Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Mixed Marriage

I'm increasingly convinced that there are two ways of watching television, and that The Wife and I are firmly planted in opposite camps.

The first way treats tv as the home equivalent of a movie. You don't start watching until you're ready to focus on it; then, once you start watching, you focus cleanly until the program ends, you lose interest completely, and/or you fall asleep. (In practice, 2 sometimes shades into 3.) The purpose of the DVR is to skip commercials.

The second way treats the television as one input among many. This way involves watching for a few minutes, starting multiple conversations along various topics, getting up every ten minutes or so, and generally treating the program as something close to background noise. In this approach, the purpose of the DVR is to back up and replay lines lost to other distractions, and/or to stop the program for ten minutes at a time while you go and do something else.

To be fair, either style works well enough when it's the only one. When I watch tv alone, which isn't often, I focus on it. A program like The Daily Show lends itself well to this approach, since the jokes are quick and verbal, and reward close attention. When TW watches tv alone, she's all over the place, but it really doesn't matter. She's happy, I'm elsewhere, it's all good.

The catch is that the two styles don't mix well.

I first noticed this when we were engaged. I'd be sitting on the couch, contentedly reading an article or book. Soon-to-be-TW would walk in, turn on the tv, sit down next to me, and start a detailed conversation. I considered this inexplicable. If you want to have a conversation, why turn on the tv? If you want to watch tv, what's with all the conversation? And wasn't I reading?

For a while, we almost couldn't go to movies. The first ten minutes of most movies involve unexplained action by unidentified characters gradually becoming clear. I'd wait for the clarity. TW would keep asking questions. She has gradually dropped the habit, to her credit, but the impulse is still there.

When we went house-hunting, one of my desiderata was a living room separate from a tv room. We got that, and it makes a tremendous difference. It gave the kids a playspace without a tv, which we both considered important. When the kids go to bed, she can 'watch' her Bravo reality shows, while I contentedly blog on the laptop on the living room. Alternately, if I'm watching Family Guy, she can retreat to the living room and read Jane Austen.

(Sadly, this doesn't work in theaters. We saw Australia last week, which is basically three long hours of the camera lingering over Hugh Jackman. TW was entranced. I was bored out of my mind.)

In the best of all possible worlds, which happens sometimes, the styles meet in the middle, and we form a Mystery Science Theater style running commentary on whatever's on. We used to do that when W gave his televised addresses, until neither of us could stand to watch him for even a single minute more. (Fun trivia fact: he's actually still the President! A lot of people don't know that.) Several years ago, when my team was on the way to the World Series, we watched some games like that. Sometimes we'll do that during 24, although her appreciation of Keifer Sutherland far surpasses my own.

For whatever reason, we also both like to play the “who's that actor?” game. When there's an actor that one of us almost recognizes, everything stops until we can place him/her. We've had entire conversations along the lines of “isn't he that guy from that show? You know, with that other guy from the thing?” She's scary-good at placing actors, even in voice-overs. And hairstyle or fashion commentary is always fair game.

We both like the idea of being a one-tv house, so when there's something we both want to watch, we have to find ways to mesh gears. And we're getting better at it, as we're each letting go of the idea of converting the other.

I don't know anyone else I'd spend an hour with, watching a half-hour show. Time well spent.