Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: The pleasures of TV viewing orgies

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In the age of MySky and downloading, TV blogger Paul Casserly still pines for the pleasures of watching great shows in groups.

A scene from the final episode of The Sopranos. Photo/supplied
A scene from the final episode of The Sopranos. Photo/supplied

It may not be all that important, but one of life's true pleasures is sitting down to watch a favourite TV show. But like other endorphin inducing activities - triathlons, poker games, orgies - it's often enhanced by having company. And not just your partner and the cat - real company.

Naturally this all begins in the home, being forced to watch what your parents did, as was the fashion of times. That the little royal highnesses of today get to control what's on the TV is a source of bitterness more than concern.

For me it began in black and white and was most terrifying when viewed from behind the couch when I was supposed to be in bed. But family viewing has always been just this side of unfettered fun. Friday nights in the flat watching The Young Ones was the first and probably funniest shared viewing experience for me. It was greatly enhanced by the matching décor and hand to mouth existence of the watchers and the characters. This is when TV becomes more like theatre, and takes on a life that normal viewing can't match.

Friends have been rounded up over the years to watch and be freaked out by Twin Peaks - the sight of Bob scaring the bejesus out of so many of us, the 'Log Lady' leaving us bewildered. Some of us even use Agent Cooper's breakfast instructions to this day. Coffee should be "black as midnight on a moonless night" and bacon should be "extra crispy, almost black, nuke it if you have to."

Flats were filled for Sunday nights in front of Max TV's Box Dog, a surreal local video show linked by some of our most memorable practitioners of inspired idiocy.

Years later newspapers carried reports of women gathering at pubs to get pissed on pink drinks and watch Desperate Housewives. Some thought them desperate, but how many of us do the same to religiously share the rugger? But sport is different. Shared viewing of drama or comedy is more like a book club in real time.

Later came The Sopranos, though it was a sporadic affair, confined mainly to the final series and somewhat prompted by the invention of downloading, which was then a skill confined to tech savvy friends. The final was a particular blast, because everyone who gathered at my house thought I'd ballsed-up the download when the end came so abruptly.

More recently Entourage presented another excuse for a round of group gawping. Again the key was the ability to watch multiple episodes that no one had seen. We gathered in houses with big TVs or flats with tiny ones. Babies were put down, takeaways ordered. Games were created to mimic on screen carry-on; well booze was consumed, smokes smoked, and though there was a distinct lack of models being rooted in hot-tubs or flying about in private jets, for those magic hours, we felt more like Hollywood wannabes than Auckland losers.

With other friends we even formed something called 'Coro-Club' not to be confused with that airline day room for fattened businessmen and alcoholic journalists. It sometimes even involved watching Coronation Street. Someone, at some point would always say, "I hate this f**king storyline", and someone would always say "shhhhhhhhhhhh". The veins on Deirdre's neck were also a cause for excitement.

But lives become busier; kids, jobs, terrible skin conditions, narcissistic disorders, pilates, home-detention - they all conspire to get in the way. Shared viewing is hard to maintain as you get older and the cops on Motorway Patrol get younger.

My latest attempt, involving three of us getting together for Boardwalk Empire has been sporadic, but rewarding. Three things make it great: 1) The series has been tremendous fun, thanks in large part to the arrival of the psychopathic Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), the short-tempered gangster with a dangerous chip. 2) One of our club is particularly squeamish when it comes to graphic violence, creating extra excitement. 3) Most importantly, food is usually involved and it's usually cooked by someone other than me or someone from South East Asia. And in the end it's all about food.

As Lauren Collins reported recently in the New Yorker, (Jan 7) in a lovely piece about the rise of Danish crime shows, there was a lunch thrown in London last November by the Norwegian cook and food writer Signe Johanson to celebrate the premiere of the third season of The Killing.

"Eighteen fans paid sixty dollars each to eat (cure salmon with wild-dill pollen) drink (hot spiced blueberry cocktail), and take part in a best jumper contest. The winner, who knitted her own snowflake crewneck, took home a boxed set of her choice from Arrow films Nordic Noir collection."

Matched food and prizes - that's next level. Although it's probably the only show where knitting would work as a theme aside from Starksy and Hutch or a David Bain biopic.

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