Online series save us from the real world

Mcleod's_daughters_screenshotWhen you find yourself praying for the well-being of a TV character on a show that ended 10 years ago, you might be having a problem with reality. As you wander through your real life, in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “I wish Alex would come home” or “Lord, don’t let Tess lose the baby.” Yeah, yeah, they’re fictional. The actor playing Alex is not really in Argentina, and the actress playing Tess is not really pregnant. But their world is so real!

What am I talking about? This time it’s “McLeod’s Daughters,” an Australian series that aired in the early 2000s. It was quite popular there, and now it’s available on Amazon Prime. The story takes place on a cattle and sheep ranch called Drover’s Run in the Australian Outback. A feminist “Bonanza,” one writer called it. Owner Jack McLeod having died, it is run by his daughter Claire. Soon her half-sister Tess, who grew up elsewhere, moves in. Along with workers Meg, Jody and Becky, the women run the ranch and get into all kinds of adventures and romances. The scenery is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the horses are beautiful. What’s not to love?

Next door to Drover’s Run is the Killarney ranch, where the handsome Ryan brothers Nick and Alex live with their irascible father and society maven mother. They have an assortment of handsome employees, too. The folks from the two ranches are always visiting, borrowing things, helping each other, and getting together at the Gungellan Pub. They also do cattle drives, shear sheep, and fix a lot of fences. They deal with thieves, droughts, sick cattle, and a shortage of money, but they always come out all right. And of course, the men and women fall in love.

The series lasted eight seasons, with 32 episodes per season. That’s a lot of video to watch. Over the years, characters left and new ones came in. Rodeo queen Stevie moved in to take Claire’s place. Tess and Nick moved to Argentina. Cousins Grace, Jaz and Regan moved in and out and back in again. Meg went off to write a book; Moira moved in. Toward the end, viewers complained that it was too much of a soap opera. Agreed. But by then I was so hooked, I took a morning off to watch the last two episodes. I couldn’t wait all day.

I didn’t want to risk finding out what was going to happen until I had seen it all. Early on, I looked up one of the actors and found out something terrible was going to happen. No! I don’t want to know these things in advance. So yesterday, after I watched the end, clutching my dog for fear the good guys would be killed at the last minute, I prowled the net looking things up. I learned that most of the cast changes happened because the actors decided to leave. I learned that the show waned in popularity the last two seasons. The “where are they now” features were unsettling. Everybody looked different. Wait, is that Stevie on an episode of Baywatch? Where’s her cowboy hat and red hair?

I had it bad. It was not the first time. Ask me about “Downton Abbey” or the “Gilmore Girls.” Or “Offspring,” another Aussie series.

I don’t have a “smart” TV. I watch these things on my Kindle Fire tablet. Yeah, it’s small. I forget that after a few minutes. Annie and I curl up on the love seat, and the hours go by. Unlike dramas on the broadcast networks, where you watch one episode and then wait a week for the next, I can watch one after another. There are no commercials. If I need a break, I can pause the video. But I don’t want to.

Am I addicted? Probably. But my doctor says I can’t drink, I don’t want to do drugs, and I don’t have much of a social life, so it’s a safe outlet.

Things have been crazy in my real life lately. My father’s condition is getting worse by the day. After trying to talk with him on the phone every night, I’m usually frustrated because his hearing is so bad he misses most of what I say, and there’s not much I can do. I can’t fix his legs that don’t work anymore. I can’t improve the care or the food or heal his wounds. Nor can I be with him every day. I’ll be heading back to San Jose next week. Meanwhile, I send myself to Drover’s Run, where no one is ever alone, help is always on the way, and you can always count on your “mates.”

When trouble at work is keeping me awake, I send my mind off to Stevie and Alex’s wedding. The horses, the gowns, the vows; was there ever anything so beautiful? When I despair of getting enough pre-orders for my upcoming book (Gravel Road Ahead, order here), I think about how Meg’s book got published so easily. Soon she was signing copies all over the country. I can be like Meg.

Fiction.

Thank God for made-up stories that make us feel better. What makes the TV networks think we want to watch game shows and reality shows all summer? We don’t. Please, take us away from reality for a while.

When I write fiction, it takes me away. I can create my own Oregonian version of Drover’s Run. I guess I did that with my novel Up Beaver Creek. And now that I have left Drover’s Run, I think maybe my time was not wasted. I have some new ideas for PD and her friends.

I need to take a break from the videos for a while to clear my head and write my own stories, but I know I’ll get hooked on another series.

What about you? What shows do you binge-watch? Can you watch one episode and move on? Is it okay to escape reality this way for a while? Come on, share your guilty video pleasure.

 

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Why Do I Care Who Won ‘American Idol’?

I don’t like TV reality shows. I’d much prefer a well-scripted drama, but there aren’t many of those on network TV anymore. So I watch reality shows, and I get hooked, hooked to the point that I will put the finale on my calendar and turn off my phones to avoid interruptions. My favorite used to be “Survivor” until the show became more about alliances and voting strategies than survival. Hey, is that castaway wearing makeup?

I have watched far too much of “Dancing with the Stars,” even though I can’t stand the judges. When a celebrity who was a lousy dancer won last time, I lost heart. When Derrick and Mark and Max quit, well, what was the point?

What? You don’t know who these people are? Where have you been?

I watch “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” even “Bachelor in Paradise.” The whole point of this franchise, besides making oodles of money, is getting young good-looking people to couple up. They’re immature, their words are scripted, and they make out constantly. If they survive to the finale, the couples get to shack up in the “fantasy suite,” where we assume they have sex. Maybe they just talk or play board games until the producers bring in breakfast and tell them to snuggle in bed for the cameras.

People get engaged at the end of the Bachelor/Bachelorette season, but the relationship hardly ever lasts because it’s a ridiculous way to meet a life partner. It’s sleazy, and most of the competitors are idiots, but I keep watching. Tonight I’ll be on my couch watching “Hannah B.” go on her first dates with the guys who survived last week’s initial rose ceremony. The previews promise “drama” in the house—a bunch of guys squabbling. Why do I watch this garbage?

Which brings us to “American Idol.” At least on talent shows, the contestants have to do something besides look pretty. And that grabs my interest. I sing, too. I’m way too old to compete, I don’t like most of today’s pop music, and the whole thing is just not my style, but I watch these singing kids, ages 16 to 27, and I listen to the celebrity judges gush over performances that are mostly so-so. Sometimes I scream at the TV: What? You liked that? It was terrible. They don’t hear me. All I can do is download the memory-sucking “American Idol” app on my phone and vote. Up to 10 votes per contestant. The person I vote for usually loses.

Last night was the “American Idol” finale. At three hours, it was about an hour too long, the final hour filled with “stars” I never heard of. Madison sang her brains out on Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and then got eliminated, leaving Alejandro, the Latino musical genius, and Laine, the cute guitar-playing white guy. As usual, the guitar-playing white guy won. He sang his new single surrounded by the other contestants as confetti fell all over everyone. Will we ever hear of him again? Maybe. Some of the losers will probably be bigger stars. It would have been nice to have a songwriting Latino win. Oh well.

I didn’t take the phones off the hook this time. Too much family drama going on. But I ate dinner in front of the TV, and when I had to take a break to call my dad in the nursing home, I set up the TV to record so I wouldn’t miss a minute. When Dad said he had company and asked if I could call back later, I thought sweet, back to my show.

I know. I’m terrible. My father is more important than a TV show, but sometimes I need a break from worrying about him. If only he would watch, too, so we could talk about that instead of tubes, tests, and physical therapy.

It’s not just me. Millions of people vote for the contestants on “American Idol” and other reality shows. The results of these shows are all over the news. I have to be careful not to look at my phone after 5:00 because the shows have already aired on the East Coast, and Google is already sharing the results before we on the West Coast have a chance to watch.

Such big news. “Laine Hardy Wins American Idol” comes in above Trump threatening Iran with military action, Alabama outlawing abortion, and the fishing boat tragedy making headlines on the Oregon coast. It seems wrong. But maybe we need this kind of silliness to distract us from the grimmer events of life. Or maybe it’s just that I grew up sitting in front of the TV every night, and I don’t know what else to do to relax at the end of the day.

My dog Annie doesn’t buy it. Throughout the “American Idol” finale, she kept trying to get my attention by grabbing things that should not be in her mouth. First it was a paperclip. Then it was a big leaf off one of my plants. Then it was my embroidery, needle and all. She would come up in my face, eyes sparkling, lips smiling as big as they could with a full mouth, and invite me to give chase. Which I did, trading a treat for the forbidden item. She’s no fool. “American Idol?” Annie does not care.

So that’s my confession. I watch reality shows. How about you? Are you hooked, too? Which ones? “The Voice?” “Big Brother?” “Real Housewives?” How much of it do you think is real? If you watched “America Idol” this season, who were you rooting for? Can you even name last year’s winner?

 

 

TV finales leave me with PTSD

I’m traumatized. In the last week, I have gone through so much: gunshots, car accidents, falling in love, breaking up, rape, beatings, standing ovations, singing with Elton John, a C-section without anesthesia, getting hired, getting fired, dancing with the stars, and having sex—so much sex. I have traveled by plane, train, car, bicycle, and on foot. I’ve spent a lot of time in New York, but I have also gotten soaked in the rain in Seattle, sung on a stage in Nashville, and ridden with cops through the streets of Chicago. I have said goodbye to so many friends this week, and I have cried an ocean of tears.

And that’s just on TV. Season finale week, oy.

No wonder I can’t get up in the morning. I have been through so much. I need that kind old lady in the book I’m reading to bring me some of her blueberry muffins and give me a hug. I need her to tuck me in and tell me everything will be all right. Where is she? And where is the best friend who always appears on the TV shows?

I watch a lot of prime time TV, probably too much. Last week, I watched the series finales of “Castle,” “Nashville” and “Mike and Molly.” I watched the season finales of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Mom.” Oh, and last week with “Madame Secretary,” I almost got fired and we almost had a war and . . . it never stops. On the cop shows, someone gets murdered every episode. Once an hour, we see some hapless man or woman get stabbed, shot, strangled, beaten or poisoned. On the last “Castle,” they burned a guy up in the trunk of a car. And they shot both Castle and Beckett.

How can I sleep after that? How can I wake up and go on with my life?

I have been through so much.

Now, I know this is all fiction, but I’m starting to wonder how much this affects the viewer. How much stays in one’s mind and body as if it happened to them personally? Do we suffer PTSD from all this fictional trauma? Can one’s subconscious distinguish between real events and fictional ones?

God knows, I have cried after happy movies where true love wins when I look around and discover that my husband is still dead and I’m still living alone and I don’t look half as pretty as the heroine in the movie. I’ll never be young, beautiful, uber talented and famous like Scarlett on “Nashville.” My books will never sell like Castle’s. I will never be able to eat ice cream from the carton or drink gallons of booze like the women on “Grey’s Anatomy” and not gain weight. My phone does not ring with amazing opportunities every two minutes. Handsome men are not pursuing me. Reality does not match up.

So I bury myself in my shows. But I go through so much. And now, as soon as the show is over, I go online to read the reviews and recaps and watch clips of the most dramatic moments because I don’t want to let them go. Living on the West Coast, I can read what the columnists have already written based on the East Coast showings. After the “Castle” finale, I had to know: Did Beckett and Castle die? After “Nashville” ended, I needed someone to sum it all up for me because so much happened. Poor Rayna and Deacon. Poor Scarlett. What was Juliette thinking sleeping with the “Dancing with the Stars” guy? And thank God Cole wasn’t killed. It just a concussion. I mean, so much.

Now that the season finales have happened, what will I do every night? How will I live until September? Am I the only one who is this nuts? Please comment. Tell me I’m not alone. Be gentle. I have been through so much.