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!