Yesterday, I actually felt my brain experience two separate moments of cognitive disconnect. Humor is the result of unexpected words or events, the absurdity of which causes us to laugh. Cognitive disconnect, though not an official psychiatric term, will be defined here as the same basic thing sans the laughter-inducing qualities. In other words, that moment of suspended thought or blankness of mind that occurs when suddenly faced with something unexpected in place of what had been expected – taken for granted, even – particularly in the course of familiar activities. Think of flicking on a light switch and finding yourself still in the dark. It only takes a second or two to realize that the power is out or the bulb is dead, but that brief confused moment between the initial action of flicking the switch and the understanding of the problem is precisely the feeling I’m describing here.
I spent Sunday on the couch. Naturally, when I indulge in such an activity-free day, the television is essential in bringing my mind to a state that’s just entertained enough to avoid succumbing to boredom. Since the idea is to keep my mind as relaxed as my body, I don’t seek out educational programming, and news is out of the question, so I begin by scanning the TV Guide channel for any and all sitcom reruns, cartoons and children’s shows. I’m rarely disappointed.
But yesterday, MeTV, a channel dedicated to airing reruns of “classic” TV shows, fucked up my perfectly lazy afternoon not once, but twice in the course of two hours. It all started with The Brady Bunch. If anyone reading this is too young to remember Sherwood Schwartz’ brainless 70s sitcom (the one that didn’t take place on a desert island), kindly stop reading this post. Now. Shoo. I’m serious. Piss off. Go find something to read that’s more age-appropriate, you little brat.
Okay, sorry about that. Kids, right? So anyhow, as expected, the intro’s pacifying light blue backdrop began filling up with the faces of Mike and Carol and Greg and Peter and Bobby and Marcia and Jan and Cindy and Alice all in their own little boxes as the Brady kids sang the insufferable theme song in cheerful unison. Usually, I try to guess the episode within the first 5 seconds based on which of the Bradys is approaching the back door of the house, what they’re wearing and what their mood seems to be. I’m incredibly skilled at this, which is, of course, pathetic. But it’s just one of the myriad ways I entertain myself on days when I refuse to remove my ass from the sofa cushions, so don’t judge. The familiar strains of early episode incidental music were as they should have been, but something was amiss. Not only was I not seeing the somehow mowable Astroturf of the Brady backyard, I wasn’t at the Brady house at all! For some reason, I was staring at Ken Berry and some woman discussing the fact that they wanted to adopt two more boys – one black and one Asian – to keep their pre-existing adopted son company. I checked the Guide channel again — yep, it still indicated that I was indeed watching an episode of The Brady Bunch. And I was. You see, apparently, Sherwood Schwartz in his infinite wisdom decided to introduce an entirely different family into the Brady universe, but just for one episode. Was this an attempt at warming the Paramount studio heads to the idea of a multi-racial spin-off of their insipid cash cow? Probably. And it was a seriously shitty attempt, at that. Once or twice, these unfamiliar characters showed up at the Brady household for completely unnecessary reasons. I suppose Sherwood felt the need to pacify the viewers every once in a while with a glimpse of the terrible actors they had actually tuned in to watch only to find themselves staring at an unvetted cast of terrible actors they hadn’t tuned in to watch. But he was clearly trying to dip his toe into the pool of socially conscious comedy recently ushered in by Norman Lear. There was even a confusingly bigoted neighbor that showed up at the door of this non-Brady family to express her vague disapproval of their adoption choices. Sherwood Schwartz was no Norman Lear. And this episode sucked. 30 minutes of hackneyed dialogue from unfamiliar sub-par actors is no replacement for 30 minutes of hackneyed dialogue from America’s favorite sub-par actors. And Ken Berry’s no Robert Reed. Fuck you, Sherwood Schwartz and fuck you, MeTV for this disturbing sidetrack in my planned day of television-induced coma.
About an hour later, MeTV showed back-to-back episodes of The Facts of Life. This time, I was eased into the day’s next moment of cognitive disconnect a little more gently, but once it occurred, it was just as confounding. The opening scene had Mrs. Garrett answering a phone call for Jo on the pay phone that was inexplicably affixed to the wall of the posh Eastland girl school dormitory. Tootie and Blair and Natalie were milling about in the background. Nothing out of the ordinary. She then hands the phone off to Jo who loudly accepts an invitation to New Jersey to visit her uncle and cousins. Once again, I found myself transported into a world of shitty acting far removed from the Eastland campus. Apparently, Jo has an Uncle Sal and some other ridiculously ethnic Italian cousins despite the fact that her last name is Polniaczek. And once again, I was expected to give a shit about the budding love life of her 14 year old tomboy cousin even though I had tuned in with the expectation that I would be watching a proper episode of Facts of Life. Much like in the faux Brady episode, every once in a while the young cousin would knock on Jo’s door and ask for some advice, just to remind us what show we were ostensibly watching. This was even more unacceptable than the introduction of Blair’s palsied stand-up comedienne cousin Jerry in later episodes.
Do you recognize any of these people?
Of course you don’t. Because the Facts of Life episode that attempted to endear viewers to them was arguably more awful than the similar Brady Bunch attempt at endearing us to their progressive adoption enthusiast neighbors.
Needless to say, my day of planned deep relaxation was ruined. I spent the next several hours fuming on the sofa and muttering obscenities under my breath. Life is nothing but a bleak and dreary march to an inevitable demise, and there’s not even anything worth watching in the meantime. So suck it, MeTV. You have betrayed my trust for the last time.