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Every Autumn, a Harvest of Couch Potatoes

October 22, 1992|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who frequently contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. This column appears regularly in OC Live!

There's a snap to the air, the crops are in and the harvest moon is shining bright. It must be fall!

Time for hayrides! Taffy pulls! Cider making! Poodle shampoos!

Sorry, I forgot where we live for a moment. I suppose it's just time to watch more TV.

Nobody walks around much to begin with in Orange County, unlike Paris, where everyone meets on the sidewalk, shares a liter of wine and dreams of having a slew of Euro-Taco Bells to accompany their new Disney theme world. But when the temperature in O.C. grows inclement, say below 72 degrees, people really disappear indoors and warm their hands by the television.

I go out running at night sometimes, and as I pass house after house, I start to wonder about the lives in each, what their personal triumphs and sadnesses are, how many different, unshared thoughts everyone must have, and how, beyond the fastness of each door, each person establishes his or her own distinct world. That distinctness seems somewhat proscribed by the shifting blue glow lighting most drapes, but even then I wonder what goes on. If I'm ever arrested as a peeping Tom, it'll probably be because I was watching "The Jeffersons" through someone's window.

Much as I like to think I'm above it, my TV's on as often as not. Maybe you remember the polls taken before the Performing Arts Center opened, asking how much we countians expected to be frequenting the cultural offerings there. Like everyone else who was called, I put on my serious, I've-been-eating-goat-cheese face, affected to be sucking on a meerschaum pipe and loftily declared, "Yes, my family and I shall be attending nightly, especially if there are Latin supertitles for the children," knowing full well the only chance they had of actually getting my patronage was if they hauled in tons of mud and held a monster-truck rally there. And then I'd only go if the good TV shows were preempted by a debate.

I don't watch much network television, and I've noticed others also fall prey to a weird cable snobbism: I'll think people who watch network TV are utter croutons and then turn around and watch something like "Glue Gun Massacre II" for the third time on Cinemax. And I'm paying for this.

Last night I sat through a gore-fest about a bald guy pestering a bunch of co-eds with a pickaxe. The co-eds exhibited a range of exactly two emotions: 1) fear, and 2) the somber musing that results from having a moist pickaxe in your head.

I should mention that the cast was of such a caliber that, by comparison, Erik Estrada would seem more than qualified to play Col. Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now."

Along with the Simpsons--the only cartoon family to be singled out as a national menace by the president of a collapsing world superpower--about the only network fare I watch with any consistency is "Star Trek, the Next Generation." I'm trying to talk my girlfriend into appreciating the show, insisting to her that it's not just about rockets and ray guns, but rather the complex weave of human relationships and future echoes of the great social issues of our times. It hasn't exactly helped that the last four episodes have been overridden with techno-babble like: "I've got to realign the Dilithium dual-quad positraction phase converter grid unit before the transonic 383 vibroverb overloads, darling."

Recently the show has been dealing with some fascinating problems in the space-time continuum, such as how to feature guest stars from the old "Star Trek" when 75 years were supposed to have elapsed between the two series and, jeez, they look old and decrepit enough already just having made it from the '60s to the '90s. Last week the beloved old chief engineer Scotty turned up, after being suspended for three quarters of a century in an alcoholic stupor or something.

This was not TV at its finest, but it's scary how much importance it's given vis-a-vis real life. You can be making love the next morning, and while your partner is looking involved and soulful as all get out, you're wondering, "How could Picard just give a shuttlecraft to Scotty? Aren't they Federation property, worth billions of space dollars?"

Meanwhile she's probably wondering if she shouldn't have gone out with a "Gilligan" fan instead, so maybe it's a good thing couples don't talk more about what they're really thinking.

Of course, some couples get around this problem by never really thinking at all, which is where shows like "Studs" come in. When the presidential contenders were arguing about what form the debates should take, this show came to mind: Just get smarmy host Mark De Carlo and three nubile doltettes and start peppering the candidates with questions like, "Which of you is most likely to stuff your Speedo?" "Have you ever done the Wild Thing in Air Force One?" and "Is that a new tax bill or are you just glad to see me?"

I wish there was some local TV worth watching, but about the only choices are KDOC, with its bold programming of Wally George's "Hot Seat" and "Hogan's Heroes" reruns, and that news-lite cable station. I tune Wally in from time to time, just in the hope that one day the camera will cut to his studio audience and it'll be a pack of Dobermans barking along sympathetically.

The best local TV I ever saw was a small Riverside UHF outlet that was around in the late '60s and early '70s--the call letters escape me--which was singularly devoted to airing Japanese "Speed Racer" cartoons and Three Stooges shorts. Interspersed, they'd have guys in the studio who would kill time by earnestly building model cars and then just as earnestly setting fire to them. They were actual adults, and I can only hope they're not in prison today.

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