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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‘Sorry, I have to take this call’

Modern TV shows and movies are giving us all ADD. Books, too, to a certain extent. Somebody’s cell phone is always ringing, interrupting every scene. Nobody ever finishes a conversation or has that long difficult moment that might lead to a resolution or revelation. It’s driving me nuts. Yes, some people are always staring at their phones in real life, and I LOVE my smart phone, but I don’t want it in my fiction.

I have been bingeing on “Jane the Virgin,” a Netflix series about a young woman who was accidentally inseminated with this guy Rafael’s sperm and subsequently falls in love with Rafael. Things get complicated. There seems to be all kinds of crime at the hotel Rafael manages. Jane has just met her biological father, who happens to be a big star of Spanish language telenovelas. And more I can’t tell without spoiling the plot. The whole show is a spoof on telenovelas, with lots of melodrama, romance, murders, and anguished reactions by an off-screen narrator. I’m really enjoying it, but I wish everybody would turn their phones off. They ring every couple minutes. The characters constantly interrupt the scenes, saying “I have to take this” or “I have to go.”

One of my writing mentors preached that telephone calls were death to a dramatic scene, but now everybody’s on the phone in books, TV and movies. Always the ring, the text, the email, which takes precedence over whatever else is happening. It seems like lazy writing. Why not find a more interesting way to move a scene along or to convey information? Back in the olden days, on Bonanza or Little House in the Prairie, a rider would come roaring up on his horse to share important news: The cavalry is coming! Johnson’s barn is on fire! The barn might be ashes by the time anyone gets there, but the delay adds to the drama. Can you picture John Wayne talking on a cell phone? Don’t shoot. I have to take this call. Remember Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” racing to stop Elaine’s wedding. We’re holding our breath as he runs as fast as he can, and she’s walking down the aisle, and then we hear him hollering “Elaine! I love you!” You can’t get that kind of drama with a cell phone.

Then again, remember way back to “Sorry, Wrong Number?” I know, I’m old. That spooky movie would have been great with cell phones because it was all about telephone calls.

In real life, sometimes smart phones are a blessing. A few weeks ago, when the area was coated in ice and driving was treacherous, it was good to be able to text friends to warn them to stay home. Last week when Highway 20 was closed due to a problem at the railroad crossing, I was glad to get the message. Certainly, if somebody wants to tell me I won a prize, I will welcome a call. But today’s writers are overdoing it with the cell phones. Let the characters on the screen talk to each other. Save the interruptions for important stuff. The barn is on fire. The bad guy is on his way. There’s a bomb in the limo. Otherwise, let’s just talk or operate in silence for a while. Can we do that?

It has been quiet for two minutes. Text me.

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?