We don’t have cable TV — at least, not at the moment — and don’t have a TiVo or other digital video recorder. We also don’t watch much broadcast TV. Instead, we catch up on TV series on DVD, thanks to Netflix. We’ve burned through entire seasons of “24,” “Alias,” “X-Files,” “Smallville,” “Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under” and more in just a few evenings of crazed viewing. That’s just the TV shows — we also watch way too many movies, thanks again to Netflix.
OK, so it’s not healthy. But it means we control our movie and TV consumption. WE control the remote, not “The Outer Limits.”
Until now, all this controlled viewing still required a television. Now, there’s another way: the PC. My laptop not only plays DVDs, it can also play a number of TV programs, because increasingly, television networks are streaming content on the Internet.
I love all this access, because it extends my control, and allows me to watch TV when I want, or when I can. I’m currently catching up on “Heroes,” because I’ve missed a few of the episodes.
In a few years, it’ll probably be difficult for young people to understand that back in the day, people used to only watch three or four channels, and if you weren’t home to watch the series or news program, you’d missed it. That’s how it was when I was a kid. If I missed “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” on a Monday night, I had to suffer through all my friends talking and laughing about it the next day, and I wouldn’t have a clue.
Then technology came to the rescue, little by little.
First, the VCR (Video Cassette Recorder in case you forgot about it) made it possible to tape a show if you weren’t going to be able to tune in to watch something. Then the video rental industry sprang up (spurred by the success of porn video rentals) so people could watch movies they’d missed the first time around, or hadn’t seen in a long time. Then, DVDs replaced VHS (we’ll skip laser discs, OK?) and made it easier for people to rent and own their favorite videos.
And, studios discovered that consumers were hungry not only for old movies, but also older TV shows. Suddenly, I could buy entire seasons of TV series I watched as a kid… “Time Tunnel,” “The Avengers” (the Emma Peel years, thank you), “Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and yes, even “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.”
Meanwhile, Netflix had a great idea, and suddenly, I didn’t even have to drive to my local Blockbuster and get pissed off that they didn’t have a single copy of the new hit movie or the latest season of a favorite TV show. Netflix (usually) had it, and brought it to my mailbox. I can live like a mole and suck up TV shows without ever leaving my room.
That brings us to the present. As I write this, I’m viewing Episode Five of “Heroes,” which I actually had seen when it was broadcast. I wanted to see it again because it features the Hiro Nakamura character, played by Masi Oka.
To an Asian American like me, Hiro Nakamura is the most intriguing character in mainstream American pop culture, hands-down. Here’s a character who speaks perfect Japanese and heavily accented English, almost a caricature of a nerdy Japanese salaryman — but then the character shows up as a man from the future, speaking perfect English! It’s a testament to Masi Oka’s ability that he can play a Japanese man (believe me, it’s hard to speak in a Japanese accent that isn’t a racial stereotype; I can’t talk like my mom, even when I’m making fun of her), and then play who he is: a Japanese American.
It’s a startlingly cool transition.
Hiro Nakamura as a character is also fascinating to me because he’s more like me than, say, the hunky Korea American dude, Yul Kwon, who won the latest season of “Survivor.” It was great that Kwon won, but dang, it’s much more exciting to me that Masi Oka, who’s kinda dumpy and frumpy and nerdy and over-excitable, has become something of a small screen sensation. It gives me hope because I’m dumpy and nerdy, and it opens the door for regular depictions of Asian Americans in pop culture.
Anyway, back to the tiny screen — the one on my laptop, where I’m watching “Heroes.”
NBC has made all the episodes to date — 10 of them — available online until the next season starts on January 22. It’s a terrific way to help viewers connect (and re-connect) with the show, and build a sense of community around the plot and characters. For especially stricken fans, the site provides message boards to connect with other fans.
NBC, like other networks (Erin watched the latest season of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” on her laptop last week), has realized that with broadband use increasing across the country, more and more people will have the abilty to watch video on their computers, and that audiences are accepting of low-fi quality — I mean, look at the zillions of people who spend hours staring at YouTube, for crying out loud.
The network offers a bunch of content online, including clips from “Saturday Night Live” and “rewind” views of the latest episodes of shows like “Las Vegas,” “30 Rock,” Apprentice” and “Friday Night Lights” in addition to “Heroes.” They even offer “Two-Minute Replays” of some shows if you’re sneaking your TV viewing at the office.
Oh yeah, you can watch “The Office” on your PC too.
Oops, gotta go. Time to click on Episode Six of “Heroes.”