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The Shows You Watch When You Don't Have Cable

The other day Kelly commented to me, "I think one of your talents is that you are really good at becoming invested in crappy network TV shows."  Sweet, I'll rank that right up there with "knack for making any situation awkward," "aptitude for buying lip gloss," and "ability to sleep through anything."  Who needs to be able to sing, dance, or draw when you can be blessed with such truly useful skills as mine?

It's true, though.  I have been without cable for six months now, ever since I moved into my apartment and couldn't believe that regular old standard cable was going to cost me $55 a month.  This was a $55 increase over the previous rate I had been paying for cable at my parents' house and in college, so I was understandably shocked.  My roommate was similarly appalled, and she and I both decided that we would enter an experimental phase of living without cable.  We figured we'd just see how long we could go without it.

Our cheap "basic cable package," which comes at a more manageable $14.95/month, comes with 31 channels.  That would be a small number even if they were all good channels, but alas, they are not. The breakdown is more like this:


So I've had to mine the five watchable channels pretty vigorously.  Here are my favorite treasures so far:

Wife Swap, ABC Monday, 8 p.m.
Each week, two new families representing the most extreme polar opposites on a given spectrum (the super religious family and the super-atheist family!  The rural farm family and the sophisticated city family!) switch Moms for two weeks.  Without fail, the newly transplanted Moms are shocked--shocked--to see that ABC has matched them with families that are the complete opposite of their own (it's almost like they're trying to set everyone up for controversy!). 

Here's how it always plays out: both families spend the first 45 minutes of the show making absolutely no attempt to show tolerance of or understanding for the new Mom's way of life, and the new Mom goes through the full cycle of an emotional breakdown in front of our eyes. Then, the last 15 minutes of the show feature each of the families forging a tenuous truce with New Mommy and halfheartedly promising that "thanks to you, this family's going to start recycling/pray more/clean our floors!"

Super Nanny, ABC Monday, 9 p.m.
This comes on right after Wife Swap on Monday nights, ensuring that I start of the week with more than enough examples of why nobody should ever have children or start a family.  Where Wife Swap starts off by showing how insane and obnoxious parents are, Super Nanny picks up and reminds us that kids are pretty damn terrible as well.  This show has added at least five years to the minimum age at which I intend to give birth to any children.  Which I guess means it's up to 95 now.

America's Next Top Model, The CW Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Now in its eighth cycle, this show continues to be television's top provider of two things: dumb girl histrionics and opportunities to marvel at the self-consumed Tyra Banks, who gets 200% more removed from reality with each episode.

Lost, ABC Wednesday, 10 p.m.
Games_lightsoutOK, so do you remember that little handheld game called "Lights Out?"  It was always impossible for me to win at that game, and I hated how it always seemed like the only way to get one of the lights to go off was to trigger, like six of its surrounding lights.  I would always quit with more lights on than I had started with.  Watching Lost has started to become like playing that game, because every time they "solve" one of the show's mystery they introduce another little set of them.  But I can't stop watching, because I'm way more emotionally invested in Lost than I ever was in some dumb puzzle.

The Office, NBC Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
Speaking of emotionally invested, may God bless The Office.  That's all I have to say about this one.

Grease: You're the One That I Want, NBC Sunday, 8 p.m.
I would be embarrassed about this, but I'm too busy tapping my toes to the music!  I have no idea why I like this show (I don't even watch American Idol) but I do.  It's not because the contestants are particularly enthralling--check out the first paragraph of Sandy-wannabe Ashley's lame NBC bio:

Ashley is a small-town girl who loves chocolate (she even hides it in her room in case she's having a craving in the middle of the night!), old movies with Fred Astaire and says she's closest to her mom, Molly. Molly claims that Ashley came out singing and dancing.

Sweet!  I'm dying to read more. 

So yeah, not sure why this show appeals to me so much.  But then again, who knows why Danny liked Sandy so much?  Or why she liked him?  Unless that was made really clear in the movie--I don't think I actually ever even saw it.

Friends, The CW weekdays, 7 and 7:30 p.m.
I'm really into watching Friends right now, because they're airing a bunch of episodes that I missed during my freshman or sophomore year of college when I was obsessed with Survivor for a minute.  And of course, the old episodes with Skinny Chandler and Big Rachel Hair are always a treat as well.  A solid dinnertime choice.

Jeopardy, ABC weekdays, 7:30 p.m.

Well, the end of this story is not going to be me saying that I don't think I'll ever need premium cable again because I've found such joy with basic.  That's just not true.  I do miss VH1 and E! and Bravo all my other friends, and I look forward to having them back someday.  I am, however, quite pleased at how survivable my life has been without them.  I'm more courageous than I thought.


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So, except for Grease and Friends, I watch all of these shows.

I told Ashley that's she domesticated me, based on the fact that I watch wife swap on Mondays instead of 24.


Oh hey Lauren given that you used to work at the Washington Post and that you like laughing at ridiculous TV and that you have a body of work on the internet . . . .whats your opinion of post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes? I think she's pretty sweet/


Lauren, a friend told me that a recent episode of "Wife Swap" involved a family that did not bathe, clean, or eat anything besides raw meat. Can you verify this?


as an avid watcher of both wife swap and 24 i can confirm that you can watch both without even reverting to the use of your vcr. wife swap is on at 8 and 24 is on at 9. with that being said, yes, tori there was a family who did not clean anything (they brushed their teeth with MUD) and they did eat raw meat. but it wasn't just raw. it was raw and then kept in a jar for a few months so that it was raw AND moldy AND rancid. i feel so normal after watching that program.


Emily! Thank you so much for this news! I have some follow-up questions:
1.) Did this family explain WHY they made these hygeine and nutrition choices?
2.) Did the show discuss the history of this couple's relationship? Specifically, my friend Lish wants to know whether two people got together and said, "Hey, we love each other. Let's start eating raw meat and have our kids brush their teeth with mud" or was it more like, "You eat rancid meat?! ME TOO! We should totally make out!"?


i don't think i paid close enough attention because i was so grossed out. i'm pretty sure in situations like that one person falls deeply in love with another and agrees to do crazy shit for them and in turn becomes crazy themselves and then procreates. and can you imagine how groddy it is to make out with someone who eats rancid meat and brushes their teeth with mud. gag.


First time writing in, but I had to weigh in since I just finished watching Grease and am now watching the re-run of Top Model! I have a kick-ass job but still refuse to line the cable-company executives' pockets! Long live the crappy basic cable (although I do wish my rabbit ears would catch Fox instead of telemundo!)

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