Women. They’re a curse. My new flatmate has thoroughly disrupted the delicate televisual dynamic of my formerly female-free home. I used to get in from work to find one of the chaps sprawled inelegantly across an armchair, watching an episode of The Simpsons that he’d already seen nine times and memorised verbatim. Nowadays, I come home instead to repeats of America’s Next Top Model.
I also find myself assailed by digibox reminders telling me to turn over to a series from the States entitled Brothers and Sisters. Episodes of this “drama” seem to consist of a scene in which Ally McBeal argues with her mum – who is also Forrest Gump’s mum – and then one (or both) of them cries; followed by a scene in which Ally McBeal’s gay brother argues with Sam from The West Wing – who is also Ally McBeal’s husband – and/or the one out of Six Feet Under does her flustered, working-single-parent act, at the end of which one (or all) of them cries.
Finally, there’s a scene with the brother who was a soldier in Iraq and got so emotionally scarred by the experience that he’s now a drug addict. Maybe he’s a recovering addict; I forget. He argues with someone, anyone, who cries. Then some music plays. And they hug. Or slam a door. Each of these scenes is approximately one minute long. The sequence is repeated over and over until the hour is up.
Sienna Miller’s boyfriend is in it, too, but I can’t really work out the point of his character. Anyway, the new flatmate loves it, and she’s managed to convert one of the others. Which means that if I want to watch a show about cars – or Lost – I have to do it in my bedroom, on my laptop.
I’m still sort of allowed to watch MasterChef. Are Gregg Wallace and John Torode actually the same man? And if not, why does MasterChef’s director almost never show them together in a two-shot? Normally, when a production company casts a team of judges/presenters, they choose conflicting personalities: Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole, for instance, or Tyra Banks and Twiggy (in America’s Next Top Model, natch).
But here we have two chunky white blokes of a certain age, who, even when they’re shouting – which is a lot – are agreeing with each other. Their opinions never differ, and yet they shout while they’re visiting a busy restaurant kitchen, they shout as they shovel jus-smothered sirloin gullet-wards, they even shout when they’re sitting on those big, red Ikea sofas in the corner, agreeing on which contestant to force to call their spouse on camera at the end of the show after one too many glasses of bubbly.
And they’re always filmed separately, in a head-and-shoulders close-up of them shouting. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that, between takes, Wallace/ Torode simply removes his glasses, hastily throws on a toupee (and a pretty unconvincing one at that), puts on an Australian accent, eats another mouthful of the same eager competitor’s food and shouts about how great or God-awful it is all over again.
OK, you got me. I’m still watching Lost. And now that there are only a couple of seasons left (we’re a little way into the fifth), I’m going to see the thing through. But how? I could watch it on Sky, if I happen to be home alone on the relevant evening without the TV police for company. I could download it from the internet via a site such as, say, The Pirate Bay – currently on trial in Sweden for copyright infringement. I could also download it, in pristine and perfectly legal form, from iTunes for £2.49 per episode.
Or I could download a piece of software that scrambles my computer’s IP address, disguising my online identity. This is supposed to be a security measure, but it also means that I can watch Lost via a US television streaming service like Hulu.com, and the site can’t automatically figure out that I’m in the UK and ought not to be allowed anywhere near it.
Some of these methods are legit. One of them is definitely illegal. One of them I’m not entirely sure about and don’t especially want to ask. But what I do know is that programme makers and producers – like the music labels that have long pursued downloaders, and the film studios that are trying to prosecute The Pirate Bay – are going to have to reconcile themselves to all this and find a way to make it work for them. I can’t imagine that just taking everyone to court will do the trick.