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This week, the people at the Nielsen Company (the folks who make sure your favorite shows get canceled so fast you'll get whiplash) reported the results of their most recent study: Americans might still be watching TV, but at the same time, they're looking at a second screen such as an iPad or a smartphone to browse Facebook, check email or access sports scores.
My family has moved even further along the curve. My wife and I almost never watch shows when they want us to. We instead end up seeing shows on demand or online in marathons, taking in so many episodes in a row that we start to feel a little tired — and creepy.
Watching TV this way, we'll finish an episode, look over at each other and say, "Just one more?" at the same time, and start in again. Before you know it, we're bouncing from one episode to the next, spiraling out of control. It's the same process that leads people to alcoholism or drug addiction, but the only side effects here are bedsores and red eyes.
We waited till "The Sopranos" was over on HBO and then watched all seven seasons at once, sometimes two an evening. We watched all of the episodes of "Downton Abbey" over a period of a week and a half. (Note to readers: Please don't point out that I am, judging from my name alone, supposed to be a male of the species and ought to be a little embarrassed for watching a soap opera about love and longing among the English upper and lower classes. I know that, and I am deeply embarrassed.)
Our kids, too, have fallen to the same addictive behavior, abandoning the TV schedule and becoming slaves to Netflix. Our twin daughters have been on a "How I Met Your Mother" marathon that has lasted for a month, and our son seems to be mainlining "The Office" to the exclusion of all else.
For my wife and me, however, the real challenge is to find a show we both can watch. I can't get her to sit through something I like, such as "The Walking Dead" or "Sons of Anarchy," because she has a blanket rule against watching ugly people.
Last month, my wife and I got hooked on the acclaimed series "The Wire," a gritty, realistic seven-season HBO show about Baltimore cops chasing drug dealers and killers. It's hard-edged and street tough, with lots of swearing and dead bodies, and it almost — almost — makes up for the whole "Downton Abbey" thing. (Almost.) It had crime and violence for me, and for her, it had Jimmy McNulty, a hard-edged but really handsome homicide detective. (Every gritty cop show has one, even though I think real-life detectives look a lot grittier than most of us would want to watch.)
True to form, we watched all 13 episodes of the first season of "The Wire" over a period of a week, sometimes staying up so late that we resembled characters from the show the next morning at work. I started walking down the street eyeing perfect strangers as possible perps. I'd use cop slang in everyday conversations. I'd wonder whether friends were wearing secret recording devices and whether I might want to ditch the cell for a payphone.
When we got to the end of the first season, I immediately queued up season two, turned to my wife and said, with a little bit of expectation, "Just one more?" She agreed, but only half-heartedly.
Ten minutes into the next episode, she started to get restless.
"There's not enough Jimmy," she mumbled.
"Just wait!" I assured her. I should have known. The characters on the second season were a bunch of gritty and realistic longshoremen. Way too gritty.
"Eh," she suddenly said, getting off the couch. "I'm out." And she left the room.
That was it. We had to go cold turkey on "The Wire" without even so much as a cool-down period. And watching on my own wouldn't be much fun.
I'm seriously thinking of putting an ad in the personals section: MWM, 52, ISO TV buddy to watch seasons 2-7 of "The Wire." If relationship develops, would be interested in moving on to "Walking Dead" or possibly "Breaking Bad."
P.S.: "Say Yes to the Dress" fans need not apply.
To find out more about Peter McKay, please visit www.creators.com.
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