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What I Watched Last Night

By Scott Buckner

I'm adverse to mixing TV and politics (or politics and anything whatsoever), but from what I've seen on TV over the past 18 hours, I have little choice.

* * *

I saw the sound bites of President Barack Obama pushing his health care plan on TV, where he reassured the American people: "Don't be afraid."

Look, I'm almost 50 years old, so if there's anything I've learned about the federal government, it's two things: 1) When the president tells you to not be afraid, be afraid. 2) If either house of Congress has anything to do with it, be incredibly afraid.

* * *

This week, NBC's main network affiliates have been airing the Wimbledon tennis championships - even though really, the Wimbledon championships are about as engaging as dominos or soccer. On the other hand, NBC's Universal Sports channel has been airing the week-long World Beach Volleyball Championships from, I think, Stavenger, Norway.

Wednesday morning's rerun was a match between the women of the United States and the women of Latvia. Latvia. That's like saying the United States vs. Tuvalu. Not surprisingly, the U.S. was piling on the points. Still, I felt sorry for the women of Latvia for making the trip all the way to Norway for, like, the cardboard medal.

I appreciate Wimbledon's British straight-laced tradition of, uh, straight-laced tradition just like I appreciate the Kentucky Derby's tradition of drunks in big, floppy hats. But still, if you need me to explain why beach volleyball is seriously more interesting than tennis, there's something seriously wrong with you.

* * *

Earlier (even without the early morning broadcast reruns) our local newscasts were doing their annoying best to piss off anyone with half a brain just on general principles by giving airtime to Mayor Daley and the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics. And anyone with half a brain knows that if Hizzoner Junior gets his way, every single person in Cook County is going to be eating sludge out of Dumpsters, selling children they don't even own, and paying 30 pieces of silver every week just to stand in his bloated shadow even when he decides to quit being mayor.

At that moment, I found myself counting my blessings that I have an outlet - and a liberal editor - who allows me to air things if he believes I'm making some kind of sense. Which is probably why excess steam hasn't put me in a pauper's grave right now.

Look, do the ordinary citizens of this city really give a shit whether Japan or Brazil gets stuck with whatever umpteen-bazillion-dollar cost overruns for the 2016 Olympics - no matter where they're held as long as it's not here or China, where they just shoot people and dump them in mass unmarked graves for this sort of nonsense - that will make the cost overruns of Millennium Park seem like dryer lint in Michael Jackson's pocket? I think not.

It might be one thing if every citizen in Chicago got a check for $1,500 directly from Mayor Daley for their troubles associated with 2016 and far beyond, but they're not going to. If Mayor Daley could possibly convince a single, sensible regular citizen not on the city payroll how 2016 is going to economically raise a kid a block or so away from the United Center (except maybe how 2016 might stimulate the local crack-buying/selling economy, which the mayor would just slough off on Jody Weis anyway), he would be worthy of sainthood.

But he's not. Because you want to know who's going to get royally screwed in this 2016 deal? It's not you. It's not me. It's the yet-unborn children who will still and all have a really nice museum in Millennium Park that Mayor Daley has built specifically for them. I don't recall the mayor mentioning how rusty and falling-apart the place in going to be in 50 years like something out of Life After People, meaning Mayor Daley IV will just have to build another one. But still.

This is why I got so sick yet again Tuesday night of our local TV news outlets letting Daley pitch his "insurance policy" that the citizens of Chicago won't get stuck with the unpaid 2016 bills. The only "insurance policy" involved is the one where everyone in his private circle won't lose more than a buck-and-a-half at worst. Look, if his own sainted father couldn't build a stinkin' 50-block elevated roadway to guarantee his place on Mount Olympus, his own kid who certainly who hasn't done half as much so far certainly isn't 10 feet tall and bulletproof.

* * *

I am on a self-imposed Michael Jackson moratorium. Still, I would be remiss in mentioning that Bubbles the Chimp is still alive, and if you ever run into Roe Conn, ask for his impression of Bubbles in the old chimp's home. Oh. My. Fucking. God. It's easily the funniest thing I've ever heard any human being alive come up with at a moment's notice.

* * *

Fortunately, beach volleyball totally skipped over this morning's infomercial wreckage straight into Me-TV's Route 66 (UHF 26.2), a show which - along with The Naked City (which follows Route 66 five mornings a week) and The Twilight Zone - was among the best-written and awesomely-filmed series that American TV ever conceived in its black-and-white landscape between 1958 and 1964.

Forget the fact that the scripts for Route 66 and The Naked City seem these days to have been written by a crowd of beatniks set amok to explore the finer points of alcoholism, oppressed sexuality, being ignored or beaten half to death by your father, firerms, mental illness, rampant loneliness, misspent lives, hard luck, or just plain hard living. And forget that hardly any of the towns where Tod Stiles (Martin Adam-12 Milner), Buz Murdock (George Maharis) and Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett) drifted into during the show's four-year run weren't anywhere near the actual Route 66.

The fact is, almost 50 years later, TV (or more precisely cable TV, since network TV still remains absolutely clueless) has yet to figure out the same thing Route 66 creator/writer Stirling Silliphant figured out: People really ain't that stupid if you just quit giving them shit to get stupid on.

Sorry to belabor the illustrative point, but during the 1960s and early 1970s - when NASA was trying to figure out how to launch simple satellites and men to the moon supported by roomfuls of bazillion-dollar mainframe computers bigger than the Frankenstein monster that filled a whole complex of rooms - we were racing a handful of Russians doing the very same thing with an abacus.

* * *

The number of brain-numbing, blow-my-brains-out commercials for Cricket that interrupted this morning's episode of Route 66: Two. This is a miracle in itself because normally, any given hour of UHF programming in this city is usually interrupted by at least 20 of them.

* * *

Anyway, Wednesday morning's Route 66 explored a recurring theme of the show: The strife between old-school/old-country father and his new-school son.

And this is why I hate Route 66, even when father/son strife isn't the central theme. It's not so much that the show begs you to pick a moral side. The problem is being begged to choose a moral side in the presence of whoever you might be awake with at 2 a.m. without making themr wonder how the hell they bothered to get involved with you in the first place.

On second thought, stick to the infomercials. At least you'd be able to physically measure the side-by-side performance of whatever Sham-Wow thingamajigs Vince and Billy Mays are trying to get you to spend 20 bucks on if you actually ordered them.

Anyway, in this morning's Route 66 episode ("And Make Thunder His Tribute") Tod and Lincoln pick up menial migrant worker-type work ("$8 a day; you eat and sleep in a shed," which is pretty much the going rate on this show) harvesting produce for a guy named Mr. Donato, an old Italian fellow who has been running a raspberry farm for 46 years and wants to pass it down to his son Tony (an Italian son named Tony - go figure!), who has given up trying to get his father to adopt modern methods to maximize the farmland ("New sprays . . . new plants . . . I just tried to get you to do something to do with the land! . . . Now I don't want anything! I just want you to leave me alone!") to the point where the only viable alternative is to turn the whole joint into a motel with cabins, a swimming pool, a huge-ass BBQ pit, and tons of cement topping where Mr. Donato wouldn't even be able to grow a tomato plant.

Even Injun Joe - a guy who has been working for Mr. Donato forever and knows you can't keep growing the same crop in the same dirt for 50 years - thinks that unless Mr. Donato wises up and learns something about soil renovation and conservation, his only future is to pack it up at the end of the raspberry season for the Bad River reservation.

So who was right and who was not-so-right in Wednesday morning's episode of Route 66? I don't know, and I'm glad I don't have to debate these sort of issues with an ex-spouse. The only thing I know is, when you're a guy with a raspberry farm who has to wake everyone up in the middle of a downpour at 3 a.m. to bust up five acres of hard-packed dirt to save your entire crop because it didn't occur to you to rent a Rototiller a month ago, you kinda get what you get.

-

Visit the What I Watched Last Night archives and see what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.



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Posted on July 1, 2009


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - An Odd Call From Bermuda.
SPORTS - All Is Not Forgiven, Bears.

BOOKS - Turning Points Of The Civil War.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Baxter's IV Bag Shortages.


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