Week Three: American TV – may cause drowsiness

Coming from the BBC culture of the UK, it’s easy to forget just how insufferable American television can be, whether it be the overblown news shows, the stomach-churning chat shows or the constant stream of asinine commercials.

“Do you have genital herpes? Ask your doctor for ‘Itch-ditch’. Contains acropolyurinothaloethylene. May cause drowsiness or amnesia.”

I’ve sadly been watching a lot of box lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that what I am really watching are commercials with bits of show added in every so often. Channel hopping is impossible in this climate. I’ll be flicking through like a gunslinger from the Old West, and still find nothing but wall to wall adverts. A half hour show such as Seinfeld or South Park will have between three to four commercial breaks, inserted at the most random moments.

“Why am I happy? I just saved money on my car insurance with E-Z-Sure! More money for me to spend on burgers.”
“In theaters this Friday – from the director of ‘The Cop’ – He was a Cop, on the Edge, and he was Back, for More: ‘The Cop II’ – rated N for Not Sure”

It begins as soon as the opening credits are in – break one. A couple more leap unannounced into the show, and then a final one just before the final credits roll in. Adversely, there will very often not be one between shows – gee whizz, folks, that would be overkill. So why are there so many advert breaks? It surely can’t be so people can check what’s being advertised on the other side. So it’s tilme to check the TV listings in the paper. Americans all have cable, so they all have about seven thousand channels, rather than the standard five most Brits have to choose between (or three if you don’t count ITV and Channel Five, which are shite). So what’s on? A mind-numbing stream of comedy repeats, both American and British (including a worrying double-bill of ‘Are You Being Served?’), bloated ego-centric news anchor shows, dire daytime soap-operas (24 hours a day), serious-browed cop and lawyer shows, over-exposed and under-thought-out reality shows, vacuous talk-shows, the odd multi-channel publicised serial such as ‘Lost’ or ‘Desperate Housewives’ – oh, and the US edition of ‘How Clean is Your House’. You cannot escape Kim and Aggie, even here.

“New at Taco Bell, huge stuffed meat beef chicken lamb and bacon burrito with jack cheese, stringly lettuce and too much rice, chili, cheese, chipotle, chihauhauas and chewing gum (ask your doctor about side effects)”
“America’s most trusted urine remover – Urine-Gone (TM) – rids your carpet of any yellow stains – gets your floor so clean you can wipe your bum with it – call this 0800 URINE-GONE now – not available in shops”

And then the movies – Americans watch a lot of films, throughout the day. Now unlike Britain, which seems to air it’s best films after about 11.45 at night, they are shown all day here. And I love how they rate them in the listings – The Godfather, for example, is rated ‘R – contains violence, adult situations, nudity, language.’ Language? What, Italian? The interesting thing is that this exact same description is used for Jerry Maguire, not a film known for its gangland murder scenes. And ‘adult situations’? Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone is listed as containing ‘adult situations’, as does Back To the Future II. Which situations would those be? When Marty flies off on a hovering skateboard? Yet in the same listings appear Platoon, Hamburger Hill and Braddock: Missing In Action III, none of which have any rating. No language, no violence, not a sniff of an adult situation – what sort of soppy friendly war was Vietnam?

“The new Monster SUV – guzzles more gas than the entire population of Bratislava – for when you absoultely positively have to go off road – protect America, buy the new Monster SUV (may cause dizziness)”

At least, after all of this, they still have The Late Show with David Letterman. Half an hour with Dave and you know it’s all been worth it…


Originally posted on 10/18/2005