Monday, June 19, 2017

Top TV Moments: Roy Roberts

One of the most engaging qualities of the comfort TV era is the recurring presence of familiar character actors, who played different roles on different shows, all of whom were often variations on a single type.

Roy Roberts specialized in blustery authority figures – military men, bank presidents, CEOs. He had the gray hair of an experienced executive, the rotund figure of someone who rose to the top of his profession and is now enjoying the comforts of that position, and a booming voice that sent subordinates scurrying for cover. 

He’s one of those actors that are hard to picture in their younger days because, like Charles Lane and Doris Packer, he seems to have emerged fully formed into one steadfast, familiar persona.

You probably wouldn’t want him as a boss. But in a classic sitcom from the 1960s his arrival is always welcome. I hope he knew – or knows now from that executive boardroom in the heavens – how much his talent was appreciated.

The Gale Storm Show (1956)
TV’s original Love Boat was the S.S. Ocean Queen under the command of Roy Roberts as Captain Huxley. He appears in 89 episodes in support of singer and comedienne Gale Storm, once as a big a star as TV ever introduced, and now sadly almost forgotten. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes, but I would not be surprised if this is where Roberts gained his reputation for the kind of authoritarian roles that would keep him busy for the next two decades. 

The Dick Van Dyke Show (1962)
In “My Husband is Not a Drunk” Rob is hypnotized into feeling intoxicated every time he hears a bell ring. Carl Reiner wrote it just to give Dick Van Dyke a showcase for his brilliant drunk routine, which delivers an office scene that’s among the funniest in the show’s run. Roy Roberts plays the demanding, no-nonsense sponsor of The Alan Brady Show, who is reduced to hysterics by Rob’s antics. 

McHale’s Navy (1963)
If Roy Roberts turns up in a military sitcom, you can bet it won’t be as an enlisted man. Sure enough, his top brass credentials were fortified once more on McHale’s Navy where he recurred as the no-nonsense Admiral Rogers. Roberts played so many men in uniform that I wondered whether he actually served himself, but none of the biographies or obituaries I’ve read mentioned military service. Like John Wayne, however, he always looked the part.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1963)
In one of his busiest years as a character actor (more than 20 episodes of various shows) he popped up here as Nicholas J. Venderfeller, blue-blood father of a beautiful socialite. But appearances are not what they seem. The twist in “Two for the Whipsaw” is that father and daughter are both con artists looking to marry into money.  So why are they trying to get hitched to the always-broke Dobie?  

Gunsmoke (1963)
From 1963 to 1974, Roberts made occasional appearances as Dodge City’s gruff bank manager Harry Botkin. It was his final classic TV role. In the 1963 episode “Old York,” Botkin is held up at gunpoint by a coldhearted robber played by Edgar Buchanan, whom Roberts would soon meet again under very different circumstances on Petticoat Junction.  

Petticoat Junction (1963)
Norman Curtis, President of the C.&F.W. Railroad, is my favorite Roy Roberts character. He is introduced in the first episode of Petticoat Junction and we’re at ease right away because this is familiar territory  Curtis is a stuffed-shirt executive who we’re sure will prove a nemesis to the sympathetic folks in Hooterville. But when he first visits the Shady Rest in episode 3, “The President Who Came To Dinner,” he is charmed by the community and by Kate and her daughters. In several subsequent appearances he stops the schemes of his associate Homer Bedloe (Charles Lane, nasty as always) to shut down the Cannonball. 

The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (1964)
In “Ricky, The Law Clerk” Roberts plays…Judge Roberts, which certainly made it easy to remember his character name. He lobbies to get his nephew hired as a clerk at David’s law firm, unaware that Dave had already given the job to Ricky. David finds it difficult to broach the subject with the imposing judge, but of course no one is really ever that mean in the world of Ozzie & Harriet, which is why it’s always such a lovely place to visit.

The Beverly Hillbillies (1965)
Roberts appears in five episodes as John Cushing, a banker who will stop at nothing, including a romance with Granny, to get the Clampett fortune away from Mr. Drysdale.

Bewitched (1967)
Beginning with season 4’s “Out of Sync, Out of Mind,” Roberts takes over the role of Darrin’s father Frank Stephens. It wasn’t an ideal fit, as his predecessor (Robert F. Simon) had a mild-mannered quality more suited to someone who would put up with Phyllis’s sick headaches for 35 years. 

The Lucy Show (1967)
Viewers who felt sorry for Lucy after one of Mr. Mooney’s tirades probably enjoyed when Roy Roberts delivered an element of schadenfreude as Mooney’s boss, Mr. Cheever. There is always something satisfying about watching a bully get bullied. Cheever appears in several of the series’ better episodes, including “Lucy Gets Jack Benny’s Account,” “Lucy Gets Mooney Fired” and “Lucy the Starmaker,” with Frankie Avalon as Cheever’s nephew. Frankie wants to be a singer, but his uncle wants him to join the family business. Watch Roberts’ reaction when Lucy suggests show business might be more fun than banking. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Comfort TV Game Shows on Buzzr

As someone who already watches too much television, the last thing I needed was another reason to stay on the couch and avoid other activities. But when DISH Network added Buzzr to its channel options, I knew I was in trouble. 

What is Buzzr? It’s what Game Show Network used to be when that channel was worth watching. The lineup includes the classic celebrity panel shows from the 1950s (What’s My Line, I’ve Got a Secret, To Tell the Truth) and many of the 1970s hits the played daily mornings and afternoons throughout the decade – Sale of the Century, Press Your Luck, Tattletales, Match Game, Password Plus.

For some fans these shows are the ultimate in comfort TV – bright lights, bold colors, happy hosts, chirpy music, and nice people winning stuff they need. Here’s what I learned after about two weeks of watching several hours worth of vintage game shows every day.

In Card Sharks, the worst thing you can do is pass.
I can’t even count how many times a contestant froze on a pretty decent card  – like a five or a jack – and then lost control of the board and subsequently lost the game when their opponent ran the table. When you have control of the cards, you should keep it. And yes, I realize this advice is about 30 years too late to do anyone any good. 

Table shuffleboard can be exciting.
The 1970s version of Beat the Clock pitted two teams of couples against each other, with a winning team decided by a table shuffleboard game, in which players alternated sliding discs toward a series of lines representing escalating sums of money. Whichever team had completed more stunts at that point received three discs while the other team received two. You wouldn’t think there would be that many variations in what could happen, but every match I watched was more exciting than anything I saw at last year’s Rio Olympics. 

Jim Perry was really good at his job
In the show business hierarchy, game show hosts have never ranked very high.
But in watching these shows one does gain renewed appreciation for their talents – especially when compared to their modern-day counterparts on some of the classic game show revivals. One of the very best was Jim Perry, who spend three decades hosting games shows in the U.S. and Canada. 

The tall, lanky Perry had all the qualities we associate with a good host. He could calm the nervous contestants, rein in the ones that were too excited, and seemed to actually listen after asking the standard “Tell us a little about yourself” question. He could say to a parting contestant “Good luck raising those giant vegetables” and sound like he really meant it. Perry spent four years on Card Sharks but was at his best on Sale of the Century. He was a smooth salesmen in trying to get contestants to risk the money they earned with special offers, and received able support from the radiant Summer Bartholemew, a former Miss USA back when that title actually got you real jobs. 

Match Game stretched the definition of “star.”
Think Dancing With the Stars sometimes wanders too far out into the showbiz hinterlands to find its contestants? If it does, it’s just following the path forged by Match Game in the 1970s. Usually these borderline stars occupied the lower-left spot on the tier next to Richard Dawson. Many were attractive young women that Gene Rayburn could welcome with a kiss and then affectionately tease (or as some prefer in 2017, sexually harass). When the contestant’s answer was “boobs,” as it was at least three times every week, Gene could turn to these ladies and say “Show us your boobs,” or “Have you got boobs as well?”

Let’s see how many of these names are familiar to you: Ann Elder, Trish Stewart, Sarah Kennedy, Stu Gilliam, Marcia Rodd, Tudi Wiggins.

Whoever’s doing the Buzzr promos was a Nick at Nite fan. 
You can tell the style. They’re clever and funny and celebrate the shows without making fun of them, a temptation that may have been tough to resist given how awash they were in ‘70s fashion. 

They will make you nostalgic for things you may have forgotten.
To hear Johnny Olsen say ‘Stay tuned for Love of Life over most of these CBS stations’ is to be transported back to another time. I never watched Love of Life but I remembered that promo, and changing the channel while the opening credits played. 

Double Dare deserved a better fate
I was delighted to see Double Dare on Buzzr’s weekend schedule, as the show only lasted for one year (1976-1977). 

The concept had contestants trying to guess the identity of people, places or things from a series of clues that progress from cryptic to giveaway. My favorite part was the bonus round, when host Alex Trebek introduced the winning contestant to “The Spoilers,” three stern-faced PhDs, each in their own soundproof booth. When one of the Spoilers guessed the right answer, he received 100 bucks. Eight years of intensive study at major universities, just to sit in a glitzy cubicle on a game show.   

All this, plus Family Feud with Richard Dawson, Blockbusters, Body Language, Child's Play, Now You See It – I may not leave the house until Labor Day.  

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

53 Wonderful Things From the Comfort TV Era

Today is my 53rd birthday. Since birthdays are often a time to look back, and that’s pretty much all we do around here anyway, I’ve compiled a list of 53 wonderful people, places, moments and performances that bring back warm smiles and happy memories. After a week with more than its share of sad news, I think we can all use a little bit of both.

Let’s start with one that is fresh in the mind of every classic TV fan.

1. The halo that appears over Roger Moore’s head in every episode of The Saint.

2. The Nairobi Trio. Never gets old. 

3. Linda Ronstadt singing “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” on The Muppet Show.

4. The exact moment when Columbo figures out who done it. 

5. Chuck and Bob. 

6. This opening credits sequence for Days of Our Lives, which aired five days a week, every week, for 21 years. 

7. The sound the Mach 5 makes when Speed Racer presses control button ‘A’. 

8. Candid Camera’s talking mailbox.

9. Wonder Woman’s western costume, and her team-up with legendary cowboy Roy Rogers in “The Bushwhackers.” 

10. The Bugaloos performing “The Senses of Our World.” 

11. Foster Brooks on The Dean Martin Roasts.

12. Uncle Arthur.

13. Aunt Bee.

14. The Kraft Christmas commercials featuring holiday recipes, narrated by the soothing voice of Ed Herlihy. 

15. Surrealist poetry for six year-olds on Sesame Street.

16.  The flashbacks to Richie’s birth in the Dick Van Dyke Show episode “Where Did I Come From?” 

17. The Fonz dances the Kazatsky.

18. The start of every Adventures of Superman episode.

19. The end of every Cisco Kid episode.

20. Watching J.R. outmaneuver Cliff Barnes. 

21. That Girl’s Ann Marie and Donald Hollinger taking in the sights of New York City, circa 1967, in “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Nervous.”

22. The ebullient theme song to Angie

23. Carl Kolchak’s seersucker suit. 

24. Watching the General Lee fly. 

25. When Morticia speaks French.

26. The delightfully twisted final moments in “Lamb to the Slaughter,” an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by the master himself; after killing her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, Barbara Bel Geddes serves the murder weapon to the police investigating the crime.

27. Tim Conway’s elephant story – and Vicki Lawrence’s perfect capstone.

28. Sgt. Friday’s speech to teenagers dissatisfied with what is happening in the country (sound familiar?) in “The Big Departure.” 

29. “It’s a Sunshine Day”.

30. When your favorite show appeared on the cover of TV Guide

31. When the Marshall family goes over that waterfall. 

32. June Lockhart visibly trying to suppress her giggling throughout the absurd Lost in Space episode “The Great Vegetable Rebellion.”

33. Groucho Marx meets Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez.

34. Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.

35. The James West vs. everybody barroom brawls in The Wild, Wild West.

36. The final scene in “Opie the Birdman.”

37. The virtuoso slapstick timing of Lucille Ball and Gale Gordon in “Lucy the Fixer,” from Here’s Lucy

38. Mr. Rogers singing “It’s You I Like.” 

39. The vaudeville routines performed by George Burns and Gracie Allen at the end of their 1950s sitcom – still funnier than just about anything on TV then or now.

40. Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In.

41. The affectionate chemistry between Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers on Hart to Hart

42. The panel wishing the viewers and each other a good night on What’s My Line.

43. Jane Badler eating that mouse on “V”.

44. The reprise of “I Got You Babe” at the end of every Sonny & Cher Show

45. The theme song to The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan

46. Situation comedies from the 1950s and ‘60s in which the characters hung out at the malt shop. 

47. The Tea Time Movie with Art Fern. 

48. When the yodeling mountain climber plummets over the edge on The Price is Right

49. The Inchworm commercial.

50. “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock and Roll.”

51. The Mystery Machine.

52. Jim McKay hosting the Olympics.

53. The MTM Productions logo. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

I Still Miss Annette

Who’s the little lady who’s as dainty as a dream?
Who’s the one you can’t forget?
I’ll give you just three guesses
Annette, Annette, Annette

-- “Annette” (Jimmie Dodd)

It’s hard to explain my enduring affection for Annette Funicello. 

Typically the TV stars that have lingered longest and fondest in my memory are those I grew up watching, but that didn’t happen with Annette. The Mickey Mouse Club was canceled years before I was born, and her beach movies were released before I started kindergarten.

The first time I became aware of seeing her on television, she was the Skippy Peanut Butter lady. But even in those innocuous 30-second commercials something about her resonated with something in me. She seemed genuine, in a way that Madge the manicurist and Josephine the plumber did not. It wasn’t a crush – more of a recognition that this lady was probably a really nice person. 

That’s why I didn’t do a “Top TV Moments” piece here as I have for other actors I’ve admired. Sure, I could have talked about her appearances on Disney’s Zorro series and several guest spots as Italian exchange student Gina Minelli on Make Room for Daddy. She also reunited with Frankie Avalon on Love, American Style, played a young widow on The Love Boat and a ventriloquist on Fantasy Island.

But none of these roles were as memorable as when she was just being herself.

Thanks to the Disney Channel’s “Vault Disney” rebroadcasts of The Mickey Mouse Club I was able to watch, more than 30 years later, the series that launched her to ‘America’s sweetheart’ status. At the age of 15, Annette received 6,000 fan letters a month, more than any other Mouseketeer. Along with Lucy and Milton Berle, she was one of the first pop culture icons created by television. 

I admired all the Mouseketeers the more I watched them, and I understood why Annette became so popular. Cheryl Holdridge and Nancy Abbate were as pretty, Darlene Gillespie was a better singer and Sharon Baird was a better dancer. But Annette had a quality that drew your attention. 

Perhaps the best word for it is authenticity. There’s a famous quote about how the key to show business success is sincerity…”and once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” In the pre-internet, pre-TMZ world, it could take years for a public persona to evaporate, sometimes leaving a less-flattering picture of the real person behind.

This was never a concern with Annette Funicello. She didn’t try or claim to be more than what she was. Rather than bemoan the baggage that came with being an ex-child star, she expressed only gratitude for the opportunity, and spoke of Walt Disney with reverence for the rest of her life.

She also didn’t consider her association with a wholesome, mainstream brand to be a burden. Instead, she accepted a responsibility that came with that fame, most famously by acquiescing to Mr. Disney’s request that she wear a one-piece bathing suit in her beach movies with Frankie Avalon. 

Here’s the quote from 1987: "Mr. Disney said to me one day, Annette, I have a favor to ask of you. I know all the girls are wearing bikinis, but you have an image to uphold. I would appreciate it if you would wear a one-piece suit.”

She went on to say that she never regretted that decision.

Everything about this seems utterly foreign to our present culture – not just the modesty but the motivation behind it. Contrast that perspective with later generations of teen stars, who couldn’t run away fast enough from their Disney Channel fame to prove…something, I guess.

Maybe they were right. In today's entertainment industry it’s more important to be provocative than humble. Awards and record sales are the only measures for success. Kindness doesn't count for much.

Viewed objectively, Annette Funicello’s professional achievements are modest. But she never lost the heartfelt affection of the audience that grew up with her, and she never let them down. Read some of the comments on her YouTube videos. They’re incredibly touching. It would be hard to imagine someone leaving a similar sentiment 30 years from now on a Miley Cyrus video.

I wasn’t a part of that audience but somewhere along the way I began to share their devotion. She personifies the era before celebrity became a pulpit of entitlement. I never knew who Annette voted for in any election. I wish I could say that about more TV stars now.

There was an integrity in how she lived her life. And there was grace in how she accepted a medical diagnosis that no one deserves, much less someone who brought so much joy to others. Yes, I still miss her, but I know she’s feeling much better where she is now.

If you’d like to find out more about the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases, you can do so here

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

TV Books, and The Book That Inspired Comfort TV

If you love classic TV, there’s a good chance you also enjoy books about classic TV.

I know I do. In fact I’ve built quite a collection over the years. I’ve also been lucky enough to get to know several people who contributed volumes to this genre.

When I shared a publisher with Brenda Scott Royce I was able to tell her how much I enjoyed her Hogan’s Heroes book. 

I met Chris Mann (Come and Knock on Our Door: A Hers and Hers and His Guide to Three’s Company) through a mutual friend and we had dinner once about 20 years ago. I think we’re due for another one.

I’ve enjoyed conversing on Facebook with Ed Robertson, who penned excellent volumes on The Fugitive and The Rockford Files – and he was kind enough to invite me on his TV Confidential radio show after reading something he enjoyed here. I’m hoping he’ll share this piece on his page since he has more Facebook friends than I do. 

Judith Moose has written some of the most remarkably detailed books about the shows she loves, including Dynasty and Remington Steele. The Steele book now goes for more than 100 bucks on amazon. We’ve discussed projects but nothing has come of that yet. Maybe one day. 

I interviewed Herbie J. Pilato (Bewitched Forever) for one of my books and applaud his ongoing efforts to honor and celebrate the era of TV we both love.

Kathryn Leigh Scott has written several books about Dark Shadows, and no one could be better qualified as she was one of the show’s most popular stars. 

She published them through her own company, Pomegranate Press, which also published my Charlie’s Angels book. While I was signing that book at a Dark Shadows convention I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mark Dawidziak, whose book about Kolchak: The Night Stalker was also a Pomegranate Press title.

And if your TV tastes extend into the godless dark ages of the 21st century, I am happy to recommend Craig Byrne’s excellent Smallville companion volumes. 

Craig and I originally bonded over our mutual affection for Breakfast Time, an ambitious and sometimes-anarchic morning show that aired on the fX network from 1994-1996. In fact, we both loved it enough to travel to New York to be a part of the fun.

All in all as delightful a group of people as you’re likely to meet. Though in the interest of full disclosure I should acknowledge I also crossed paths with one TV book writer who was a miserable human being. It really surprised me at the time, though his crudeness and belligerence at least spared me a Ninth Commandment violation, as I never had to lie and tell him I enjoyed his books. Cause I didn’t, even before I found out he was a jerk.

There is one book that predates all of these, that set me on the path toward my own contributions to the genre and to this blog. I first read it in 1986 when I was 22 and I still have that original copy, though with its tattered cover and crumbling spine it’s on the verge of disintegration.

The book is Cult TV by John Javna. 

I don’t even remember the circumstances of how I acquired it now. But I do recall that I was sick with a flu when I began reading it, and it not only raised my spirits it opened up a world of interest in shows that at that time I had not yet experienced.

Today we associate ‘cult’ more with sci-fi and fantasy entertainment, not mainstream programs like The Odd Couple and Perry Mason (both among the 75 shows profiled in Javna’s book). But 30 years ago the term was more appropriate, as there was a cultish quality to fanbases who loved a TV show – any show – enough to tape episodes off-air and trade them, write and distribute fanzines, and collect photos and memorabilia.

The shows Javna selected run the gamut from pioneering 1950s classics (I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Twilight Zone) to 1960s standouts (The Wild, Wild West, Mission: Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show) to ‘70s shows both traditional and bizarre (The Rockford Files, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Taxi). 

For each entry he provides an introduction that explains why the show has a cult following, brief bios of its cast, top five lists of classic episodes and lines to listen for, a generous selection of photos, and behind the scenes anecdotes and trivia.  

And he had to put it all together without access to full runs of the shows or a not-yet-available internet.

The text is breezy and fun, appreciative and respectful of both the shows and the people who love them. This shines through especially in the collection of ‘fan letters’ to some of the shows from their biggest advocates. Novelist and one-time Dick Tracy comic writer Max Allan Collins contributes a heartfelt tribute to Jack Webb and Dragnet, while Monkees fanzine publisher Maggie McManus assured closet fans, “you’re not alone anymore.”

Television was already an interest when I read Cult TV, but Javna introduced me to several shows I had yet to encounter. His praise of “The Architects of Fear” episode of The Outer Limits, and explanations of why shows like Rat Patrol and Blake’s 7 were worth seeking out, made me realize how much great TV there was out there, waiting to be discovered. And I was also happy to finally find someone who shared my appreciation for Super Chicken

When I started this blog, one of my goals was to invoke the same feelings in my readers that I experienced when I first read Cult TV. I want to create an interest in shows and episodes you’ve never watched, and share happy memories of those you already love. I enjoy pointing out unique elements in certain shows, and discussing how they reflected the country and the culture into which they were broadcast.

For all of the TV books that have been written since 1985, and the TV websites that offer their own accolades, I would still recommend Cult TV as one of the best primers for explaining the appeal of so many classic shows. I hope that Comfort TV in some small way is able to continue its legacy. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

None of This Crap Works

How’s that for a title? We’ll get to what it means in a moment.

One of the first pieces I wrote for this blog was about how happy I am to own the TV shows I love on DVD. That has not changed. 

It isn’t just the ability to watch any episode any time I wish. It’s the years spent acquiring them and filling shelves with lines of colorful boxes, and then checking to see what other sets were coming out soon. Just scanning the titles and seasons still makes me happy even between viewings. 

I like the packaging – the photos and logos and designs of the boxes and the disc cases inside.

I like the menu screens on each disc, especially when some effort is put into making them appealing (the sets for Bewitched and Top Cat are personal favorites). 

I appreciate the blooper reels and the interviews and the episode commentaries. With the best sets you don’t just get the shows, you get some history and context for them, and why they worked and why they sometimes didn’t. 

But since I wrote that piece five years ago, the DVD market has collapsed. Complete series sets can now be purchased for less than a single season once cost. And the prospects are dimming that any seasons from any shows not yet released may never be produced at all. An official release of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet? By the time they get around to it, anyone who remembers the show will be sharing a banana split with the actual Nelson family in one of heaven's celestial malt shops. More volumes of The Love Boat, The Defenders, Room 222, or Family? We can hope, but I don't expect the news will be good. In this era of streaming services, hard copies of shows are deemed a waste of money and space. 

Will DVDs one day be as obsolete as VHS cassettes? I hope not. Especially since streaming offers none of the bonus pleasures of collecting DVD sets. But that is hardly my only issue with this content delivery system. 

The other night I began watching a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why, an adaptation of a YA novel about a high school girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide, and leaves behind a box of cassette tapes explaining why she took her life, and who she blames for driving her to such a desperate act.

Like so much contemporary TV, the show features teenagers who are quick with a quip but world-weary beyond their years, while the adults – parents and teachers and guidance counselors – are largely silly and clueless. As each new character is introduced you can almost see the producer marking boxes on his multicultural casting checklist so no group is left out. 

Still, halfway through episode two I was intrigued by where it was going. And then, as often happens with Netflix, the picture froze. And then a swirling red circle materialized in the middle of the screen, with a slowly rising percentage number within the circle. When it reached 25% it stopped, and then this message appeared: “Your device may no longer be connected to the Internet.”

Obviously this is a problem, especially since I have no idea which device has been singled out for derision. Is it the television? The DISH Network box? The modem? I don’t know. All I know is a device that was connected to the Internet a minute ago isn’t anymore, even though I’ve been sitting on the couch the whole time and no one has touched any device suspected of failure.

As I said, this happens often. I should call someone. Netflix? DISH Network? My Internet service provider? I tried one and they referred me to one of the others. At least that’s what the pre-recorded message said after I pressed 1 for technical support. No one at any of these companies wants to talk to me about why it sometimes takes three days to finish a 56-minute program. 

So I went online for answers – fortunately my computer was apparently still connected to the Internet. If you’re having problems with Netflix, one site advised, try the following:

1. Restart your iPhone.
2. Restart your Router
3. Restart your Modem
4. Move your Router to a higher place in the room.

Do I need to restart my refrigerator as well?

Another site offered this helpful advice: Open Netflix and then use your remote to enter, “Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Up, Up, Up”

Okay, now you’re just putting me on. I’m reminded of the Dick Van Dyke Show episode where a practical joker calls Rob, posing as a telephone repairman, and tells him to fix his phone he should put it in a paper bag, take it outside, wave it over his head, and scream like a chicken. 

It’s not just that all of this stuff was never necessary to watch television. I don’t like feeling stupid when something stops working and I don’t know why. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask that all of these companies get the bugs out of their respective systems before they start charging me a monthly fee to use them.

Right now I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What a moron.” And that’s fine. You’re right, this is not something I know a lot about, and I don’t really care to know more about it. For me technology falls into just two categories: “works” and “doesn’t work.”

My DVD player always works. I insert a disc and press play and that’s what it does. It never stops halfway through the episode and says it can’t play the rest because the oven timer is three minutes off. It just does what it’s supposed to do without making excuses or trying to shift the blame to some other appliance in my house.

“Oh, but with streaming you don’t have to get up off the couch and find the box with the DVD and carry it over to the DVD player and find the right disc and press ‘open’ then ‘close.’ And then when it’s over you don’t have to get up  - again! – and take it out.” 

Yes, what an ordeal that has been all these years.  I’m sure that coal miners from the 1930s would feel sorry for the arduous exertion of energy required to watch a DVD.

If streaming works for you, mazel tov. But even if the technology were perfect, it would not surpass the satisfaction I derive from owning hard copies of nearly all the television shows that were a part of my younger days.

As for 13 Reasons Why, I did eventually finish it. It's a hard show to discuss without spoiling any of its revelations. In fact, there are times it's just a hard show to watch, period. But the performances are excellent, and it paints a vivid but bleak picture of where our culture is now.

There were two aspects I found particularly interesting. First, there is not one mention of God in 13 episodes. That’s not in any way a requirement for me to enjoy a program, but you’d think its preoccupation toward inclusion might extend to at least one character of faith, especially in a story about how to cope with despair and find reasons to live.

The second is its implication of the extent to which Hannah's actions were driven by those around her. As someone who believes the concept of personal responsibility has been replaced by a culture of safe zones, I'm not sure I am comfortable with the message the show is sending. However, if it starts discussions about this and other topics, it will have served a purpose beyond entertainment.

But I have no plans to buy it on DVD.