i Need Media

i Need Media

I am writing this column on an airplane, and normally, I’d be feeling nervous. I’m not really afraid of flying, per se. I don’t need to get drunk before getting on a flight or anything. But I’m the sort of person who, in most everyday scenarios, can’t help but envision disaster. When driving, I often wonder what would happen if I let my car veer into oncoming traffic. At night, every creak the house makes causes a flash in my mind of the roof collapsing. Don’t try to psychoanalyze this tendency — it’s just who I am. So you can imagine what I’m like on a plane. Every time I glance out the window, I can’t help but think of what it would be like if we were suddenly plunging toward earth. I know it’s not likely to happen, but the slightest turbulence still makes my palms sweaty.

As I said, though, I am currently not fraught with anxiety. That’s because the in-flight entertainment is an episode of How I Met Your Mother.

I have a strange relationship to the show. I initially rejected it as another CBS sitcom aimed at flyover states and old people. I didn’t actually watch an episode until a friend DVR’d a few of the more exemplary ones to show me. It wasn’t an instant love affair: I appreciated the willful goofiness, the way the writers messed with traditional sitcom narrative structures and, of course, Neil Patrick Harris, but I felt that even the better episodes ultimately gave in to disingenuous network TV schmaltz. I’ve now seen a sizable chunk of the show’s eight seasons — all in syndication; I don’t think I’ve watched a single new episode — and I still don’t think I love the show.

And yet, HIMYM brings me a good deal of joy. Not just joy, but comfort. In the last two years or so, I’ve developed a warm familiarity with the show that transcends fandom. I will never actively seek it out, but if it’s on, and I’m not quite ready for bed, I will watch an hour-and-a-half-long block. It’s like that friend you never call and never really wonder how they’re doing when you haven’t seen them for a while, but nonetheless cherish the moments when you do get to hang out. Like that friend, part of what makes spending time with HIMYM so enjoyable is that it requires little commitment: I’ve never watched the show chronologically from the beginning, and don’t feel any need to. Sure, each episode includes long-running gags and inside jokes, and keeping track of Ted Mosby’s relationships is like mapping the human genome, but the characters are simultaneously broad and well-sketched enough that you have a sense of who everyone is by the end of the cold opens. Each episode manages to stand alone even better than Seinfeld, a show that prided itself on minimal arcs but whose characters you needed to spend time with to truly understand.

I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.


i Need Media

i Need Media

We are living in an age of overindulgence.

Anyone who’s flown on an airplane, visited a state fair or driven through Kentucky lately is well aware of this. But I’m not just referring to America’s obesity problem — though Lord knows there’s certainly a correlation. I’m talking about our media consumption. With everything we could possibly want to watch or hear available at the press of a button or the stroke of a key, we’ve taken to consuming literally everything. (I can’t even begin to list the few dozen gigabytes’worth of music sitting on the pairs of external hard drives I’ve yet to listen to.)

With television, it used to be that we were tempered, at least slightly, by being forced to wait a week between new episodes of whatever programs we happened to be addicted to. Then, Netflix decided to start producing original programming, and rolling out full seasons in one shot. This is like tossing sticks of deep-fried butter into the crowd at the Kentucky State Fair.

With even the restriction of patience stripped away, the impulse to consume those things we don’t even particularly want, need or enjoy becomes an irresistible craving. And so it is that I’ve taken to watching House of Cards, Netflix’s latest original series and its first legit Emmy grab. Granted, I’ve managed to hold back and not ingest the entire 13-episode first season in a single, sad day. But the fact remains, if the whole thing wasn’t so easily accessible, I don’t know if I would even be five episodes deep at this point. I’m watching mostly — if not only — because I can.

Because, truthfully, I don’t think I really like the show. Centered around Kevin Spacey’s drolly slimy Congressman Frank Underwood, and his attempts to wreak vengeance upon the presidential administration that robbed him of a cabinet position, it is enormously cynical about politics, and between this and HBO’s Veep and numerous recent films espousing the same viewpoint, I’m a bit burned-out on political dramas that present American democracy as nothing but a bunch of shady backdoor dealings, no matter how truthful that portrayal may be. Beyond that, Spacey’s character constantly breaks the fourth wall, Zack Morris style, to deliver exposition. Not only is the device hackneyed, it usually produces some shockingly trite dialogue — even if it’s enjoyable to hear the words roll off Spacey’s tongue in a Southern accent.

And yet, I’m already more than a third of the way through the season, and I’m going to finish. Why? Because it’s there. If you couldn’t guess from reading the 28 columns I’ve written prior to this one, I’m as addicted to entertainment as the rest of the country. I want — nay, need — to be stimulated in my downtime, by anything new, and Netflix is serving up “new” in heaping quantities. It doesn’t have to be good. Just hook it to my veins like a butterscotch drip in flyover country, and let me indulge. It’s the American way. 

I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.







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