A friend showed me recently how to program my TiVo remote so that I can skip ahead in 30-second increments with one touch of a button. I had been living in relative darkness, working the arrow buttons, fast-forwarding to the first, second or third power, watching a "Grey's Anatomy" episode in 10 minutes (medical-medical-medical, Meredith-whatever, Burke-whatever, stop to see if George and Izzie have sex).
My friend cautioned that the code to the 30-second skip was not for publication, but a simple Google search brought up websites showing you how to do it.
The 30-second skip, I presume, is designed to bypass the 30-second commercial, but I began putting the skip to more aggressive use while watching "24."
Now I bypass anything involving the needless courting saga of CTU agents Nadia (Marisol Nichols) and Milo (Eric Balfour). Also, last week's "B" story on "Lost" (Hurley was making Sawyer feel bad, or something), and various upsetting parts of "American Idol," most of which involve Ryan Seacrest, who makes me squirm, something about his malleable equanimity suggesting a propaganda minister whose talents, in a different world, could be pointed toward bad instead of good.
Still, it is a paradox of TV that as series have got better -- deeper in linear structure, with multiple plots and subplots, all of which orbit one another in an atmosphere of layering and interconnection -- they've also become something resembling homework.
Like "24," which began this season with a two-night, four-hour bonanza in which agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was released from being tortured in a Chinese prison and returned to the States in time to shave his beard, put on a long-sleeve T-shirt from Fred Segal and trail a nefarious plot to set off suitcase nukes over Los Angeles.
In a standoff, Jack was forced to shoot a trusted colleague; he agonized over it for 30 seconds before deciding he couldn't dwell on it. Oh, "24." There is perhaps no dumber show on television than you, but there is also no other show on television in which we get to relive 9/11 and win each time, or if not win then prevent the terrorists from carrying out their evil mission to their evil specifications, while the president is not reading to children.
Intel on "24" is marvelously streamlined; CTU chief Bill Buchanan (James Morrison) finds out stuff from Jack in the field, or vice versa, then relays it to the White House, or to Jack, or back to Bill. It's like national security where everyone's on the same friends and family cellphone plan.
Intel on TiVo, in fact, proved harder to come by. I'm apparently one of 2.7 million DirecTV TiVo subscribers, according to the most recent quarterly report from TiVo Inc. Curious about statistics on TiVo users, I called the media contact listed on the company's website, but my messages were not returned. Which only bolsters my theory that TiVo is actually some CTU-like outfit conducting clandestine war-on-terror surveillance under the guise of allowing me to put "Brothers & Sisters" on my season pass.
"24" is supposed to be TiVo-proof -- the show reenacting, in a constant loop, that sequence three-quarters of the way into a Hollywood action movie where the story is hurtling toward conclusion. But this season is full of filler -- e.g. Milo loves Nadia -- and characters who, even in the cowboy geopolitical world of the show, are off the charts.
Would the principled President Palmer really have teamed up with the blood-sucking Cheney stand-in, Vice President Noah Daniels, played by Powers Boothe?
The real problem, though, is at the top of the ticket. For after the wonderfully Nixonian visage of last year's President Logan (Gregory Itzin), we're stuck this year with low talker D.B. Woodside as Wayne Palmer, brother of the assassinated President David Palmer.
The Palmers are like the Kennedys -- tragedy tends to follow them.
Last week, the president came out of a medically induced coma (he was the victim of a bombing in the White House) to reclaim his position as commander in chief from his hawkish veep.
Mostly, Woodside conveys the fact that his character has been in a coma by holding his neck, in a manner remarkably similar to Shelley Berman pantomiming a phone call on the cover of his early 1959 comedy album "Inside Shelley Berman."
Thanks to shorthand like this, and the 30-second skip, I can get through a "24" in something like 20 minutes now. In the spirit of the show here's the code: Pull up any recorded TiVo program in your Now Playing list. On your TiVo remote, press the Select button, then Play, then Select again, then the numbers 3 and 0, followed by the Select button again.
You should hear three bright rings. Hurry, there isn't much time.