Dissecting the TV Habits of My Parents

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"Ooh, I could go a bit of Charlie Hunnam." Thanks mum.

While curled up on one couch with the dog and my laptop and my mother on the other with her phone and sunglasses (a recent addition due to a nasty eye condition), an advert appeared on BBC Two for an upcoming show, Jungle Animal Hospital. The short clip revealed an array of vibrant wildlife in Guatemala and the vets who nurse them back to health. My mum peered at the 55 inch HD screen (bought on my dad’s insistence) with a hint of excitement. In many ways, it’s the ideal Mum Show – comforting, colourful, a glimpse into the natural world with just a hint of peril. We’ll end up watching it, just like we’ve watched every Attenborough documentary and series about enthusiastic British men exploring the planet.

Living back at home after graduating – coming up for four years – has given me a renewed insight into the people who made and raised me. The mild irritation at me still being here longer than planned gave way long ago for a supportive embrace of understanding and annoyance at the world for making it so damn hard. I’m painfully aware that in many ways I’ve emotionally regressed due to sleeping in the room next door to mum and dad, having all my meals prepared and receiving regular texts enquiring to my whereabouts. The daily routine remains steadfastly set in stone, more so that I’m now unemployed, and every night there’s TV.

Morbid curiosity remains one of my mum’s driving forces. Fortunately, British television thrives on the sensation, so mum has plenty of light entertainment docudramas to keep her sated, from poverty porn benefits shaming spectacles to bottom-of-the-barrel exploitation snuff shows on celebrity autopsies. She hates cooking but has The Cooking Network on all day during her Wednesdays off, with the Australian shows and Masterchef being her favourites. Every year, she gleefully waits for a new season of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and dissects each base-camp interaction and testicle chomping with the political detail usually reserved for Game of Thrones. She prefers films for comfort viewing in bed or on the weekends, alternating between about eight different films she could watch repeatedly for years if given the change (the list includes To Kill A Mockingbird, Some Like It Hot, Bernie, The Lost Boys, Stand By Me and the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films). Not much pushes her off the well-trodden track.

Dad is a little different. He likes his gadgets, which was essentially the reason I owned as many games consoles as I did during my childhood – it gave him an excuse to have them in the house. Eventually he dropped the pretence and just started buying them for himself, which is why we have a PS4 to go with our big-arse TV. Said television, with its screen size so overwhelming it makes me giggle a little every time I see it, is great for his beloved football, which he’ll watch daily if given the opportunity. It doesn’t especially matter which team is playing – his own team are doing terribly right now – because he’ll justify watching it by claiming he’s a big supporter of one of them. Darts season proves popular in our household too, which leads to the same jesting argument between me and him regarding the game’s unnecessary use of cheerleaders.

He doesn’t keep up with any show week to week, preferring to record or stream seasons at a time. Having never found a show to truly obsess over since Lost, he moves from series to series based on the recommendations of friends and distant word of mouth he read in a newspaper or heard from some source that’s probably Facebook. The longer the show, the better, since that signals a proper project to commit to.

Past marathons, which my mum sporadically joins him for, have included Breaking Bad (which they loved, although they thought it was a bit slow), Boardwalk Empire (definitely more dad’s thing since he likes gangster stuff), Game of Thrones (“There are a lot of tits in this. Do the tits ever go away?” No mum, they don’t), and, most recently, Sons of Anarchy. Charlie Hunnam kept mum’s interest held amidst the head smashings and her hatred of Katey Sagal’s character, and the twisted masculinity of the series offered my dad many hours of intrigue. The brutal violence provided shock but never a reason to turn off. A man eating his own face in Hannibal was too much for them, but a man having his head beaten in with a hammer was okay.

The same goes for strong sexual content, and fortunately I’ve shed all my second hand embarrassment at walking into the room and watching mum and dad watch brothel scenes. This is probably due to some skilled parenting and the insistence that I could watch whatever movie I wanted as a kid, even if they told me I was too young for it, and if I couldn’t sleep that night due to nightmares then it was my own damn fault. This is what led to me watching Se7en at the age of eleven and not sleeping for a week. Annoyingly, my eight year old sister was fine with it.

[Walks into the room while Sons of Anarchy is on and sees a character with two wooden hands]

Me: Do I even want to know what happened to him?

Dad: Not really.

Me: Okay.

Dad: He got caught masturbating too much!

Me: I said I didn’t want to know!

Dad: *laughs hysterically*

Finding stuff that my parents genuinely love is both deceptively easy and aggravatingly difficult. I can easily find dozens of TV shows for them to stream from the full Sky package, Netflix and Amazon Prime (yes, we have all of them, and yes, it’s because dad keeps forgetting to cancel them). I think my dad would adore Justified and Deadwood, and mum would watch The Night Manager happily while freely admitting she’s doing it mostly out of Tom Hiddleston love (yes, she’s one of them). Yet my parents seldom admit their love of pop culture. They prefer to think of most things as being ‘okay’ or ‘fine’, which seems more apathetic than they actually are.

Pop culture is my darling, something for me to get loud about while they dutifully listen. When I wax lyrically about Hannibal or any number of comedies they immediately deem to be ‘American crap’ (the exceptions being Frasier, Friends and The Simpsons, although my sister and I spoiled enjoyment of the latter by watching it almost exclusively as kids), they smile and move on. It doesn’t really interest them to engage further, which is fine, of course, but also signals the key viewing trait for the pair of them. To them, TV is a distraction and a way to fill the Sunday mornings while they eat bacon rolls and decide whether or not to go on a drive up the coast.

They’re discussing the potential of trying Outlander as a new project. I can see it being a new favourite, although I can also clearly hear my dad laughing at the way Americans like to watch Scots (“Where’s the fucking shortbread tin?”). I feel like they’ll probably settle on a completed series to save the impatient waiting, a problem dad’s currently having with Better Call Saul. Right now, mum’s watching The Supervet. Animals in peril while the dog sleeps nearby? Perfect mum viewing.

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