Having been the recipient of a head cold that was in and of itself a work of art,(if only phlegm could be used as a form of currency!), I hunkered down to stare listlessly at the TV. As everybody knows, the last thing you want in such a state (vaguely feverish and immensely self-pitying) is to actually watch something “good.” No, I always seek out something that’s visually appealing and requires absolutely no concentration.
Ideally, I’d want to find some simple-minded movie that I saw years ago. One that I liked but had little memory of, except for the hot, yet tastefully nude scene with a starlet who I always imagined would love me if she just took the time to get to know me a bit. You know, a movie like Desperado—something to look at rather than think about.
But that never happens.
Instead, I end up looking for the television equivalent of comfort food, something simultaneously familiar and remote, a show ideal for a dehydrated man who thought he had a fever but probably didn’t.
And so, the other day, after coughing and blowing through the night, I turned on the TV only to be greeted by what I think was as repeat of “The Price is Right.” Drew Carey looked immense and swollen, like he was wearing a fat suit. I was utterly stunned by his hair, which seemed like it belonged on a mannequin. It was the hair of somebody who had stopped caring, parted as if by his mother in preparation for his grade two primary school picture. It was utterly mesmerizing.
Some soldier in combat fatigues bid closest to the actual price and charged up on stage. His name was Raymond, and he was as excited as if he just blew up a truck. He displayed this by emasculating Carey and lifting him up in the air.
Then, with a chance to win a car, Raymond played The Money Game, which has to be one of the most boring games on the face of planet “The Price is Right.” No matter, Raymond won the car, and Carey, trying to exert some authority and reclaim his masculinity, playfully shouted at Raymond to “give me ten!” The tubby and oddly confident Carey then began to do push-ups, while Raymond, swiftly and easily, complied clapping and smiling between each one of his push-ups, as if he could go on forever. Carey, peeking over, saw this and was obviously demoralized, but still diligently finished his ten, before laboring to his wobbly feet in obvious prayer for an immediate commercial break.
I then changed the station and found myself watching a vintage Alvin and the Chipmunks cartoon. This made me feel very stoned, like I was in a David Lynch movie and listening to creatures inhabiting my language, but not actually speaking it.
I flicked away from this and came upon Joan Rivers, all creepy cat-eyes, shilling on The Shopping Channel. She was trying to sell the Graduated Square Bead Necklace for $48.95. It looked cheap, like something you might find on the floor at a church, and her nasally enthusiasms made my face hurt.
I next found myself watching a movie called Family of Strangers. Made in 1993, it featured Melissa Gilbert, Patti Duke, and William Shatner, in the story of a dying woman who discovers she was adopted, and then searches for her birth parents, finding out that she was the product of a rape.
Shot in some Canadian city that was tarted-up to look like an American city, this clearly made-for-TV enterprise appeared to be little more than a series of flashbacks and heart-tugging music, all culminating in the cathartic moment when Melissa Gilbert got a bad headache and collapsed in the rain.
I then found myself in the middle of a “Dog Whisperer” marathon. Cesar Milan, who always reminds me of an aging figure skater — albeit from a macho nation — was applying his magic to Binkey Larue, a two-legged dog with aggression issues. Part of the dog’s therapy was Cesar riding a skateboard. It was at this point that I became absolutely certain that I was a shitty dog owner and that I had consumed too much cough syrup.
My next stop was “As The World Turns,” where blandly attractive people filmed in poor quality video shouted at one another on a rooftop. Something dramatic happened causing somebody fall over and yell, and then a nasty looking guy in a wheelchair sped off behind an air vent! We were denied closure on this matter, immediately cutting to a scene in which a couple of different good-looking people were kissing. And then, after that flash, we were in a hospital room! Here, a doctor, who looks like a younger and more handsome version of the House guy, says bitchy and insensitive things.
“The Ghost Whisperer.”
Jennifer Love Hewitt, her arms crossed chastely across her ample cleavage, marches after a ghost. She wants to help! Why won’t the ghost let her help?! All lip-glossy and amber-lit, she speaks of this sad matter to her handsome — yet dim and supportive — fiancé over a glass of wine.
And then there’s a commercial for Always Fresh containers, proud to show us a cracker that’s still crunchy after 40 days.
Oprah appears on the next station. She’s so vivid in her green outfit as to seem supernatural. Her guest is Kirstie Allie, who in one of her heroic incarnations of fat/not so fat, appears on the show to thunderous applause. As she marches out, Oprah comments that she can tell Kirstie’s lost weight because she’s got “her strut on.”
Before I lost consciousness, I turned the station one more time, landing on the “1980ish” classic The Incredible Hulk.
In front of a New York City skyline that still included the Twin Towers, Dr. Bruce Banner was working in a factory making women’s blouses. A couple of old school white guys in cheap suits were intent on putting this place out of business, and the owner, desolate and heart-broken, informed his employees that he was going to have to let them go, telling one of them, tenderly, “I’m gonna’ miss your meatball sandwiches!” This, of course, was sweet rather than racist.
For some reason, the bad guys decided to put Banner’s arm in an iron press at which point he began to transform into the Incredible Hulk. He turned his head as if in pain, his eyes went white, and then he was a green and flexing Lou Ferrigno and all manner of hell and fury was breaking loose!!!
This, this is what I had been looking for.
This was the cool and perfect touch of a mother’s hand against my delirious forehead.
What TV show returns you safely home?
Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he’s written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.