Cheap TV Entertainment

by Mr. Cheap

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There’s a wave of frugality going through the world, as people are worried about jobs and money in light of a looming recession.  I’m amazed at how people have developed the expectation that spending $65 monthly (or far more) on a TV subscription is a “necessity”.  Possibly this attitude will be re-examined in the current environment.  I remember as a kid having 3 channels come in on the rabbit ears.  Some of my friends have only recently gotten cable, while I don’t have it myself.

A popular suggestion would probably be to get rid of the TV altogether and start reading library books. While I’m sympathetic when people like to rant about how brain-dead television is, in my opinion it provides an amazing diversity of engaging entertainment.  Wealth isn’t just dollars and cents in a bank account or a car that makes the neighbours envious.  The readily available, high-quality, inexpensive entertainment we have access to is absolutely part of the wealth of modern living.  Please watch this commercial for the Discovery Channel before slandering television.  If nothing else, it’s a chance to hear Stephen Hawking say “Boom De Ya Da!”

As a total aside, I had an idea for a science-fiction short story that would be about a war between Earth and a colony that wanted to break away.  The war would end up being a trade war where the colony withholds resources (radioactives and whatnot perhaps) that Earth needed shipped back, and Earth blocking entertainment from the colony (and driving them nuts when they couldn’t find out what happened next in serials they followed, and being unable to consume new music, movies and literature being produced by artists they liked).  The colonists would be unable to be satisfied by amateurish home-grown entertainment when they were used to the overwhelming supply of high-quality, sophisticated entertainment from Earth.

Say you really like TV, but want to get rid of the re-occurring expense.  What to do?  If we restrict ourselves to legal options, there’s still a variety of choices:

  1. Visit friends with cable on the night your shows are on.  Years ago I used to go over to a friends house to watch Sopranos.  We’d make Italian food beforehand, then all watch it on HBO (which I was too cheap to buy myself).  I like watching TV shows with people, and with the meal thrown in it became a great night out.
  2. Check out your local library.  Beyond a wide selection of movies, they probably also have seasons of older TV shows available.
  3. Look on Craigslist and Kijiji for used season of shows that you’ve heard are good but haven’t gotten around to seeing.  I can particularly recommend “The Sopranos”, “Sex in the City”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (anything by Joss Whedon is good), the first couple of seasons of “24″, “The Simpsons”, and “Futurama”.  You should probably be able to resell it after watching it for about what you paid (how much more used is it going to be?).

Say you watch quite a bit of TV and you’ve already got through all the seasons of the older shows that you’re interested in.  “But Mr. Cheap,” you complain “I need fresh, new, SURPRISING entertainment!” Fair enough, you whine, I deliver.

I’m really not suppose to say anything about this (American readers might be best served surfing away from this page now), but in actual fact, unbelievably, not all entertainment is made in America!  Occasionally (very rarely I admit), other countries produce something that is watchable (if just barely) when nothing American is available.

From Canada

Pretty much all the “Degrassi” shows are decent for what they are.  If teen melodrama is your thing, check them out.  I found them quite enjoyable when I was in my late teens (watching highly dramatized versions of the issues I’d gone through a few years earlier was fun).  Kevin Smith has  said that watching Degrassi on TV was one of the high points when he was working as a convenience store clerk.  He’s since guest starred on “Degrassi:  The Next Generation”.

From England

The entire run of the original “The Office” is available and quite funny for anyone who has worked in an office environment.  Ricky Gervais is totally unique (I sometimes have to stop an episode and take a break because I get so uncomfortable watching him).

Coupling” is another BBC series which is basically “Friends “, with the sex dial turned to maximum (one episode is about a woman finding a tape called “Lesbian Spank Inferno” in her boyfriend’s VCR).

From Australia

A friend recently introduced me to “Wilfred” which is a black comedy about a man, Adam, who moves in with a girl he meets (and her pot smoking dog).  Wilfred is played by a man in a dog costume and he and Adam have at length conversations about such things as what a nacho is (Wilfred’s contention is, if it doesn’t have cheese on it, its just a corn chip).  It’s never made clear (at least to the end of the first season which I’ve watched) whether Adam is actually communicating with Wilfred or if he’s psychotic.

From Japan

Anime are Japanese animated cartoon’s based on manga (Japanese comic books).  People think that all anime is “Sailor Moon”, but everyone in Japan reads manga and watches anime (many series target adults, not children or teens), so there’s probably a series that would be interesting to you, regardless of your “demographic”.

I’ll turn this over to our (far more knowledgable) readers now.  What non-American series would be worth tracking down for someone trying to go cold turkey off of cable television?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

amateurish home-grown entertainment

Are you talking about the CBC? :)

By the way EVERY episode of 24 is great!!!

I plan to do exactly what you say about the Sopranos – never seen an episode but I know I’ll love it.

2 guinness416

Great post! That’s my favourite Onion post, there are many times I want to cut and paste it into the comments threads at the Simple Dollar.

The library – never having seen it, we were amazed that we could get the entire run (well, except the last series) of Lost DVDs from Toronto Library, with very short hold times.

My favourite British comedies (although I’m not sure they translate well to your new world senses of humour) are the ones with the repetitive punchlines – Big Train, Little Britain, The Fast Show, etc. I have on occasion on rainy nights got lost in a couple of hours of youtube pulling up old clips from all of these shows and cracking myself up. “This Life” and “Our Friends in the North” are two UK dramas I’ve really enjoyed more than once.

Irish TV is usually pretty rubbish – the library (again) does have a corker in Strumpet City on DVD though, which I and my husband really enjoyed. There’s a new show called “Death or Canada” which might be appropriate too :)

3 MoneyGrubbingLawyer

For Canadian shows available free over the air, I like Little Mosque on the Prairie (CBC). It’s kitschy but fun. Corner Gas (CTV) is also a great show if you’ve got a pretty dry sense of humour. For drama, The Guard (Global, I think?) is a show about a Canadian Coast Guard rescue base in BC- think Danger Bay meets Rescue 911.

We just have a basic cable package, but our PVR lets us make sure that we’ve always got a great selection waiting for us.

And of course, if you’re willing to stray into the less-than-legal options, the world of entertainment is your oyster. :)

4 Nicolas

Two thumbs up for The Office and not the american series. The xmas special is also fantastic.

I also agree with Guiness that Brit shows are quite good (If you like that king of humour). I love reruns of Red Dwarf and Lady Marion.

Anyone for pancakes?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gj_aHCpZl4k

5 Nicolas

oups, typo

6 Jerry Hung

I can live with $30/month Rogers basic cable, just so I don’t BT these shows but PVR them to watch anytime I like

Some shows are impossible to get here (Top Gear, Entourage on HBO, etc…)

And there’s the sports of Hockey & NBA, and Blue Jays.

Watching only DVDs is just boring :)

7 Mr. Cheap

Mike: Bah, they’ve been going down hill for a while now. Erm… I mean: You’re right boss, they’re still as good as ever! ;-). You’ll love the Sopranos.

Guinness: Truth be told, I first read that onion story after you pointed me to it (in your StumbleUpon I think).

MGL: I’m not sure what people are going to think of Canada if they base our country on watching Degrassi, Corner Gas and Little Mosque…

Nicolas: I ALMOST included Red Dwarf but worried that it would be a fairly niche group of readers that would like it. Kryten’s accent is apparently the actor “doing a bad Canadian accent“.

8 Mr. Cheap

Jerry: You’re right that sports are a big factor for keeping TV. I don’t watch any sports, so it didn’t even occur to me.

9 nobleea

I loved the Alias series, and having never watched it on tv, i got to watch it on dvd; cliffhanger to cliffhanger.

Fawlty Towers is the best brit comedy show. For sure it’s old, but even after having seen each episode dozens of times, we still are in stitches (“whatever you do, don’t mention the war”)

we usually have only basic cable, but in the past 4 months we’ve had nothing due to renovations in the living room.

10 Al

THE RED GREEN SHOW

11 Meadow

I second Guiness416′s vote for The Fast Show. (“Suits you, sir!”)

Also, Intelligence (CBC) is apparently available on DVD. The best show they’d had in ages, so of course, it must be cancelled. :S

12 Dillon

The HBO series The Wire is excellent, and available on DVD.

13 Tammy Lee

I’m almost to the point where I can give up cable because I watch most of my shows online, and legally, for free.

The Comedy Network’s Web site has dozens of shows free for viewing. HGTV, Food Network Canada, and Adult Swim have full episodes online.

And Restaurant Makeover is one of my favourite Canadian shows.

14 Mr. Cheap

TL: Good point! I should have mentioned that many networks make shows available on-line for free at their website…

Some of my friends have gone to the Restaurants featured on R.M., so beyond the makeover I think its pretty good advertising.

15 Kyle

You forgot Mr Bean reruns!

16 Gates VP

Ummm… first the plug: hulu.com -> network TV on the web 24 hours after it comes out. My wife and I watch Heroes on Tuesday with 3 minutes of commercials instead of Monday with 18 minutes of commercials. And the image is DVD quality instead of TV quality.

Hulu has a lot of shows and extra content, but they only run the 5 most recent episodes for any show (so you can’t get too far behind, they still want you to buy the DVD).

Also Netflix subscribers also get a Video on Demand feature (here in the US at least). So I know couples who have legally streamed themselves seasons of TV (via the XBOX 360 :)

Also, this suggestion is just full of illusion: A popular suggestion would probably be to get rid of the TV altogether and start reading library books.

In no way is reading Nora Roberts any better for your brain than watching to Mike Rowe on dirty jobs. Heck, his vocabulary is just as extensive. Books are just one of the many canvasses for sharing knowledge and entertainment and they all exist for a reason. Even outside of entertainment, lots of educational material cam be much better presented in video format.

If you’re a CFL fan, you can usually watch on-line via TSN.ca (it’s how we do it in the US). Of course, when it comes to sports, I would also go to the local bar for big events. I’ve taken friends off to Boston Pizza’s lounge to watch the NBA Finals. In one sense it does cost money, but you’re also spending time with friends.

Honestly, as a person who’s gone from TV to no TV and back again, there’s no real moral high ground to be had by anyone here. Bad TV is no better than bad books or bad radio shows.

At the end of the day, we all need a little brain candy. But you definitely don’t need a TV to get that brain candy on to your home entertainment system :)

17 NL

If you like The Office, HBO’s Extras is also really good.

18 Tammy Lee

@Nerd Money: Ooh! That’s good to know!

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