Viewers Like You

I would like to introduce a very special guest blogger for this week. My wife! Sure, she may be more comfortable working on a legal brief than a funny story, but when I heard her recount this episode to friends I begged her to write it up. It’s probably funnier to hear her tell it in person, but not all of the humor is in the delivery. Part of it is the simple absurdity of the story itself.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting… my funny Valentine, my wife, Lisa Madigan.

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As avid fans of Captain Dad know, we’ve tried to be judicious about exposing our girls to television. Originally it was because we had adopted the AAP’s recommendation that children under two not watch TV lest their baby brains not develop properly. Later we didn’t turn on the TV because by the time we ate dinner, cleaned up, brushed teeth, put on jammies, read books, filled water bottles, sang, found the missing superfriend, tickled and kissed the girls good night, it was already an hour past bed time. We simply had no time for TV.

Many nights, by the time I get home and the kids are flailing around in their sleep, we’d both appreciate a good laugh. But when we look up, it’s often 10:00, and the news is never funny. So we watched “30 Rock,” usually on the internet several days or weeks after its original air date. Unfortunately “30 Rock” just ended, and we’ve had to search the airwaves for a replacement show.

downton2I queried people who have more time and are more hip. Based on their advice we’ve watched several episodes of “Modern Family” and “Portlandia,” and a couple seasons of “The Wire” on DVD. But we kept on ignoring all the clamor about “Downton Abbey.” Masterpiece Theater sounded so staid; we never even bothered to find out when it was on. Then one night over the holidays, we simply happened upon it. Like any soap opera, it was easy to figure out what was going on even though we had missed the first two seasons. It was staid but in a delightfully wicked way.

So the next weekend, before the start of the third season, we consumed the entire first season over 36 hours. Most of our viewing took place when the kids were in bed. But we still had one episode to go before a four-hour stint that culminated in the first episode of the third season on PBS.

The girls were busy in the playroom concocting welcoming parties for the new miniature dolls that came with the abundant Legos that the grandparents had bestowed on them for Christmas. We turned on the television and figured that they’d come running to see what had happened to upset the usual dearth of television programming. I surmised that they’d take one look at the early 20th century and go running back to the playroom.

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Except they didn’t even notice we’d turned on the TV. They were so involved with fresh toys that it took them a whole 20 minutes to wander in on the surreal scene of their parents watching TV.

They jumped up on the couch. “What are you watching?” “Who is that?” “Is that guy a good guy or a bad guy?”  “Who is she?” “Where is he going?” That was the first five minutes. I answered all their questions, waiting for boredom to fire across their synapses and send the message to their feet to run away. 10 minutes passed. Twenty. Our girls were not leaving the couch.

These are the same kids that we can’t even get to sit through that Burgermeister Meisterburger Christmas special. I try to convince them to watch it after we’ve seen Rudolph so many times I can’t get the “Ho Ho Ho, Ho Ho Ho, We are Santa’s Elves” song out of my head. But every year, after five minutes they decree, “It’s boring,” and run away.

Now I’m not sure if they were actually enamored with “Downton Abbey” or the sheer novelty of watching adult TV with their parents. So maybe that’s the strategy we need to get them to watch “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” next Christmas. We’ll turn it on without telling them. And when they do walk in, we’ll tell them it’s an animated episode of Masterpiece Theater. It’s worth a try.

As for TV comedy, we’ve migrated to “Parks and Recreation.” And are still taking suggestions.

8 thoughts on “Viewers Like You

  1. I commend you both for limiting your children’s TV watching.

    That being said, however, I must agree with your kids about “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” It IS boring, for several reasons:

    “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is brighter and more light-hearted than “Santa Claus”, even when it delves into the serious issue of prejudice. (“From now on, gang, we won’t let Rudolph play in any reindeer games. Right? Right!!”) I once had a conversation with a gay co-worker about Christmas specials. When I said, “Hermie the Elf…”, he instantly responded with, “Oh, he’s gay. That voice? That hair? You need major hair products to get that ‘swoosh’ in your hair. Yeah, he’s gay. It’s not even a question.”

    “Santa Claus”, on the other hand, is noticeably darker and heavy-handed. The Winter Wizard, who lives in a haunted forest, is much more frightening that the Abominable Snow Monster (who is dumb as a fence-post and just plain goofy). The Burgomeister Meisterberger is scarier than the Boss Elf because he has his goons backing him up. And he burns toys!

    There’s a very subversive, confrontational, anti-establishment feel to “Santa Claus” that you don’t find in “Rudolph”. Kris Kringle is portrayed as an outlaw, a Robin Hood-ish figure who defies the law to deliver toys to children. He doesn’t even LOOK like Santa Claus, which must be confusing to young children. He has red hair and he’s clean-shaven! He doesn’t grow his famous beard until the end of the story, as a disguise to throw the Burgomeister off his trail.

    And let’s not forget that Kris Kringle and Jessica the Teacher “marry” on Christmas Eve WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY! Mr. and Mrs. Claus have been shacking up all these years! Who woulda thunk it? I am shocked…SHOCKED, I tell you!

    But hey…”Santa Claus” was a product of its time. I was 1970, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and the women’s movement were all racing along at full-speed. Everyone was questioning everything, and the writers of “Santa Claus” wanted to make the story “relevant.” Too bad they fell short.

    One last point. The songs from “Rudolph” are far-and-away BETTER than the songs in “Santa Claus.” You can’t get “We Are Santa’s Elves” out of your head because it’s catchy. My ex and I used to drive our kids nuts by reciting every line of dialogue and singing every tune. Name me ONE song from “Santa Claus” that sticks in your head. Uh huh. I thought so.

    Okay, enough trivia. I’ll get off my soap-box now. Thank you.

  2. Happy to make your acquaintance, Madam Attorney General! I’m also happy to see your daughters are catching the BBC ‘bug’ early! I hope you will introduce them soon to “The Vicar of Dibley,” “As Time Goes By,” “The Thin Blue Line,” and “Are You Being Served.” Well, maybe that last one should wait a bit – it can be, as Robin Williams says, rather ‘blue.’ In short, I recommend getting wonderful BBC comedies from Netflix.

    • We’re also big “Vicar of Dibley” fans. We have the full set on DVD. But I’d hate to have to explain to my innocent little girls what all those bawdy jokes mean. Or why their parents were laughing so hard.

  3. this is quite funny to me. i posted an instagram pic of my two (1yo and 4yo), snuggled on the couch and glued to downton a couple weeks ago. dora?? i think not. that is SO middle class.

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