I sat with three girl friends at a table with a white cloth in a casual bistro in Chicago. We mopped spiced olive oil with our French bread and sipped cabernet sauvignon. Our conversation sparkled as much as the glassware. We had been too busy to see each other in months. We talked about new boyfriends, ending of marriages, career aspirations and concerns for a child with such severe learning disabilities. Our conversation was peppered with silence as we all stared slack jawed at the TV’s flickering around the room.
“I’m working on Orange is the New Black,” one friend said, refilling her wine glass.
“I’m behind on Mad Men,” said another.
“I’ve finally finished that,” said the third.
“Don’t you dare tell me what happens. I’m really going to buckle down and get it done on Saturday.”
“I thought you and Ben were going to go away for the weekend?” I asked.
She waved a hand. “Can’t. We just have too much to do.”
We compared notes on Downton Abbey – Is it at all possible will Mr. Carson throw off Mrs. Hughes to run off with Mary, we know he loves her? Or will Lady Edith finally stab Lady Mary with one of the dozen pieces of flatware on the table? Will they get a new dog? Please let them get a new dog. The couple at the table next to us joined in on the conversation. TV creates community.
We may sit alone in homes to watch our favorite show, but what would we talk about with co-workers if it wasn’t for Dancing With the Stars? When a parishioner learned that I had tried to watch Breaking Bad but just couldn’t get into it, I though she was going to leave the church. But then we found common ground on House of Cards. Now, when I want to connect her with during a finance meeting all I have to do is say, “tap, tap.”
Television critics would say that there are novels that haven’t been written, orchestras not composed, paintings not painted, and inventions not invented because we are all sitting in front of the “boob tube,” as my parents called it. I don’t know what they are talking about. I get a lot done watching TV. I flip homes, rehabilitate dogs, negotiate peace treaties and cook beef bourguignon to rival Julie Child’s — all from the comfort of my big yellow chair while sipping hot buttered rum.
Two years ago I cancelled cable to save money and to curb my addiction to the small screen. Now instead of being tied to the TV in my den, I carry my Ipad from room to room and watch whatever is streaming on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Actually I don’t watch “whatever is streaming.” I watch West Wing over and over. CJ and Josh are among my best friends, and I turn to Leo for my therapy. I occasionally switch to MASH, which brings back memories of sitting in the red chair in our living room. My mother was in her corner of the couch, my father asleep on the other end. And our dog lay between them. Her farts were so potent we would banish her to the outside, but by then the damage was done.
I try to give up TV periodically. I make deals with myself. I can only watch when the sun goes down. Or I can only watch on my day off. I can watch one hour a day during the week, but only if I work out. Instead of spending time with people on the small screen, I imagine spending time with friends.
This year’s Lenten TV fast lasted all of 2 minutes. I missed Josh and Toby.