Sick and Surrounded by TV Doctors

A bad flu-like reaction to my second shingles vaccine over the weekend gave me an excuse to do what I’ve been doing too much of lately, which is watching back-to-back reruns of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” It’s so old that it’s new again.

On regular network TV, you have to wait a week between episodes. Plus you’ve got commercial breaks to wash dishes, knit a few rows, or talk to the other person in the room—or the dog if there isn’t a person. Now, on Netflix, it’s not even five seconds before the next episode starts, so you don’t have time to think about what else you could/should be doing. The show begins, you’re hooked again, and you think, well, maybe I’ll watch one more. I have to see if that guy with the pole through his chest survives.

This is messing up my mind. I dream about the doctors and the patients—the pole guy, the one with the pencil in his eye, the kid buried in cement, the conjoined twins, the violinist who can’t play anymore, the lady whose arm was hacked off. I see all those open chests with exposed hearts and blood spurting all over the surgeons’ yellow gowns.

I’m not getting any exercise when I’m watching. Not unless the phone rings, which is rare, or someone comes to the door, which they don’t because there’s a pandemic happening.

These characters are in my head. Most days, I’m not seeing any other people, except for writers on Zoom screens. The TV people are a lot prettier and more interesting. I’m fascinated by Meredith, Christina, Izzy, George, Alex, Bailey, the Chief, Derrick, Sloane, Calli, and the rest. Even though I know they’re actors, and I know they’re much older now, they’re more real to me than anybody else because I see them more often.

Boy, they have a lot of sex for people who work so many hours.

I’m a writer. I need to see real people living real lives. Otherwise, everything I write is going to sound like “Grey’s Anatomy.” But it’s still not quite safe to travel or hang out in groups.

When my husband Fred was dying, I watched “Little House on the Prairie” from start to finish on DVDs from Netflix. It comforted me. We all want to have parents like Ma and Pa and live in a small town where everybody loves each other. But the mechanics of the DVD required a pause between episodes, and you only got so many in an envelope. You couldn’t binge till your brains fell out.

This is not my first binge show. I watched umpteen episodes of “McLeod’s Daughters,” an Australian show about women cattle-ranching in the outback. Like “Grey’s,” it was best in the early years before the cast started changing and the plot got so convoluted it stopped making sense. But it was good.

I watched “Orange is the New Black” till I decided it was just too upsetting. I watched “Downton Abbey,” “The Crown,” “Call the Midwife,” “Grace and Frankie,” and “The Gilmore Girls.” I binged on “The Ranch,” in which almost every line included the F-word, but it had Sam Elliott and Ashton Kutcher. Binge-watching is so much easier than actually doing something, like calling an actual friend.

I try to tell myself it’s like reading a book I can’t put down, but I think there’s something more than that happening psychologically in this era of pandemic isolation, and I suspect it isn’t healthy. Check out “Three Ways TV Affects Your Health.”

Netflix offers 16 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.” There are so many episodes I could literally sit here for a month doing nothing but watching that one show. Friends keep recommending other TV shows and movies, but my fingers keep selecting “Grey’s.”

I used to stream my shows on my 7-inch Kindle Fire. While Annie was in the dog hospital in December, a friend gave me a smart TV. What a beautiful gift, but I am so hooked.

The other day, I caught my dog staring at the screen as if she was really paying attention. Seriously? Is she hooked, too?

What are you all binging on?

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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.