Monday, January 24, 2005

TV nations

I talked before about all the great comedy I've discovered here on British TV (Little Britain, Spaced, League of Gentlemen, Smack the Pony, Green Wing, etc), but that's only 50% of the story. The other 50% of British airwaves is taken up by home improvement shows. Yet another 50% are documentaries about prostitutes or transsexuals of various ages. Of course, we can't forget the 50% representing the primetime soap operas. (I have added these percentages several times and keep coming up with more than 100%, but I guess this is yet another example of how they do things differently here.)

Reality television is an entirely different concept in Britain compared to America. We seem to have an endless supply of variations on the whole "how to make unreasonably beautiful people marry strangers and/or freakshows" thing. Here, that idea is largely replaced with "how to give your home a makeover with a time and/or budget constraint." At any hour of the day or night, you can watch British people furiously redecorating under any conditions imaginable. I saw "30 Minute Makeover" in the TV schedule and got all excited because I thought it would be like a half hour version of those romantic-comedy montages where the heroine discovers she's actually a hottie underneath her thick glasses and frumpy wardrobe. Instead, it was half an hour of turbo-redocorating with a little timer in the corner, kind of like 24 if it was nothing like 24.

It's really random that I watch so many of these shows just by default. The other kind of reality television that's really big here is more documentary-style, day- (or week-, or whatever) in-the-life programs that are actually generally pretty thoughtful and fascinating. And it happens that a decent amount of them seem to be about transsexuals, for some reason which I don't know but find really interesting. (I'm still kicking myself for missing "Teenage Transsexuals," but last week I caught one about families that have stayed together after one parent has a sex change.) I've seen programs about single parents, old people having sex, women working in brothels, people living with morbid obesity, people living in foreign countries, etc. They're not sensationalized or superficial in any way, they're simply about what people's lives are like that are (probably) different then your own. How awesome is that?

Maybe it's because I never watched much TV in America, but as far as I know we don't really have programming like this, except maybe on PBS, which nobody watches. (Or maybe I have my cause and effect backwards here.) Do we have primetime programming, on the big networks, that are interesting because they're about something? Do have shows we walk away from knowing more about the world around us? I've seen so much of it here, and find myself actively thinking so much more just from doing something as simple and lazy as sitting in front of the television once in a while. All I remember from watching TV in America (besides more commercials than you can shake a stick at, and I've shaken my stick at quite of a few of them) is a media that pretends most of us don't exist, and we feel bad because our lives don't look much like The O.C.

At this point I would like to stop, take a deep breath, and point out that I'm not saying I don't enjoy my share of trashy, thought-free programming. Like I said, I find myself watching a lot of home improvement shows. (Slightly less than I can shake a stick at, but still -- a lot.) And yes, I have been known to watch the soaps, sometimes instead of people in wheelchairs leading perfectly ordinary lives. And I haven't exactly been strangers wiith Celebrity Big Brother. Shut up. I'm just trying to tell you I'm not getting all high-horsey about this.

But seriously -- Who Wants to Marry a Midget?


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