I Like to Watch

The Southland's Doppler 7000 chases raindrops, "The Bachelorette" chases ambivalent pretty boys, and "Jonny Zero" fights crime with more crime. Plus: What's more fun than a barrel of super-rich, whiny teenagers?

By Heather Havrilesky
Published February 21, 2005 9:00PM (EST)

Rainy days and Mondays
It's raining in The Southland! delicate Chicken McNuggets, and that means that the Doppler 7000 is working overtime, baby. For those of you impoverished imps who live far from the self-proclaimed center of the bottle-tanned universe, the Doppler 7000 is a high-tech device that can detect every ounce of moisture within a 30-mile radius of downtown Los Angeles. Once moisture is detected, the raw data is translated into a color-coded moisture map, with heavy rains signified by an alarming shade of red, and less significant moisture -- like, say, the sweat on your palms as I refer to you as a "Chicken McNugget" -- signified by a wimpy shade of light green.

The mere sight of this particular shade of red, Heavy Rains Red, rings like a Pavlovian bell in weak little minds across The Southland! eliciting involuntary images of mudslides(!) and helpless puppies(!!) who've fallen down steep embankments and require teams of rescue workers with fork lifts and elaborate pulley systems to save them. Heavy Rains Red also calls to mind morons who explore (sometimes in Ford Explorers) straight past the signs that announce, in very large letters, that the road ahead is FLOODED, steering around the attendant blockades in order to navigate (often in Lincoln Navigators) rising flood waters, waters that inevitably pull their squawking babies from their arms and then rip their underpants off as the rescue workers lift them to safety.

Those blurred bare buttocks, broadcast on the Action News at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. and later at 11 p.m., are a final insult from God, the sort of "Nanny nanny boo boo" that follows the more serious "I told you so, you idiot" of seeing your baby carried away by flood waters because you're too stupid not to trust that posted signs sometimes indicate, um, I don't know, real danger? Hey, you've spent a few decades ignoring posted signs, and you haven't perished yet, right? If your kid were a little luckier, you would have perished years ago.

Yes, Heavy Rains Red stirs some mighty strong emotions in these parts, tender chicken tenders. Take my neighbor, Gilbert, whose backyard became a heap of rubble when the walls on two properties above him came tumbling down, crushing 30 or 40 potted plants below, plus a little orange tree that was only recently starting to thrive. Gilbert, who has been working diligently on his yard for months and is therefore fully justified in pointing out that my loquat tree needs trimming and the blue and white paint on my house makes it look just like a fish restaurant, weathered this unfortunate incident with admirable nonchalance and quickly took to referring to his backyard as "Little Conchita." Insensitive, perhaps, but then, don't we all need a little thick-skinned humor to get us through the tough times?

But while those of hardy stock, like Gilbert, take Heavy Rains Red on the chin, many other residents of The Southland! are fragile little tender paws who quiver and cringe when they so much as spot that light green shade which indicates that someone in Victorville left the kitchen faucet dripping this morning. No matter. Just try to remember the real heroes like Gilbert, who merely grumbles to the girl who lives in the fish restaurant across the street, then hunkers down for a full week of drippy gray skies.

Increases anxiety up to 40 percent in 4 out of 5 viewers!
The garbled cries of Doppler 7000 alarmists are nothing, though, when compared to the garbled cries of the countless innocents about to meet an untimely fate on our favorite anxiety-inducing drama, "24." But you know who's nothing at all like the rain-fearing tender paws of The Southland!? Edgar's mother. You know, Edgar, that plump, jittery CTU employee whose mother just happens to live on San Gabriel island, site of the first terrorist-incited nuclear meltdown? Did Edgar's mom panic when the stupid neighbors evacuated without her? No. Did she panic when her son didn't manage to call in a special favor and get the National Guard to swing by and pick her up? No. Instead, she calmly informed Edgar that she was clearly going to perish, and so, well, she'd better off herself quickly and cleanly before that painful cloud of radiation drifted any closer. Then she told Edgar that she knew he wouldn't be able to bear getting off the phone, so she loved him very much, he'd always been a great son, goodbye.

Poor Edgar. Don't you sometimes feel like "24" is all about taking the saddest sack or the most helpless lump of a human and messing with him until desperation sets in, then despair, and then that slow, silent sink into an unrelenting nihilistic gloom?

Hell, we knew that even Tony Almeida's peace last season was fragile at best. Now granted, we hated a happy Tony -- all that kissy-face with Michelle, his darling wife. Yuck! But if there's one thing worse than a chirpy, love-muffin Tony, it's a sullen, alcoholic, trashy-girlfriend-bedding Tony. Sure, we don't really believe he watches soccer and drinks beer straight out of the can all day, but we didn't believe he'd picked out a china pattern with Michelle, either, so that's nothing new.

You know what? Tony is just like that friend of a friend, the one you like much less than your friend but who hangs around all the time and says stupid things at those exact moments when you want him to keep quiet. Basically, that second-hand acquaintance type is just pesky to have around, ever. If they're happy it's totally annoying, and if they're unhappy it's even worse. Mostly you just want them to be invisible and silent.

That's what we want from Tony. Isn't it time Tony was put out of his misery? Without a Ryan Chappelle or George Mason around, who else is going to be this season's first sacrifice?

Just try not to think too hard about whether something like what we see on "24" is plausible, since it seems that the local news station is far, far better at detecting the beads of moisture gathering on your brow than the CIA is at tracking down terrorists, either at home or abroad.

Creepy rich people
See how easy it is to take the impending fall of the Western world on the chin? Hell, we've been too big for our britches for centuries now. It's about time the international world peoples rose up and stopped the march of freedom once and for all!

While we're waiting for our EZ Lubes and El Pollo Locos to be turned into strategic bunkers on a postcapitalist battlefield, we might as well watch deliriously twisted shows about extremely spoiled teenagers. No, not "The O.C.," my friends: "My Super Sweet 16" on MTV, a deliciously obnoxious show that an ever-alert reader turned me on to last week, much to my delight.

On "My Super Sweet 16," very bad, very rotten teenagers and their deeply disturbed parents collaborate in throwing sickening, decadent sweet-16 parties that quite clearly signal the end of civilization as we know it. Hey, no biggie -- as long as the lobster and champagne last until midnight.

Let's just review the case of Hart, a frighteningly preppy, very, very wealthy 16-year-old whose dad is one of the most unsavory humans ever seen on television. Hart is the kind of kid who wears Izod shirts with the collars straight up. (Excuse me for just a second, but can you friggin' believe kids still dress like that? Didn't "Pretty in Pink" and a million other John Hughes movies teach us the important lesson that kids like that are destined to lose the girl and promptly burn in hell?) Hart is the kind of guy who invites a bunch of girls to his stepmom's store to get free outfits to wear to the party, so that he'll be sure that they all show up. Eww!

Hart's dad, on the other hand, is the kind of guy who storms out of the room when his son starts talking directly to the party planner. Afterward, Daddy whines to the camera, "Sometimes when we go in these meetings, like, Hart starts talking to someone else as if they're doing the whole party for him! I'm, like, 'Hart, I've written every check for this party. Why are you talking to other people?' These are people that all work for me, and they're helping carry through what I want, but he's acting like someone else is his father. And it's just, like, what the f*** is that?"

Why are adults with the emotional maturity of 13-year-olds allowed to become parents? Thank god there are cameras around, though, because there's nothing quite like seeing an overgrown 13-year-old millionaire solve problems. For Hart's dad, this means flying with Hart on a private jet to South Beach so they can "party" together. My favorite moment is when the two are loading huge piles of caviar onto crackers on the plane. "Look at how very rich we are, everybody! We're casually snacking upon thousands of dollars of fish eggs as we jet down to South Florida!"

And then there's Nicole, who makes a big, fat, stinking deal out of kicking out girls who weren't invited to her party, relishing the moment when they're ushered into the streets in front of the rest of the guests. Isn't it awesome when super-rich people act just as depraved and nasty as you imagined they were when you were about 8 years old? Remember? That was the year you learned, for the first time, that while many, many children didn't have nearly as many toys as you did, some kids had way, way, way more, and they'd always have more toys, and cars, and money, and clothes, and island retreats, forever and ever, amen. It seemed really important, at first, just how much better some kids had it than you did.

But then you learned to expunge such nasty, envious thoughts from your mind. Until now! But do you really want to be anything like Hart and his dippy dad? I think not. Thank you, MTV!

My Hero, Zero
You know who else isn't much of a role model? The aptly named "Jonny Zero" (Fridays at 9 p.m. EST on Fox). See, Jonny did four years for killing a man, but now he's trying to go straight and help people, mostly by committing crimes and stuff. Jonny has a very square jaw and one of those huge Gold's Gym bodies, and he says stuff like "Be cool" and "Chill" while the cameraman, who obviously has a drinking problem, stumbles around the room trying to film him. Mostly, Jonny wanders onto the scene of many crimes, often managing to dodge a shower of bullets thick enough to set off a blob of Heavy Rains Red on the Doppler 7000.

Basically, "Jonny Zero" is like "Rescue Me" without snappy dialogue, decent storylines and Denis Leary. I don't even like "Rescue Me," but it's still better than "Jonny Zero." But here's the crazy thing: Every time I start watching "Jonny Zero," I can't stop. I have to see the whole thing. Now, anyone who's been sucked into a three-hour "Law & Order" marathon knows that doesn't necessarily mean all that much, but I feel it's only fair to admit that, for all of its sepia-toned, shaky-camera stupidity, there's something about a hulking dimwit caught in the crossfire that sort of warms my heart. There, I said it. Are you happy now?

Another blow to Mr. Nice Guy
But most of us really have no control over what makes us weak in the knees, let's face it. For more proof, look no further than the latest episode of "The Bachelorette," in which Jen Scheft and her suitors spent their time in their fantasy suites smiling and nodding at each other like talk show hosts. While John Paul and Jen had all of the chemistry of a pair of really self-conscious lawyers negotiating a major deal while the senior partners in their firms looked on disapprovingly, Jerry and Jen seemed to genuinely despise each other, with each repeatedly proclaiming that he or she didn't "get" what the other was trying to say. To the camera, Jen made it very clear that she was incredibly suspicious of Jerry, and couldn't tell, at all, whether he was genuine or not. We can tell. He's not remotely genuine. Jen reminded us that Andrew Firestone aka The Bachelor picked her way back when, but then wasn't ready for a serious commitment. It would be sooo awful, Jen told us, if she ended up in the same position with Jerry!

Then Jen spent some time with Ryan, who was sincere and sweet and communicated his feelings very directly. Jen really seemed to love this about Ryan and told him as much. "You are such a good communicator, and that's so important to me. You always make me feel comfortable and put me at ease, and I know I always say that, and I really appreciated when I had a concern and you were so good about talking about it with me. That means everything to me, so thank you for that."

Then she reminded us how great Ryan is. "Ryan put his heart out there. He knows how to communicate his thoughts to me in a way that I understand. And I haven't had that in a lot of my past relationships, and the fact that Ryan and I can talk like that definitely makes me think about him in a different way."

"A different way" apparently meaning "a totally asexual way" -- cut to the rose ceremony, during which Ryan was unceremoniously dismissed.

See, I knew that girl was bad news from day one. You'll notice that, in every scene, all she talks about is what she needs, and then, the second she gets it, you're yesterday's news. Ooo, she makes my inner Edgar so mad! No big surprise that Mr. Nice Guy takes another one in the cojones, but look, Jen is the ultimate loser here, destined to follow yet another self-involved pretty boy to the ends of the earth.

Honk if you love honkies!
Hey, honkies! Don't know anything about hip-hop culture? Wondering what those African-American fellows you occasionally play a game of pickup ball with are talking about? Well, "Race-O-Rama" is this new show on VH1 that will teach you all about the things you don't understand. For example, did you know that Mariah Carey is often referred to as The Tragic Mulatto, and that this is also a well-known syndrome that individuals of mixed racial background sometimes seem to suffer from, as in, "I don't know who to hang with, the black kids or the white kids"?

We honkies sure are out of touch, yo! The really excellent thing about "Race-O- Rama" (Monday at 9 p.m. EST on VH1) though, is that it'll demonstrate to you just how entertaining a show where black people talk about race is, which will lead you to momentarily imagine the horrors of a show where white people talk about race -- or anything else, for that matter. That's right, honkies! Listen to black folks riff on the subject of race -- or almost anything else, for that matter -- and you will find yourself marveling at just how bland and utterly tedious most white people are.

In fact, for an exercise in self-loathing, honkies, try this. Watch "Race-O-Rama," then switch to "Crossfire." We honkies sure are boring! Maybe that's why we're about to yield all of our minibars and down comforters and pricey watches and fish restaurants to the huddled masses of revolting, Molotov-cocktail-hurling revolutionaries of the world. Maybe our inability to tell stories and jokes that are entertaining and funny is the reason why the residents of the "House of Sand and Fog" gave up real estate for big practical jokes involving nuclear reactors.

The party's over
It's true. Some day soon, our leisurely high-capitalist kingdom will collapse and we'll be cast out into the cold, dark night without our cashmere sweaters, left to murder each other over half a box of stale strawberry Pop Tarts. But until then, at least "Survivor: Palau" will be here to unite us behind a common cause -- namely, never watching another episode of "Survivor" again.

Next week: What I think about what "Television Without Pity" has to say about what's happening on "Survivor: Palau," which I refuse to watch. Plus: Rescue workers struggle to save itsy-bitsy spider from flood waters! More at 11.

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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