Tag Archives: TV

Go to Church. There’s Nothing on TV This Week.

It’s Holy Week.  You, know…when Catholics are invited to come to church several days–in a row–and then again on Sunday.  I know!!  Ever since I can remember, my family has strictly observed the Holy Week liturgies, and I have extended that to my husband and children as well.  They have all come to accept as natural the idea that we will head to church on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and for the Vigil Mass on Saturday.  There is a little bit of grumbling since I joined the choir this year and have to appear early each day.

In case you are sitting on the fence as to whether you want to make the effort to get to church in the evenings this week, you should know that you won’t find anything to watch on television that could justify missing out on Mass or Veneration of the Cross.  Here’s the rundown of what the various networks have to offer:

  • The History Channel: Thursday’s programming is the regular lineup.  They do try to make things interesting on Good Friday, though.  Remember that Christians observe the hours between noon and 3:00 as the time Jesus hung on the cross and died.  In other words, that time slot might be worth a few moments of recollection.  In that spirit, you can find a show investigating the question of whether Pope John Paul I might have been murdered at 1 pm.  Then at 2:00, the network looks at the technology of the Old Testament.  Things really get exciting on Saturday afternoon with shows about the Anti-Christ and books banned from the Bible.  For Easter Sunday, it’s back to the regular primetime lineup of an “Ax Men” marathon.
  • The National Geographic Channel: For your viewing pleasure on Holy Thursday, you can enjoy “The Secret Lives of the Apostles” followed by “The Search for the Head of John the Baptist.”  From noon to 3 on Good Friday, viewers are treated to a string of “Taboo.”  On Easter Sunday, it’s all about the Titanic centennial.
  • ABC: Of the 3 major networks, ABC is the only one that offers anything pointing to the Easter and/or Passover season.  On Saturday evening, you can watch “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston.

Am I the only one who remembers looking forward to the broadcast of Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” miniseries on TV every year?  Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, James Earl Jones, Olivia Hussey, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Quinn–all in one movie.  Does it get any better than that?  It was last shown on network TV in 1987.  The best anyone can come up with these days is tabloid “documentaries” about Vatican murder plots or conspiracies about the books of the Bible.

Junior reminds me that The Masters golf tournament is also on this week.  Sorry, Junior.  To the world of professional golf, I say, “Shame on you!”  The organizers really saw nothing amiss with scheduling this major tournament to conflict with both Easter and Passover?

Really.  Just go to church.

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“Coming Home”: Love It or Hate It?

If you have even seen the commercials for Lifetime TV’s new show “Coming Home,” you know a large box of tissues is mandatory for viewing.  It’s a reality program that documents surprise homecoming stories of deployed military members.  The show producers don’t just film the homecoming.  They stage an elaborate homecoming event that the service member’s family never saw coming.

If you go to the show’s website, you can read all the viewers’ gushing comments about how wonderful they think the series is.  As of today, there were over 300 comments about how heartwarming the show is and how it is a great tribute to what military members and their families go through.  A few people grumbled about there being too much of one service represented and not enough of another, although no one can seem to agree on which branch is being slighted.  Without exception, those who have commented mention the fact that they cry through every episode.  That’s entertainment??

So how could anyone find fault with such a laudable program?  Leave it to the Uncommonhousewife.

Full disclaimer:  I have not watched any episode in its entirety, though I did see a portion of the first episode.  I will be watching the episode set to air this coming Sunday because SuzyQ will appear in it ever-so-briefly.

When I saw the first commercials for “Coming Home,” I knew I wouldn’t watch or recommend the show.  I find it rather cruel.  As someone who has experienced a number of deployment homecomings, I can tell you that I have never wished that a camera crew would film the event in all of its HD glory for a national viewing audience.  And I would never agree to have the homecoming of their dad sprung on my kids like a surprise birthday party.  I can’t believe there are so many moms and dads who think keeping their other parent’s return date a secret after he or she has been gone for months on end is fair to the child.  Even worse, the same mom or dad then lets this huge drama play out in front of classmates and neighbors, and total strangers.  All I can say is, I hope the glamour of being on TV was worth it.

If you have never experienced the emotional roller coaster of a deployment, you have no idea what goes through a person’s mind about homecoming.  Everyone assumes a child will just be thrilled to see the parent that has been gone, but often there is a grab bag of feelings about the event.  Very young kids frequently get nervous when this person just reappears, and they will hide behind Mommy or even refuse to throw their arms around Daddy like everyone else.  Sometimes, they will be feeling poorly on the big day–tired, hungry, generally cranky– and will just want to get it over with and go home.  A child might be so overwhelmed with emotion at seeing that parent, she will just break down.  You actually see a lot of that on the show.  And that’s all true even when the kid knows about the homecoming in advance.

Now multiply all of that times 50 or so, and watch it all happen in front of the child’s teachers, classmates, fellow symphony-goers, spectators.  It’s definitely dramatic, if not fair to the child.

Imagine a wife or girlfriend in that same position.  She’s going along all unsuspecting.  She didn’t pick out the outfit that really makes her feel great about herself; didn’t color the gray out of her hair; didn’t move her stuff out of his closet.  She figures she has plenty of time to do this later.  Then all of a sudden, there he is.  So what’s the big deal; none of those things are really important, right?  The problem is that these little insignificant details are all part of the process of preparing yourself for your service member’s return.  There is so much more to it than the balloons and hugs of the moment.  What shows like “Coming Home” fail to mention is the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with being apart for 6, 12, 15 months.  People change and adapt to life without the loved one.  It’s not always easy just to go back to the way things were before the deployment.  That’s why there are all kinds of resources provided by the military, like Military One Source and Fleet and Family Services, that address exactly these issues.

I get it that a lot of people, especially military families, think that “Coming Home” will educate the rest of the world about the sacrifices and hardships that are part of military life.  Maybe, after watching the show, people will do more than pay lip service appreciation to the 1% of Americans who risks their lives in defense of the rest of us.  Jacey Eckhart’s latest great piece is about just that.  And I agree that the show does have the potential to give viewers a hint of the pain of separation and some realization of the mortal danger that these men and women repeatedly, and voluntarily, face. 

But I can’t get past the cheap thrill “Coming Home” offers its viewers at the expense of real people: sons, daughters, siblings, spouses, and parents who can’t contain their raw joy at seeing their loved one return alive.  Showing a homecoming in an airport or parade field is one thing.  Staging elaborate spectacles to spring a homecoming on an unsuspecting loved one is entirely different.  Is nothing sacred, private, or personal anymore?

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The College Board Blew It

It’s not bad enough that teens freak out at the mere mention of SATs.  Lots and lots of money gets spent on fancy test prep classes.  Practice books are purchased (sometimes many of them).  With any luck, hours of studying and practice test are completed.  After all of that, students take their seat at the test center stuffed to bursting with critical reasoning skills, and confront an essay question about—wait for it—reality TV!?!  What the…?

That’s how it went on March 12, 2011.  I first heard about this from SuzyQ, who took the test that day.  Little did I realize, this essay prompt would become big news.  The New York Times ran a story about the erupting controversy, and The Washington Post covered it as well.  And the discussion boards at College Confidential are loaded with questions from panicky teens wondering if they even came close to hitting the topic.  All of the fuss revolves around the issue of whether the prompt, in assuming that all students are familiar with reality TV, handicaps those who don’t watch it.  Here is the prompt:

“Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

“Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?”

Now, the whole point of the essay section, which was added in 2005, is to test a student’ s ability to put forth a coherent argument in writing, not to ascertain whether he or she answers a particular essay question correctly.  I think we all get that.  Given the time constraints (25 minutes to plan, write, and proofread the essay), though, a student with little to no experience with the subject matter could certainly be at a disadvantage scrambling to come up with examples to illustrate his point. 

Most test prep guides and classes instruct students to prepare some examples from history or literature that can be used to illustrate several major themes: Churchill or Washington on leadership, Edison or da Vinci on creativity, Atticus Finch or Gandhi on justice.  So where do you go with the reality TV question?  If you read some of the discussion board posts, you find that kids were frantically trying to apply anything they had heard of in history classes (like yellow journalism in the Spanish-American War or propaganda in the World Wars), almost as though they couldn’t believe the question was really about the reality crap on television.  Other kids posted about wasting so much time trying to come up with any examples because they don’t watch much TV, what with all of the studying they do.

The comments from the College Board in defense of the prompt, went like this:

We found from our pretesting that the larger issues implicit in the prompt were wide-ranging enough to engage all students, even those who lacked familiarity with particular reality television programs.

“Larger issues”???  What larger issues?  The question asks students to analyze reality entertainment.  I would hardly call that a “larger issue” to begin with.  And if a kid doesn’t watch TV, what reality entertainment does that leave?  If you ask me, the key to this guy’s statement is, “engage all students” (emphasis mine).  This is just another example of the College Board dumbing down the entrance exam in an attempt to be “fair.”  Apparently it’s more fair to assume that all students will have seen some reality TV and have opinions about it, but not all will have any ideas about patience, integrity, ambition, progress, justice, etc.  Is it fair to assume that all of those TV watchers will make the best college students?  

So SuzyQ has had rather miniscule exposure to reality TV.  We shall see where that leaves her in terms of her score.  I guess it’s some consolation that most colleges basically disregard the essay score and require their own essay with their application.  I’m sure, though, that the SAT scorers are having all kinds of fun reading teenagers’ deep thoughts on American Idol and Jersey Shore.

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Monday Morning Quarterback

Well, not really.  I couldn’t care less about the football, Superbowl or not.  The only reason I paid any attention at all to the on-field action was because Darling Husband entered into some sort of random pool.  If the score at the end of a quarter added up to a number ending in 3, 5, or 8, we could win $50.  So I was doing some cheering:  “Miss that extra point!”  “Just take a knee already!”  “Come on, go for the field goal.  It’s only 50 yards!”  Didn’t matter to me which team was ahead; I was just adding up the score.

As the dutiful yet happy wife of a football lover, I have learned to tolerate the Big Game and get my enjoyment from the commercials.  Until this year, that is.  I think last night’s mostly humdrum line-up of ads may be the beginning of the end for Superbowl commercial tradition.  I can honestly say that not one commercial left me laughing out loud or saying “Wow.”  Several left me disgusted, like the Doritos finger licker ad or the Pepsi Max ad with the black couple (who started out funny) slinking away after knocking the attractive white jogger unconscious.  Oh, and the Teleflora ad was particularly tasteless.  I had a little chuckle over the VW Darth Vader kid spot, but I don’t think it deserves all the praise it’s getting on Twitter.  I did actually enjoy the NFL ad that featured classic retro TV clips.  But does that even count as an eligible commercial since it was done by the NFL?

Just for comparison’s sake, I looked up lists of all-time great Superbowl commercials.  Look here for an awesome trip down memory lane.  Can anyone honestly say that last night featured anything to compare to the ads on that Top 25 list?  The kids and I watched some of them this morning.  There’s your first clue: the best ones were all family friendly.  (Don’t even get me started about how I cringe over the tasteless and/or quasi-porn commercials every time Junior watches a sports program on TV.)  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the good, clean fun ads are among the most memorable:

  • The Budweiser frogs of 1995
  • The FedEx carrier pigeons of 2006
  • Michael Jordan vs. Larry Byrd for McDonald’s in 1993

And what happened to the sentimental commercials?  I’m referring here to the Budweiser Clydesdales, of course.  This year, they were basically an afterthought in Budweiser’s commercial.  No comparison to the good ol’ days of the Clydesdale in training, “Rocky” style (2008) or the young Clydesdale slipping into the harness and trying to pull the wagon while the other horses push from behind (2006).  Admit it.  You got a little misty-eyed.  And of course, there was the 9/11 Clydesdale tribute commercial shown just once during the 2002 Superbowl.  What’s wrong with stepping away from the raucous, frat-party stuff of Superbowl parties for just a moment of heart-tugging emotion?  Is that so yesterday?

There you have it.  The Uncommon Housewife’s take on the biggest sporting event of the year.  The 2011 Superbowl will go down at least in our family lore as the year we won $100 in the random score pool, not the year we couldn’t stop laughing over a particular commercial.  If this is a trend that continues next year, I’ll find it really difficult to tolerate watching the game in that dutiful wife fashion.  Isn’t there always some chick-flick marathon on another channel?

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Survivalists in Training

The DVR has been working overtime at our house lately.  Even though the networks are still in the “dead zone” they call the summer hiatus, you can find great stuff on Discovery Channel.  Our family’s genre of choice lately is the survival show.  (OK, 16-year-old SuzyQ does not particularly enjoy these shows.) 

It all started with Junior (13-year-old son) becoming enamored at about age 5 with the Crocodile Hunter.  Then he moved on to Shark Week.  Out of that fascination for the outdoors and wildlife came his interest in survival shows.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Junior is a “doer”.  He doesn’t want to simply be outside; he wants to do stuff out there.  Learning how to build snow caves, climb rock faces, and fire-starting 101 are right up his alley.

After years of watching these shows with him, I have come to enjoy them in a train wreck, you-can’t-look-away fashion.  Anyone who knows me at all understands that I’m certainly not watching to acquire new skills.  I don’t even camp–ever.  I’m also a germ-a-phobe who insists on good hand washing practices in our household.

Nevertheless, there’s something seriously entertaining about watching the Special Forces guy and his wife trekking into the desert or the jungle and trying not to kill each other while practicing survival techniques on “Man, Woman, Wild.”  On the website, the show is described as having the couple “find common ground standing up to nature in the wildest places on Earth.”  I’m not sure about the “common ground” part, though.  Her bio brags of her own wild adventures all over the world as a journalist, but on this show, she acts as the rookie following his expertise.

Not so entertaining but still worthy of some laughs is “Dual Survivor.”  This show pairs a hippy “minimalist” with another former Army guy turned hunter / tracker.  The hippy’s claim to fame is that he has gone barefoot for 20 years as he lives off the land in Arizona.  He also only wears shorts and some kind of hand-woven hoodie.  I have news for you, hippy minimalist: your efforts at survival would go a lot easier if you wore pants–and shoes.

Of course, the Godfather of survivalists is Bear Grylls of “Man Vs. Wild.”  A former British Special Forces guy, he was the youngest Brit to climb Everest.  Every episode finds Bear eating something really noxious, peeing on camera, or going partially naked for some good reason.  He’s great at laughing at himself as he falls out of his primitive hammock or lands in an embarrassing position.  What I like best about him, though, is that he brings a real human touch to the show.  He often talks about missing his family and worrying about them.  And he is not afraid to talk about how faith and prayer can help in desperate situations.

So I guess if our country’s economy totally melts down, terrorists take out our power grid, or a giant asteroid wipes out civilization, we will be somewhat prepared.  And you can bet we will all be wearing pants.

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