Image by Tina Tiller
Image by Tina Tiller

OPINIONPop CultureMay 2, 2021

I don’t want to choose what to watch any more

Image by Tina Tiller
Image by Tina Tiller

After a long weekend with linear television, Alex Casey celebrates the luxury of not being overwhelmed by content.

The Human Ken Doll was trying to do a pull-up and I was in paradise. It was Anzac weekend and we were on a getaway up north – no internet, no reception, no laptops. Nothing but fresh air, free-to-air, and a terrifyingly jacked man on Bravo struggling to lift himself more than five centimetres off the floor. Of course, the Human Ken Doll has no real upper body strength. As the good doctors of Botched reveal, he’s had nearly 200 cosmetic procedures including tricep implants, chest implants, back implants, bicep implants and shoulder implants. 

Now, my taste in television is pretty poor, but even I can say I would never have chosen to watch Botched, the reality show following a pair of plastic surgeons in LA as they fix up munted plastic surgery jobs, on my own volition on Netflix. But as the Human Ken Doll sighed, gave up and made way for a sobbing woman whom Dr Paul Nassif solemnly described as having a “pig nose” after a rhinoplasty gone wrong, I felt nothing but gratitude for the programming genius at Bravo that made this avant-garde scheduling decision for me on a Saturday night. 

It’s no secret that choosing what to watch is absolute, pure, unadulterated hell. I used to love the good old telly, but now sitting down in front of Netflix, Neon, Disney+, TVNZ OnDemand and ThreeNow fills me with a low hum of dread. Movie, documentary, or TV series? Funny, serious, smart, scary? New, old? Subtitles, no subtitles? God, I missed the five minute window to watch Bridgerton, there’s no point catching up now. I’ve never even seen The Sopranos, so why keep going with Sharp Objects? Ah fuck it, it’s too long, it’s too late, let’s just watch The Office. 

With every streaming service that has launched, my decision-making has become more unhinged from good taste and decency. YES I want Disney+ but ONLY watch five minutes of James and the Giant Peach. YES let’s watch Not Another Teen Movie on Netflix, as a joke! Yes, let’s DEFINITELY sulk through 70 minutes of Fantasy Island on Neon before giving up!! YESSSS to David Attenborough right before bed, ESPECIALLY if it’s the episode where all the walruses lob themselves off a cliff because of climate change HAHAHAH. 

Thankfully, I know that I am not alone in this neurosis. Just this week, Netflix launched a new button called Play Something, a viewing mode where people can opt in to have the almighty Netflix manatees in the Matrix take charge and stream things for you. “Some people, they like that choice and they want their choice,” Todd Yellin, vice-president of Netflix, told Vulture. “But some people get analysis paralysis.” It’s allegedly available worldwide and, although I haven’t encountered it yet, could well make a huge difference to my daily number of Couch Sulks. 

While I wait to encounter the gorgeous new button, I think we should all take a moment to appreciate linear television, the original Play Something. The long weekend reminded me truly what a treat it is to have someone else set the boundaries for you, asking you only to kick back and enjoy. For me, linear TV has become a holiday in and of itself. On the way to the bach, I even bought a newspaper (?) so I could hurriedly leaf through the TV section and choose our viewing schedule, not unlike someone highlighting a festie programme in the early 2000s

Popstars omnibus with a lazy afternoon beer to kick us off? Don’t mind if I do. The Chase and a cheeseboard in the stands as the sun sets? Sounds good. Pirates of the Caribbean to round out the night on the mainstage with a cheeky botty of red? My compliments to the chef.

Also, those small moving talkies known as “television ads” are a bloody yarn, and feel like a pop cultural engagement that I no longer get from the soulless algorithm of YouTube and on-demand. We get it, Zuckerberg, Jobs and whoever else: you think I’m pregnant, you think I have dandruff and you think my phone is a piece of shit. Jokes on you: only two of those are true. Television ads don’t seem to judge as harshly – they just really want you to get a mortgage with your childhood sweetie and toast your Vogel’s for 44 more seconds, not 33. 

I also cannot overstate the impact the humble ad break can have on your health and wellbeing. I recall catching sight of my reflection in the “are you still there?” Netflix screen when I was many episodes into the depraved hotties-on-an-island reality series Too Hot To Handle. My arms were behind my head like a cheerful man in a stock image, but they were completely dead. My eyes were scientifically open, but they were sadly also dead. I hadn’t moved in hours. I hadn’t eaten, drunk, toileted, spoken aloud. If that’s not too hot to handle, I don’t know what is. 

With terrestrial television, at least the ads give you a break from the show to remember that you are alive, that you are a sentient being with thoughts and feelings, one who might lose their winning lotto ticket after a scooter crash in Thailand, only to find it preserved in their cast months later. One who might win a KFC Golden Bucket for being a legend at an undisclosed regional rugby club for the past 47 years. One who might have their scummy bathroom visited by an entrancing Shower Witch, leaving their glass gleaming and their lives changed.

I’m definitely looking forward to using the Play Something button on Netflix this weekend, but I also implore you to give linear TV a whirl if you’ve still got access to it and haven’t plugged into the ol’ boob tube in a while. While our streaming platforms figure out how to take away the stress of choice that they created, everything you need could already be right in front of us. Choose the dusty old remote. Choose the Human Ken Doll on Bravo. Choose Glynnis who won the KFC Golden Bucket. Choose Shorties on a Sunday morning. Choose Shower Witch. Choose not having too many choices. For once.

Follow The Spinoff’s reality TV podcast The Real Pod on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

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