Stream of Television

In the old days, if you are old enough to have old days, TV came in three and a half: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. Three networks and one “public” television, which addressed the funding mechanism rather than who could watch it. When it came to viewing, they were all public and free but for the cost of your TV and however many antennae were required for reception, which in the case of Gunnison and PBS was a lot.

Much later, another network — it must have been Fox, right? — was added, but it was an antenna too far for mountain-ringed Gunnison, and so while we kept hearing about a cartoon kid named Bart Simpson, he was probably in his second decade of being voiced by an adult woman before he ever skateboarded into these parts.

Nowadays you young people know nothing about 3.5 channels, but you may be familiar with not being able to watch what all the other cool kids are watching, because you have mean parents who won’t buy into “streaming.” Or you are Lynn, and you live with someone who just can’t bear to cut the satellite “cord” despite mounting costs and lessening content.

And what this really means, for practical purposes, is that when my Skype lunch group gathers, coast to coast, and everyone recommends their favorite shows, they are all on “networks” that no one else is paying money for.

Someone likes a show on Netflix. Someone else recommends a Hulu offering. Brit Box. Prime. Fubo. Then there’s all your Pluses, which frankly seems like a minus for the world of television viewing: Disney Plus, Paramount Plus, Discovery Plus, when what the “plus” really means is, “plus we now take all your money.”

Paramount Plus, for instance, is really the free CBS station now available for cash, PLUS for extra cash you can get rid of pesky commercials, about half of which seem to be for TV shows you could watch.

So during Skype lunch someone will want to enthuse about whatever show he or she has discovered, only to discover that no one else present has that particular streaming service. The conversation dies, until someone else recalls a show they like — again, on a service no one else is watching.

This might be less remarkable if this particular group of friends hadn’t melded over television to begin with. Another new network, once again not available in Gunnison, had started showing a Star Trek incarnation: Voyager. My sister, living large in Denver, did have access to UPN (now long gone, I feel), so she would tape (remember VHS?) the shows and send them to me, and I would pass them along like some illicit drug deal from under the counter of the bookstore where I worked at the time. (“Psst, buddy. Wanna watch a bad space show?”)

A year ago or so, Lynn bought some i-device to add to her ever-growing collection of All Things Apple, and it came with a free year of Apple’s entry into the crowded stream: Apple TV. It was kind of a wasted “free” offering for much of that year, until Lynn happened upon some moon show, maybe called For All Mankind.

It’s science fiction set in the past, a re-imagining of the 1960s space race, and in this alternate universe, which uses many characters and names from the actual space race, the Russians get to the moon first. We liked it, and are awaiting a third season — which we use in the British sense of the word, meaning, not many episodes at all, nothing like the 24-ish the Big Three used to crank out for each show each season.

But when we tried to tell our friends about it, we got met with the same silence that greets all their enthusiastic recommendations. Sometimes it’s hell being so cutting edge.

We do have other friends besides those on lunch Skype, and maybe these are better friends, because when they recommended a show, it was on Apple TV. They told us we should watch Ted Lasso.

Unlike For All Mankind, this may be a show you’ve at least heard of, despite its existence on a rather fringe streaming service. For its first season of a semi-respectable 13 episodes it has garnered a record 20 Emmy nominations.

When we started watching, Lynn, so sports adverse that she doesn’t even watch the Olympics, was not at all sure she wanted to be watching a show about soccer. I would tend to agree: as a true American, in defiance of the rest of the world, I don’t see this as a sport worthy of my time.

But Ted Lasso isn’t really a show about soccer — it’s about people bringing their baggage to the arena around soccer, and trying to be better. It’s funny and gentle (with lots of cussing) — and kind. It acknowledges the characters’ foibles, and then forgives them. Which makes it very easy and pleasing to watch.

While I don’t begrudge Ted a single Emmy nomination, although I have to confess I don’t understand the difference between “sound editing” and “sound mixing,” I am wondering if the reason it got so many nominations is due to a dearth of competition.

If you still have satellite and watch the half of commercials that aren’t for drugs, you will soon realize that all the new shows these networks want you to watch are horror-based. Lots of screaming and blood (which could include For All Mankind, except that in space, no one can hear you scream).

I don’t know why we all feel we want such sturm and drang for our entertainment when our news is sturmish enough all on its own, and it may explain the rampant enthusiasm for Ted Lasso, which seems to be everywhere and not just at the Emmys.

But if you look at those Emmy nominations — and again, not to detract from a show Lynn and I are both enjoying very much, enough so that now that we’re caught up, we impatiently await each new episode on Fridays — there doesn’t seem to be much competition.

Of the eight men nominated for best supporting actor in a comedy show, exactly half of them come from Ted. Two others come from Saturday Night Live, which seems a little weird to old-school me. (You’ll be glad to learn, as I was, that Paul Reiser is still around, some show on Netflix.)

Two women from Ted are in the seven-woman supporting actress category (I thought one belonged in the lead actress category, but no one asked me) along with three more cast members from SNL.

Hopefully the Emmy outcomes won’t result in hard feelings among cast members, because this is clearly a show that works because everyone works together. Even more hopefully the attention the show is attracting, in part because of its record number of nominations, will suggest to other TV show creators that perhaps there is a place, after all, for some kind and gentle humor across the sprawling television landscape.

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