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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The ‘Gilmore Girls’ ate my weekend

I awaken to rain pattering on the roof and gushing over gutters full of gunk. It’s 7 a.m. and still dark. I turn the radio on. Politics. Weather. Highs in the 40s, lows in the 30s. Rain continuing forever. I groan and burrow back under the covers. But I have to go to the bathroom. I see in the mirror that my eyelids are swollen and my hair barely resembles hair. It’s 59 degrees in the house because the pellet stove quit during the night. Christmas and music materials are scattered everywhere I look. The dog staggers in, stretching. She’s hungry. I cross yesterday off the calendar and declare today Saturday the Sequel. I need another day of weekend to catch up.

You see, I’ve been on a binge. No, not on booze or drugs, but on “Gilmore Girls.” It’s a TV show that ran from 2000 to 2007 about the lives of single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory, who live in Stars Hollow, Connecticut. I never saw it the first time around. Thanks to Netflix, I have now watched all 153 episodes, inhaling the last 22 in the last week. It was my guilty pleasure. Almost harmless, compared to drinking, overeating, or online shopping. Or is it? The show is in my head all the time, and I find myself talking in Rory’s voice. I’m losing touch with reality.

It started innocently enough. Back before I had the streaming service, I ordered one DVD to see if I would like the show. I loved it. I ordered the rest of the first season. There was some control then. I could only have two DVDs at a time, plus there were decent new shows on TV to watch, instead of today’s reality shows, holiday specials, and dramas full of murders and monsters. But one day I decided I couldn’t wait and signed up for the streaming service.

Watching on my laptop was cumbersome. It took forever to boot up, the battery lasted about a minute, and my Wi-Fi at the time was flaky. Still, it was “Gilmore Girls.” A few months ago, I changed my Wi-Fi service. It became quick and reliable. And then, I bought myself a Kindle Fire HD. I could curl up on the loveseat with Annie, hold the tablet in my hand and watch one episode after another. The picture was clear, the sound brilliant, and Netflix didn’t allow much time to say no. An episode would end, then 5-4-3-2-1, the next one started. Oh well, I’ll watch another one, I’d tell myself, singing along with the theme song, Carole King’s “Where You Lead.”

Last night, I watched the finale. I had to know what was going to happen, and I had to get off the Gilmore binge. It’s like eating the last chocolate candy and swearing not to eat anymore. The show ended well. I cried. Afterward, I Googled everything I could find about the show and its cast. Netflix is planning to make a reunion show, four 90-minute episodes. But do I want that? All the actors will be older, and the magic won’t be there. Plus, I‘ll have to watch it all, every minute. It’s like somebody bringing me a cake the week I start my diet.

What is it about “Gilmore Girls” that attracts me? The same thing I found in previous binges with “Little House on the Prairie,” “Thirtysomething” and other shows. It’s a comforting substitute for real life. While I suspend all responsibilities, I move into a community where all the people are beautiful, no one is ever alone or without help, and you know there’s going to be a happy ending. It’s not raining day after day in Stars Hollow, Connecticut. There are no terrorists. Everybody who wants a job finds one. All babies are born healthy. Love is everywhere. Sure, there are misunderstandings, but they always get resolved. Who wouldn’t want to live there? There’s even a guitar-playing troubadour. That could be me. Or maybe I could work at the Dragonfly Inn with Sookie and Lorelai. Or on the Stars Hollow Gazette. Yes, I could be the editor.

Ah, but it’s over now. I can watch all the episodes again, but now I know what happens. Netflix suggested some other shows, but they would not be the same.

I could tell myself I’m studying these shows to help my writing. Sure. Just like eating that red velvet cake in my fridge helps my cooking.

What will I binge on next? Well, I played about 20 rounds of Spider Solitaire after I watched Lorelai and Rory ride into the sunset. Had to keep playing until I won. I’m a binge-y kind of woman.

But no. I’m done. The house is a shambles. When I wasn’t watching Gilmores, I was playing Advent and Christmas music at church and other places.  I have songs to learn for this week at church, Christmas presents to wrap, cards to finish, clothes to wash, rooms to clean, bills to pay, and a dog to walk. I hereby declare it Saturday. Again.

What’s your guilty pleasure? What grabs hold of you and won’t let go?