Bad TV

In the depths of winter, when the days get short and the nights get cold, I occasionally park by the woodstove and indulge in stupid TV. This is my reward (?) for spending most of my year productively; particularly in seasons when the weather isn’t so fully dedicated to freezing me to death. I’ve earned a brief seasonal period of mental hibernation.

Netflix has a TV show called “Eureka”. I don’t recommend it. For all I know it was broadcast on cable channel 298 in Mexico at 2:00 am in 2009 and then canceled. It’s definitely not Shakespeare. Who cares? It’s a compromise with other house residents and they’ve had enough of me selecting Black Adder and boring documentaries about Pleistocene vegetation patterns. So I watch it.  I’ve even gotten used to it.

It’s about a town of geniuses akin to the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos, but played for laughs by people who couldn’t explain the Manhattan Project, fission, or even find Los Alamos on a map. The silly show has merry adventures with autonomous cloaking invisible teenage armed flying drones (I’m not making that up), Barney Fife androids, robotic dogs that spontaneously combust, wise ass talking computers, vaguely defined “DNA serum”, and various other bits of utter bullshit.  I could write pages about the logical disaster of screenwriting hacks who confuse “science” with “magic” but that’s not the point. In order to watch it I engage in willing suspension of disbelief.  My reward is entertainment on the same intellectual level as a monster truck rally.

The plot, and there is only one plot, is that an absent minded scientist from central casting who is required by law to be socially awkward (because in TV land all smart people are weird) is doing an experiment. This experiment is performed at the behest of the single employer in town; a vaguely ominous big corporate research company that is apparently the Rand Corp.’s idiot twin. They’ll always mismanage it and you know they’ve made a mistake when a computer erupts in a shower of sparks (because that’s exactly what it looks like when an experiment goes awry). Sometimes one or more innocent town citizens is transformed into goo, vaporized, or turns into a statue.

This sets the stage for an even greater impending disaster that will annihilate everything in the known universe. It also signals time to pause the show while I put more wood on the fire and grab a second beer for the “unexpected solution”.

The protagonist (and I’m sure the target audience of this show can’t define or spell “protagonist”) is the hapless sheriff. In each episode he does something stupidly heroic to save the town while the super genius scientists look concerned and tap on computer keyboards. Invariably the solution to everything is to either blow it up or “reverse the polarity on the flux capacitor”; unless of course, it can be fixed by incorporating a time travel paradox that was really clever the first time it was written into science fiction in the 1950’s. None of this makes sense but it goes OK with beer. As soon as the “so crazy it might just work” plan succeeds, the cast stands around congratulating each other while the camera lingers on the paid product placement . This, inexplicably, happens to be hygiene products and Subarus. (Go figure.)

None of this bothers me. I can roll with stupid.

Every few episodes the corporation’s financial backer, played by General Manymedals, has to show up and stir the pot. He’s not associated with any specific armed force but struts around in a jaunty uniform like a parade float and sports a square jaw that compares favorably to Dick Tracey. Unlike the happy eggheads he’s pissed off… always. Massive hardass that he is, he can’t ignore budgets that show he’s spending a metric shitton to finance freaks who are using particle accelerators to do stupid shit like make herbal tea.  Further, every week they somehow (because radiation!) threaten the continued existence of mankind and that’s totally uncool.  (Despite the fact that he’s the “bad guy”, I see his point.  Eccentric weirdos who can’t make a go kart without a million dollar grant and six fatalities need a new career.  Perhaps the Amish are hiring?) He flies to town in his patented secret black helicopter of bossiness and strides around bitching out the scientists for going over budget and not making awesome enough stuff with which to vaporize the Russkies. (It’s good to know the guys from Dr. Strangelove have found work in the modern era.)

Because he hates everything pleasant, he also bitches out the honest and brave sheriff. (It’s implied that he probably strangled a baby seal before he had breakfast too)

In a plot twist sure to be reversed within the next twenty minutes, he abruptly fires the sheriff.

At which point I lose it!

I set down my beer and bellow at the TV. “The United States military does not have the authority to hire or fire any sheriff in any state! The military is not in charge nor does it control the goddamn domestic civilian civil authority. It can’t fire a Federal Marshal, it can’t fire a State Sheriff, and it can’t fire a town’s Mayor.” The dog eyes me nervously but I’m not done yet. “The military is equipped to nuke Peru but domestically it cannot so much as fire the night janitor at Wal-Mart!”

Whew. Glad I let that out.

I reflected on my outburst. I’m perfectly happy watching a magic/science levitating invisible robot that’s powered by glowing radioactive crystals and can also play jazz; but the minute a general fires a sheriff I’m royally pissed off. Yep, that came from way down deep.

This, like the monster truck, Internet porn, and coca cola is a gift America has bequeathed to the world. It’s a big gift too. It’s the idea that the military is only the boss over certain things and not everything. I won’t let go of it even when I’m watching bullshit. Our culture still values freedom and for some of us (like your’s truly) it’s baked into our core being.

Now if you excuse me I’ve got to watch the next episode to find out if “overloading the gigijoule whackfroomeler” will reverse the nanobots that are expanding “super extra logarithmic exponentially because math” and may wipe out the whole planet by Tuesday. I hope the sheriff can save the day!

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About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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16 Responses to Bad TV

  1. Scott Marlowe says:

    This show suffers from what I call “blackface for nerds”. Big Bang Theory is the primary example. It’s like pseudo-nerds. They make physics jokes a slow 3rd grader would get. Real nerds make jokes other PhD candidate nerds have to stop and think for a second to get. And they like it like that. I can’t watch either show because of it.

    I can handle pseudo-scientific bullshit just fine, as in 13th Warehouse or Fringe, because they’re not trying to use fake nerd cache. But two minutes of Big Bang Theory and I’m ready to slam my laptop up against the wall.

  2. Kangtong says:

    Everyone knows that a gigijoule whackfroomeler has an unlimited capacity, therefore can never overload, it can however short circuit.

    • Damn! That means we’ll all die before the credits roll.

      Unless… What if I upload a computer virus from my iPod into the nanonbot’s connection to the mainframe; using this tin can and a piece of string? It’s so crazy that it might work…

  3. MadRocketSci says:

    Hmm, first post on this site. Hello.

    Yes, Eureka annoyed me too, when I watched a few episodes a while back before getting back to studying *actual* science. The science was stupid, but I could accept the science being stupid. When is TV/movie science *not* stupid? (Top Gear, perhaps?) Maybe it’s a parallel universe run on different laws comprehensible by a theater major, or something.

    But that wasn’t what annoyed me. There was one episode with a compressed water storage device or something that could store metric tons of water in a quart bottle (that you could pick up, facedesk). (Nevermind that this violated conservation of mass, momentum, and energy all at once as depicted.) What eventually got to me was that the technology they were showing, if it were to actually exist, would have countless wonderful applications, presumably the sort of applications that would motivate people to pursue it through all sorts of engineering difficulties. But these are never explored. Instead it, like any change to the status quo, has to become “disaster of the week”. And after a massively stupid disaster brought on by incautious impromptu human testing, they decide to bury the technology as if it never existed, ignoring the potential, because it is “too dangerous”. A soldering iron would be too dangerous for these people! OMG, Edison, electricity is too dangerous!

    … But, your point works too. In TV government and society, there always seems to be “the hierarchy”. Some dude in power always has some *other*, shadowier, less accountable dude in power over him. And so on, ad infinitum. There is never any separation of authority. Never anyone who isn’t under orders from someone with sufficient authority. The manager of Big Evil Corp’s factory floor has to listen to Shadow Government stooge if ever he happens to meander by and dispense orders. Nevermind that he doesn’t work for Shadow Government, and if anything should be taking orders from Big Evil Corp’s board of directors, who in turn don’t have to listen to shadow government stooge. No one ever deals with each other as equals, or by negotiation. There is always someone in charge, if their “authority level” is high enough.

    Disconcertingly enough, perhaps this is how most people instinctively organize and process authority. Perhaps this is the structure of power in our chimp hindbrains. There is precedent – the Milgram experiments. The way many societies around the world are actually run.

    I agree, it is *not* the sort of thing free men should leave unquestioned or challenged.

    • MaxDamage says:

      You mentioned, “There was one episode with a compressed water storage device or something that could store metric tons of water in a quart bottle.” I first saw that plot on an episode of Underdog, a children’s cartoon from back in the 60’s. It would not surprise me to find the script writers for Eureka are simply recycling plots from long ago, hoping nobody born then will be watching now.

      Which reminds me, a neighbor dropped by a couple of days ago with gifts for the birthday boy of three years, and one of the items was a genu-whine VHS tape of a cartoon, “Dinosaurs and Cadillacs.” I can understand the logic. Kids like dinosaurs and cars and if you combine the two, well, it should be a sure-fire hit! In this they were correct, the kid loves it. Dad, on the other hand, can feel his IQ dropping as the program drones on.

      – Max

  4. MadRocketSci says:

    I suppose what finally got me was that most of the science fiction on TV is what could more accurately be called anti-science fiction. Not because of physics faux-pas, but because, rather than taking their magic technology and using it to build awesome things that improve civilization, or strapping it on their rocket/time-machine/atomic-submarine and using it to explore strange new worlds; instead they eventually round up the equivalent of the local peasants with pitchforks and put Dr. Frankenstein back in his place.

  5. Doubletrouble says:

    See? Through all the garbooge in the story, you still focused on the important stuff.
    Proud of ya, AC.

  6. KA9VSZ says:

    I can’t decide if I should applaud your prspicacious insights into the show’s weaknesses or be appalled at your inability to overlook them. While the science was absurd, the tension ‘twixt whats-his-name and sheriff Carter in the previous timeline juxtaposed with the love interest ‘twixt the sheriff and Allison in the new timeline and and..oh, alright, it was a ridiculous show. I looked forward to it with great eagerness. The finale was touching. Weird, but touching. And Wil Wheaton’s character was so smarmy I wanted to slap him. I liked that show…

  7. MaxDamage says:

    I spend, after repeated requests by my stay-at-home wife who is thus responsible for entertaining and educating the fruit of my loins until they enter the hallowed halls of government schools, a not insignificant amount of money on satellite TV. Something on the order of 250 different channels worth.

    I spent several evenings checking out the program guide. I found the BBC’s Top Gear, which made me smile. Of the rest, it was crap.

    I’m looking for a dial where I can turn up the intelligence. There’s a dial on my TV labeled “brightness” but it doesn’t do what I thought it would.

    As for Black Adder, I had a cunning plan and purchased the entire DVD collection for a little bit of nothing at a used CD/DVD place called Last Stop CD Shop. No commercials, watch it at my own pace, what’s not to like?

  8. cspschofield says:

    I stopped watching broadcast (or cable) television about a quarter century ago; not because it was senseless, but because the move to season long (or longer) story arcs meant that to enjoy a show, you had to be ready to commit to 13 or more HOURS, and I Just. Don’t. Have. The. Stamina.

    It didn’t help that they first such show that everybody assured me was Must See TV was X-FILES, and X-FILES made me giggle. It reminded me SOOOOO much of Robert Anton Wilson’s ILLUMINATUS minus the humor, the insight, and the sense of proportion.

  9. nightsky says:

    I think I need to watch this show. Sometimes you NEED monster truck rally.

    “X-Files reminded me of Scooby Doo. (Though I did occasionally enjoy “cancer man”.)
    Reply”

    So that’s where I’ve heard that title before. I started watching Breaking Bad a while ago, and one of the first episodes was titled “Cancer Man.” Former X-Files writer Vince Gilligan is the creator of BB.

    Speaking of which, Breaking Bad pulls some of the same crazy, over-the-top, outright insane stuff like you talked about here. But BB somehow makes it completely believable.

  10. LabRat says:

    Actually, until we realized that the show’s metaplot was going to be even stupider than the filler of the week formula plots, we quite enjoyed Eureka because we live in Los Alamos and it was kind of a much sillier, more fun version of home.

    We don’t live with a Global Dynamics dominating town life, but we do live with whichever university is currently tasked with making the entire madhouse run by the DOE, which is a not totally dissimilar experience. For years and years and years it was the University of California, now it’s the University of Texas, the only appreciable difference being that UC liked to blithely ignore problems and UT likes to rearrange cosmetic features and fire someone important-looking the moment one crops up.

    an absent minded scientist from central casting who is required by law to be socially awkward (because in TV land all smart people are weird

    Well, not ALL of them, but we have WAY more than our share. This is not so much because very smart people are odd by nature than because Los Alamos is only a little less isolated now than it was in the Project days, so anyone who chooses to make a career here instead of blowing town as soon as their postdoc is over is someone who considers that to be a bonus rather than a drawback. Who is, quite often, someone who enjoys that it’s socially acceptable and unremarkable here to wear a Christmas sweater with lights on it, with knee socks, shorts, and sandals, in May. (Taken from a very bemused guest’s descriptor after a short run to the grocery store. We knew who he was by name, given the description.)

    We also have the tension between local law enforcement and people who consider it the purpose of their lives to challenge the laws of nature while also considering being bound by the laws of the county to be an irritating inconvenience at best. This results in much less comedy in real life, though also much less drama. Though the police standoff with a chemist who forgot midway that he was in a police standoff and was nabbed when he went to get his mail was sort of entertaining.

    We were also hip-deep in Subarus long before the show began, though we figure that particular bet of verisimilitude was accidental.

  11. John says:

    The reason I loved that show ? It was NOT a reality show . Willing suspension of belief ? Yep , I can do that , Thinking that the s@#t known as a reality show represents the world I live in ? Nope , can’t come to terms with that .

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