?

OK, who's with me? Who's with me? Hellooo?

Horton hears a "boohoo"
Oh, man, now you're making me feel all lonely and pathetic, almost as lonely and pathetic as Melissa on "thirtysomething." Remember Melissa? Remember how she was all messed up and needy, and every time Peter Horton ambled up in his leather jacket, her eyes would get all bloodshot and she'd start mumbling incoherently about diamond rings and her biological clock? I was only about 17 at the time, but I still remember composing a Very Urgent Memo to Self, one that said, "Must marry -- anyone! who cares? lower standards! -- by age of 33 at all costs, or risk weepy, deeply unattractive, suicidal fate, plus really bad short haircut."

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Of course, as a single 34-year-old, I thumb my nose at the negative stereotype of the 30-something childless loser that Melissa represented. I mean, who would deign to cry to stupid, long-haired, flinchy Peter Horton, anyway? How unrealistic can you get?

Or at least that's what I thought before I tuned in to "The Bachelor: The Women Tell All" last week and witnessed hordes of sharp, professional hotties simpering and squealing and insulting each other over stupid, long-haired, flinchy Byron, quite possibly the least savory Bachelor of all time (Aaron was purged from the memory banks the second he showed his bloated face, so he doesn't count). It was like watching a pack of otherwise well-mannered show dogs rip each other to shreds over a stale cheese doodle.

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Congratulations, ladies. You've once again given 30-something single women a very bad name and accomplished more for the Biological Clockwork Orange stereotype in one night than a hysterical, clingy, self-obsessed loon named Melissa accomplished over the four years "thirtysomething" was on the air.

Shall we start with Cindy, who called the producers a few days after she left the show and invited them to shoot even more footage of her crying her eyes out over Byron? Forget that Mr. Stale Cheese Doodle lost his temper when Cindy asked him, politely, about his ex-wife, a big old red flag that the viewers at home could see from the comfort of their La-Z-Boys. But you don't understand! Byron was Cindy's soul mate, because they spent time in the Fantasy Suite together! (Apparently, being ensconced in bland Pottery Barn interiors scattered with candles and rose petals is enough to make any 30-something gal pledge her undying love. Take note, you marriage-minded Romeos out there! Love is a catalog away!)

And what about lovely Jayne, who transformed from shy beauty to stark raving lunatic in a feather boa the second her man spent time with another girl? Um, Jayne, this is what's known as a dating show, OK? That means you won't be the only one luxuriating in the visual clichés of middle American romance.

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And then there's Cheresse, who acted above it all but shot mean little barbs in every direction like some unholy cross between Lara Croft and Kathy Lee Gifford. "Jayne went crazy! Krysta was hurtful! Byron didn't choose me because I wouldn't 'spend the night in the Fantasy Suite' (see also: 'screw him')!" But, lady, you should've known that Stale Cheese Doodle was way too cheesy not to propose at the end of the show. Did you really think he'd propose to someone whose ass he hadn't previously tapped? Nay, my friend, he would not.

I guess these self-proclaimed "ripe" women have a right to be a little nutty: The stakes are higher for them than they might be for, say, the typical Bachelor girl, a 23-year-old fresh from the pageant circuit who knows nothing about how slippery and scrawny the few fish left in the sea can be as you get older. But listen up, shorties! As long as you're open to dating divorced guys, you can do a lot better than Byron. I know it feels like there are no men left. But it's just like when they run out of free Gruyère samples at the gourmet grocery store, and you start to panic and wonder if you'll ever eat again, and then they bring out a big plate of aged Gruyère that's even better!

If these snarling show dogs knew that there's plenty of really good cheese on the way, they wouldn't have to backstab and whine and put on skimpy lingerie and trot around with their asses hanging out. If they would just open up their eyes to the friendly, slightly neglected, pre-trained fish around them, they wouldn't have to nibble on stale cheese doodles. They might even find the courage to drop the inappropriate "Y"s from their names.

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Land of the fee, home of the depraved
Speaking of inappropriate, did you know that soldiers facing death don't swear, and guys who watch football blush at the slightest hint of nudity? These are the first hearty laugh lines of a new, improved, FCC-patrolled America. Tee-hee!

Two weeks ago, a handful of ABC affiliates pulled "Saving Private Ryan" from their schedules, fearing fines from the FCC for the film's profanities despite assurances from ABC headquarters that the company would pay any fees. And last week, the FCC was investigating a skit at the beginning of ABC's "Monday Night Football" broadcast in which Nicollette Sheridan of "Desperate Housewives" drops her towel to lure Terrell Owens away from the game.

Forget that the complaints about the skit obviously had everything to do with its being not only painfully bad and horribly acted, but also shamelessly tacky in cross-promoting an ABC show. No one's calling for an end to the rampant mixing of advertising and content, though. After all, marketing these days is so pervasive and so indistinguishable from the programming itself that most of us have given up and abandoned ourselves to being tattooed with tiny ads from the inside out. Besides, if the leader of our great nation believes we should let massive corporations have whatever their little hearts desire, from our sporting events (Outback Bowl, anyone?) to the war in Iraq (Halliburton Bowl, anyone?), who are we to stand in his way? Corporations make stuff better! It's the boobies that are bad! It's the boobies that are bringing us down as a people!

Ever since Justin Timberlake released a trap door on Janet Jackson's bustier, allowing her right boob to range free at last, the FCC has been on a filth-fighting crusade. But instead of setting forth clear, reasonable standards, they reacted to the Great Boob Emancipation of '03 with all of the calm, measured tones of a Salem preacher rallying an angry mob to burn any and all sneaky-looking local women at the stake. Did the FCC scan a copy of "Saving Private Ryan" and let ABC know whether the profanities (which Steven Spielberg quite reasonably refused to have removed) would result in a fine? No. They took the cowardly path and waited to see how a pious minority might react instead.

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Breathtaking, isn't it? How efficiently and effectively the FCC has signaled to this country that social conservatives will be the true enforcers of what's broadcast on national television!

And now the NFL is jumping on the dog pile, proclaiming the "Desperate Housewives" skit "unsuitable" for its viewers. Ah yes. If those boobies are bouncing around under an obscenely tight sweater in a nearly pornographic Coors-sponsored ad, no problem. But if we can imagine them pressed up against the football uniform of a black man? Well, that's just obscene.

Avoiding the void
It's pretty incredible that a very vocal minority has its panties in a bunch over a dropped towel when shows like "Pornucopia: Going Down in the Valley" are playing a few clicks away on HBO (Thursdays at 11 p.m. EST). Within the first few seconds of the first episode of this documentary series, we witness a chipmunk-voiced 22-year-old bouncing around on top of a big guy who might have been a lumberjack in a former life. She's bouncing and screeching and pursing her lips and then, later, she chirps casually about how fun and easy the scene was. Why aren't the little church ladies trying to regulate this sort of mildly amusing smut? I know it's a paid channel, but I'll bet there are tons of morally upright football fans who accidentally stumble on this stuff and it makes them blush, and they feel really ashamed and uncomfortable and they can't believe how dirty and wrong it is. Why, I bet they sit there blushing and feeling uncomfortable for the whole hour it's on!

I'd better not give the morally outraged finger pointers any ideas. But if you're in the mood for documentaries, even ones without bare breasts in them, there's some good stuff on this week. "Touching the Void" (airing this week on PBS -- check local listings), is the engrossing story of two mountain climbers who stumbled into a hellish scenario in the Peruvian Andes. I also really enjoyed "My Architect," the sometimes rambling, sometimes poignant exploration of the life of legendary architect Louis I. Kahn, as told by his only son, Nathaniel (Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST on Cinemax).

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Amazingly racy!
And then there's the sixth season of "The Amazing Race" (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on CBS), which began with a bang this week, much to my extreme delight. It looks like the producers really went for the wildly dysfunctional couples this time, a move I couldn't approve of more. The two married wrestlers, who take breaks between events to beat the crap out of each other, constitute the most obvious freak-show element. But I also like the ex-lovers trying to reunite. Silly rabbits! Never has there been a safer bet for catastrophic quarreling than there is with former couples: Two people who once loved each other, then hated each other enough to part ways, and now are desperate enough to try again. I know that's an extremely biased perspective, but I don't think I'm that far off with Adam and Rebecca. I mean, he lives with his parents and has tiny little ponytails on the front of his head. I like self-proclaimed eccentrics as much as the next girl, but this guy needs a hangar to store all of his baggage.

The best scene of the episode came when Kendra and Freddy, the engaged models, were driving along in front of Adam and Rebecca on their way to an ice-climbing challenge.

Freddy: So, right behind us, we have Hellboy and his girlfriend. I mean, did you see those things he has on his head?

Kendra: (making little horns with her hand) Horny Hellboy!

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Cut to Hellboy and Rebecca in their car.

Hellboy: The models are directly in front of us.

Rebecca: Yeah, they're nice. I like them.

Hellboy: They're real nice.

Cut back to the models.

Kendra: Hellboy and his girlfriend are both about 4 foot 2. They're gonna be like little monkeys climbing up a wall!

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See how cruel hot people can be, piglets? Give them a wide berth, if you can help it.

But the real star of this season is going to be Jonathan and his poor wife, Victoria. After just one episode, Jonathan is the source of more quotable proclamations than any other human ever to appear on reality TV.

A Sample of Jonathan's Wisdom

1. "I am a very passionate person. You might see it as explosive, but it's passion."

2. "Shut up!"

3. "I consider myself a mental magician."

4. "I'm a dictator. Jonathan does what Jonathan is going to do."

5. "I'm gonna get a divorce."

Sweet pork chops, I hope you can sense just how delicious "The Amazing Race" is. So few people seem to understand its charms -- you really have to tune in and see for yourself.

Round and round
And once you've come to know and love "The Amazing Race," that's when you have to upgrade your world-travel commitment to include Bravo's "Long Way Round," which follows Ewan McGregor and his hilarious friend and fellow actor Charley Boorman as they drive around the world on motorcycles. This charming show has so many unexpected laughs and sweet moments and odd sights and strange little discoveries in it, I won't be able to do it justice, particularly not now, when this column is getting way too long. So here's your assignment, piggies: Watch "Long Way Round" this Thursday at 8 p.m. EST on Bravo, and we'll discuss it next week in class.

OK, that's all for this week. In closing, I just want to remind you that there are lots of different kinds of people in this world. Some go to Curves every morning and read romance novels and get little rhinestones embedded in their nails and feed their kitties spoiled lunch meat. Others shower infrequently and bum cigarettes but never buy them and listen to Sigur Ros when they're feeling emotionally overwrought and consider moving to Budapest every now and then, but then decide against it. But we all have a few things in common.

I just can't remember any of them right now.

Next week: Is Ewan McGregor charming enough to rival Queen Tyra as TV's reigning cable darling? Does Bob Odenkirk's "Tom Goes to the Mayor" represent a whole new level of hipster irony, and if so, am I just too old and crusty to get it? Plus: More models, more porn, more smutty, filthy trash. ILTW pledges to join the culture war, just like the Orcs joined that war in "Lord of the Rings," to fight a tireless battle for the rights of the depraved.

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  • Read more of Heather Havrilesky's columns in her directory.
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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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