I Like to Watch

When tragedy strikes, we realize how worthless "Entourage" is, and how useful good programming can really be -- if we'd ever pay attention.

Published September 4, 2005 9:43PM (EDT)

Sky falling, news at 11!
Once, a long time ago, I had this really weird dream where I was walking down the street, and all of a sudden everything around me started to float up toward the sky, and there was this intense pressure in my ears. What the hell was going on? Using my immense powers of deduction, I quickly concluded that the world had actually stopped spinning and therefore there was no gravity and the atmosphere was floating away and life on Earth was over, done, kaput! Smell ya later, world!

Strangely, my slumbering reaction was limited to a quiet, resigned sigh of, "Bummer." No time to hug anyone, or cry, or tune in to CNN, or run to the cellar where the water and the crank radio and the cans of mini ravioli are stored. No. The world ended in one collective, silent, very quick bummer. You know, like when Darth Vader blew up the planet Alderan, except this time a million voices didn't even cry out.

Now let's just analyze this dream objectively. First of all, it's obviously the dream of a serious control freak. What's more completely beyond your control than the rotation of the Earth? Second, the dream reflects a pretty deep sense of skepticism about the world, a Chicken Little view that something insane and scary could happen out of nowhere, and no one would see it coming. You'd have to be a little paranoid, maybe something of an alarmist, to have this dream. Maybe you were the type of kid who read "Horton Hears a Who!" a few times too many. Maybe -- just for example -- you were raised by two very skeptical, irreproachable parents, who frequently commented on the fact that Important Stuff Is Being Overlooked. Perhaps you were reminded constantly that Stuff Is Falling Through the Cracks, mainly because the World Is Full of Total Morons, proof of which could be found everywhere, from your badly assembled fast-food hamburger to the idiotic timing of traffic lights.

Still, even in the wake of such a dream, it's not like you'd walk around worrying that the world might stop spinning one day soon. Why? Because you'd trust in science and scientists. You'd trust that, if the world could easily end this way, you'd probably have heard some mention of it before, either on PBS or in some Jerry Bruckheimer-produced disaster flick.

This is what many of us find extremely depressing about Hurricane Katrina: We all knew this was a possibility. Even I knew that there was an eminent disaster looming last Saturday, because I saw it on TV. Remember? It was on this show called "Nova ScienceNow" that explained how a Category 5 hurricane had the potential to flood New Orleans with 25 feet of water.

I wrote about it in January, remember? It was at the very end of my column.

Worst-case load
Oh yeah, you don't really read this column all the way to the end, do you? Yet another entry for the Stuff Is Being Overlooked list, to go right after the popularity of handbag dogs and animated emoticons.

Even if you didn't know about the problem with Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans, though, or if you thought at first that the worst-case scenario hadn't come to pass like I did, I'm betting you spent most of this week gazing at all that oily brown water, mulling over the fact that Stuff Is Being Overlooked.

Why is stuff being overlooked, chickens? Because we live in a society that doesn't believe in prevention, or in science. We prefer to wait and see, and then when the shit hits the fan, instead of solutions, we get melodrama. Also, we're lazy and we're distracted by Brooke Burke's terrible outfits. Oh yeah, and we take after our fine leaders, who don't give a flying bean burrito about the poor people who can't hop on a jet to St. Tropez at the first sign of trouble.

Fortunately, though, thanks to 9/11, many Americans have noticed that we're not all immortal, that shitty stuff happens all the time. Some of these forward-thinking types have even put together a little exercise meant to enable a little bit of (gasp) planning, and some (ahem) intelligent discussion on how some potential worst-case scenarios might get handled. PBS's "In the Balance" (premieres Monday, Sept. 12, check local listings) assembled a panel of experts to discuss two types of terrorist attacks, a biological attack on a shopping mall and a dirty bomb that goes off in a city. Basically, the moderator describes the scenario, and everyone from Dale Watson, a former FBI executive assistant director for counter-terrorism, to Susan Allan, Oregon's public health director, speculates what they'd do under those circumstances. Granted, it's just a roomful of people sitting around and talking, but the conflicts that arise, the dilemmas, the clashes and the potential nightmares that come up provide an intriguing glimpse at the behind-the-scenes handling of a catastrophe.

Here's the bad news: "In the Balance: Bioattack" will pound home the fact that Stuff Is Being Overlooked to such a devastating extent, that by the time you finish watching, you'll be halfway out the door to the local Costco for some big jugs of water, batteries and a flat of Ramen noodles, with maybe a stop by the Wal-Mart for some firearms.

Beyond the lack of a thorough, flexible plan and the lack of resources to enact such a plan if it did exist, what stands out the most here is the tremendous amount of time that's wasted by all the raging egos in the room. After the moderator tells CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno that his news organization, the make-believe "NNN," has been given a videotape apparently made by terrorists that reveals plans to launch some kind of an attack at a shopping mall, she tells him that, luckily, his old friend is the head of Homeland Security -- a role played by Richard Clarke, former Senior White House terrorism advisor. Here's how the two old friends troubleshoot the situation on the fly:

Sesno: Dick, I got a tape here that's got me worried. I don't know whether it's the real deal or not. I'm not going to give it to you, because it came to me, and I'm a news organization, but I need you to look at this ... and we're gonna start way off the record with it.

Clarke: You are going to give it to me, because I need to fingerprint it, and the FBI needs to fingerprint it, to determine where it came from. Watching it on your monitor is not enough.

Sesno: I, as a news guy, am not going to want to turn this tape over, at least not without having a copy in my own...

Clarke: Well I, as a federal official, am not going to play that game no matter how long we've known each other.

Moderator [to Sesno]: He's playing hardball.

Sesno: Well, I'll play hardball, too ... I've got something you need, you've got something I need, and we're going to have to figure out a way to do business.

We're a few minutes into the discussion, and stuff is already slipping through the cracks. Instead of preventing anything or notifying the police or the National Guard or putting some emergency response into effect, all anyone is concerned about is controlling the flow of information. Finally, after lots of bickering over the course of four imaginary days, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who's playing the mayor of the imaginary town in question, says, "With all due respect to your good intentions, you all don't move too quickly."

Should they close the malls? The faux-president, former Sen. Warren Rudman, says, "I don't think so. If you would do that, then you, essentially, would be putting yourself at the mercy of terrorists and quack organizations that would simply issue these kinds of threats. I don't think based on this level of credibility you start closing economic infrastructure."

These situations are complicated, no doubt, and there isn't some "right" answer that the smart people assembled here just aren't getting. But if you expect your government to have the ability to protect you from a catastrophe or even save you from the fallout of a catastrophe, you're living on Fantasy Island. I hear it's nice there this time of year.

Accidental purist
Just in case you're not sure how Osama bin Laden and his henchmen slipped through the cracks the first time around, National Geographic Channel brings you "Inside 9/11," a heartwarming look at those charming, innovative young men who methodically planned the slaughter of thousands of innocent Americans while federal officials missed so many red flags and blaring alarms, you'd think they were deaf, blind and fall-down drunk on cherry wine.

This four-hour miniseries (airs Sept. 8 at 9 p.m., check local listings) is like a reading from the Stuff Is Being Overlooked bible, from the embassy bombings to the FBI agent who suspected that there were terrorists in flight school in Arizona to open declarations of war by bin Laden.

But we've learned our lesson, right? Wrong. "Everybody's just sticking their head in the sand and just hoping that nothing happens," says FAA whistle-blower Bodgan Dzakovic. "And it's another human disaster on the horizon."

The great escapist
So here we are, in what will surely go down as one of the darkest corridors of American history, and what's on TV? Shiny, happy fluff like "Entourage," where, even when bad stuff happens, it's still sort of fun and everyone's still clean, dry, well-hydrated, filthy rich and lily-white.

At times like these, the empty calories of "Entourage" are harder to swallow than usual. You'd think that an escape into sexy swingin' Hollywood would provide some relief from the grim images on the news, but Vince and his moron sidekicks bore me to tears, frankly. I don't care about their love lives, I don't care about their careers, I don't care about the mansion and the Playboy bunnies and the parties, because none of these characters has any kind of depth or complexity, and they don't want anything beyond money and a piece of ass. Even the women on "Sex and the City" had more going on than these guys. If the whole point of the show is to provide the audience an escape, then it fails, because nothing they do looks all that fun, no matter how many times Vince gets laid and the boys clink glasses at sunset.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the sudden fall of Ari the agent last week, from those first few humiliating moments when his feckless boss makes it clear he's yesterday's news to Ari's desperate attempt to abscond with the best agents in the firm, ending with his little romantic moment in the car with his assistant, Lloyd. If the writers are capable of creating a moment that good, why isn't this whole show a lot better? And I really wish they would, every now and then, end on a dark note. Let Ari stumble into his house, drunk and despondent, for Chrissakes. Instead, his wife comes outside in her nighty and they dance? God, I miss "Six Feet Under."

Hef's Thing 1 and Thing 2
In case you don't believe that hot babes and tall dollars don't equal happiness, be sure not to miss "The Girls Next Door," (Sundays at 9 p.m. on E!) a reality show about the glamorous, exciting, super-fun lives of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends, who seem to divide their time equally between appearing at dull publicity events and getting their hair done for their appearances at dull publicity events.

You know that rhyme about St. Ives where each wife has seven cats and each cat has seven rats? Well, each of Hef's girlfriend's has her own hot pink bedroom, two big swollen breasts that don't fit into regular clothes, a couple dozen child-size T-shirts that say things like "Sexy!" on them in glitter, and seven little yapping handbag dogs that like to take little dumps all over the hallways of the Playboy mansion.

This show is almost as tragic as "Six Feet Under." But the saddest episode of them all had to be the one where one of the girls -- the really dumb one whose name I can't remember -- had a birthday party, and her poor grandmother, who's about the same age as Hef, was forced to drive up to Los Angeles and watch her whoring sea donkey granddaughter open presents from a chattering crowd of like-minded sea donkeys, presents that were either deeply juvenile or deeply perverted. As Mom and Grandma looked on, wincing, the birthday girl used every last cell of her tiny earthworm-size brain to blurt out a teary-eyed thank you for the most specialest birthday ever! Yay!

Comeback to me
Ah, reality TV. The great equalizer. Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) gets her own big equalizing moment on tonight's finale of "The Comeback" (Sunday, Sept. 4 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO) which, whether or not you've caught the whole season, is way too priceless to be missed. So don't miss it.

Talent in excess

Ugh. I just have to vent my disgust over last night's horrid "Rock Star INXS." I'm so, so, so done with that show for three reasons (going from least to most influential -- although two and three are pretty much of a tie):

1) Dave Navarro's forearm lace-up leather cuffs. Huh?

2) Brooke Burke's unbelievable follow-up to INXS's show of support and sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. If I'm not mistaken, she said unemotionally that people should contact the Red Cross if they want, followed by, "Now let's get back to business." Excuse me?

3) The dismissal of Ty. He was the best performer of the "rocker" lot and would make an amazing frontman for any band. He's ridiculously handsome/sexy and can sing the bejesus out of any song. That he was repeatedly in the bottom three is surely a reflection of the vast number of small-minded, racist couch potatoes who watch the show (and who, I guarantee, are not going to be the ones buying tickets to INXS shows because that would require them to put down the Doritos and get off their fat asses and out the door). That INXS chose to concede to the in-need-of-a-life voters, especially when Ty gave the best performance of the three last night, is pathetic.

Oh well. Another addiction cured.

Laura Parsons
Charlottesville, Va.

Dear Laura,

I sort of liked Navarro's forearm lace-up leather cuffs, to be honest, because they're so odd and so feminine that they're sure to open him up to ridicule. I think it's a nice move when someone who's way too cool for school willfully chooses to stand alone. You know, the way the cheese stands alone?

Brooke Burke, on the other hand, isn't cool and never went to school. Did you see that shredded leather bustier she had on last Wednesday? And, my god, how about those thigh-high white booty things? She looked like a transvestite dressed up as Lara Croft for Halloween.

Now let's get back to business: Ty. We saw this coming, didn't we? Ty is a black man with a sick body, killer moves onstage, a great feel for music, and a spectacular voice. In other words, he's just not right for our band, INXS.

INXS isn't just a group, Laura, it's a supergroup. I've come to understand that a supergroup is like a group that's expired, but won't die. Thus, a supergroup isn't looking for a big, charismatic black man that will make them look old and soft and squishy. A supergroup is looking for an unexceptional mimic, someone without any will or spirit or soul of their own, someone who will happily try to sound as much like their dead lead singer as possible. Why? Because that supergroup plans to tour for the next 10 or 15 years, singing the same truly awful songs for the same old, soft, squishy white people who liked their crappy music back when it played in dive bars 15 years ago.

Based on these criteria, J.D. is the obvious choice. J.D. used to be an Elvis impersonator, for fug's sake. The man is a professional mimic. Why do you think the supergroup seems to love him so much, when everyone else clearly despises him, including the folks at home and the fraudience? When even the fraudience hates you, you know you suck.

Look, I'm proud of you for shaking your addiction, regardless. You're an inspiration to us all.


In summary
People don't make good decisions, Chicken Littles, because Most People Are Friggin' Morons. Stuff Falls Through the Cracks, stuff like Category 5 hurricanes and terrorists in flight school and little dogs that take craps in Hugh Hefner's hallway. And when the dog crap hits the fan, who's going to hold your hand and spoon-feed you government rations? No one, chicken with dumplings, least of all Uncle Sam, whose hands are full making sure that freedom marches on in Baghdad. Besides, the feds have to spend at least a few more weeks arguing about the flow of information, and accountability, and how to arrange for some presidential photo ops without getting the presidential loafers wet or allowing some filthy black child to touch the hem of the presidential sports jacket. The only thing you can really count on is the fact that Important Stuff Will Continue to Be Overlooked. So do your part, because nobody else will. Smell ya later!

Next: After next week's annual TV Week series, ILTW will go on a brief hiatus so that the author can restore her faith in humanity, mostly by eating lots of cheese and drinking to excess. When she gets back from vacation, though, there's Martha Stewart and "Veronica Mars" and more glorious escapist entertainments than one could possibly imagine. In the meantime, don't forget to give money to the Red Cross or to one of these places, then TiVo CBS's "Threshold," HBO's "Extras," and UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris." Yes, you will be quizzed on this later.

By 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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