David A.M. Wilensky

Editor and reporter of religion, sci-fi, the Jews, etc.

Day 12/365: TV, my dad, Star Trek, binge-watching, etc

Note to my parents: Accuracy isn’t the point here. The beginning of this is hazy, but this is what I remember.

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In the beginning, there was a black television set.

I don’t know how big it was. It seemed more than adequate to me, though I’m certain it’s minute compared with the thing in my current living room. In the earliest years, it was in what I have thought as the dining room for almost all of my life. There was a low wooden coffee table, a beige couch and a good deal of Lego.

It had ears and a hoop. Sometimes the picture was OK, sometimes not. And when it was bad, you could jiggle those three things — and sometimes, that would improve things. And by things, I mean thing. There was only one thing on the television: PBS.

I watched Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, Lambchop, Barney — and Nova was often family viewing. I was born during the second half of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation; both of my parents were lifelong Trek viewers, so it must have been around me very early. But my first memory of Star Trek is the episode of Reading Rainbow where LeVar Burton — both the host of Reading Rainbow and a member of the cast of TNG — took me behind scenes of TNG. That idea that TV was made somewhere by people was mindblowing, and I’m still not over it.

I seem to have some recollection of being allowed to stay up late on Star Trek nights. Two of my earliest memories are of the series premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the series of finale of TNG. I recently learned that my dad flew back to Austin from a work trip in Dallas just to watch the premiere of DS9 with the family, and then went back to Dallas the next morning to complete his trip.

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There was no VCR. This was of great concern to my Grammy, my mom’s mom. She was concerned that I was being deprived, and repeatedly gave me VHS tapes at a very young age, though she had been told repeatedly that we did not have a VCR.

And then, one day, there was a VCR. We were going to be out of town for a season finale of Star Trek:Voyager. This one, I think. And there was simply no option, in my father’s mind. It was Star Trek. We couldn’t miss it. So he bought a VCR.

But cable? Never. Until. Star Trek: Enterprise was only on UPN, and we no longer had a UPN station within range of our pitiful rabbit ears. And there was simply no option, in either of our minds. It was Star Trek. We couldn’t miss it. So he got cable.

This was essential for us in a real way. My parents were recently divorced. On weeks when I stayed with my dad, I still saw my mom quite a bit because she still picked me up from school most days. On weeks when I stayed with my mom, I might not see him for a few days at a time. Except for Wednesdays. Wednesdays was for Enterprise and Papa John’s thin crust pepperoni with my dad.

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TV was TV. It was on when it was on. We had a few VHSes and rented movies sometimes. We occasionally taped episodes of our favorites. At some point, we got a DVD player.

And then there was Firefly. I caught a couple episodes during the half-season it was on, and I liked it, but never got a change to latch on. But, one year, my aunt and uncle got me the complete series (all 13 episodes!).

I binged it. We didn’t have that idiom yet, but that’s what I did. And then I did it again. And then I did it again, listening to the commentary tracks. This also introduced me to commentary tracks, which I’m still nuts about. They’re the best argument for still buying DVDs.

And then I forced others to binge it. It was the binge-watching gateway drug for a number of people I knew.

Meanwhile, my mom had signed up for this bizarre mail-order DVD rental thing called Netflix. We used it for foreign films and documentaries and whatever — and often for TV, but they’d only send you one disc, so it was just three or four episodes at a time. That’s how we discovered Battlestar Galactica.

BSG totally transformed the way I watch TV. I have since brought that back to Trek, my forever universe and second religion. But BSG is the first show that I owned all of on DVD. I watched it and rewatched it obsessively. I wrote an over-long final paper for Anthropology of Religion about BSG. It is the first TV show I brought liberal arts analysis-type thinking to TV. I also had a truly spiritual experience during the series finale. (It’s transcendent. I know you think I’m wrong. Fight me.)

Around that time, I had my first long, multi-season binge. I watched three season of Lost in the the three weeks preceding the premier of the fourth. (What a disappointing waste of time that show turned out to be. That finale wanted to be transcendent, but it was nothing.)

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That was all about 10 years ago. TV has changed so much, and so has the way I watch it. And the amount. I watch an enormous amount of TV, all streaming or downloaded through any number of services I have access to.

I am following (more or less) so many wonderful shows right now: Runaways, Agents of Shield, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Game of Thrones, Outlander, Magicians, The Expanse, Star Wars: Rebels, Kimmy Schmidt, The Good Place, The Crown….

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Remarkably, after an agonizing dark age, Star Trek returned to television last year. The second half of the first season just began. My dad and I were both giddy at the prospect of its return. I, in particular, awaited Star Trek: Discovery with messianic fervor. It was all I could think of for weeks. The day before the premiere, I made a pilgrimage across San Francisco to the Presidio, the future site of Starfleet Academy. Overall, we have not been disappointed.

But here’s the thing: It’s not airing on live television. It’s only available to stream. My dad, however, was still in his Enterprise-induced cable phase. Or so I thought.

“What are you going to do?” I asked him. “Bought a Chromecast,” he said. There was simply no option, in my father’s mind. It was Star Trek. He couldn’t miss it. So he bought a Chromecast and subscription to CBS All Access (the only way to stream Star Trek: Discovery).

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And when I asked him if it might open him up to other streaming services, he said, “What do I need it for? They have all the Star Treks on the CBS app.”

2 Comments

  1. Mostly true. I mean, why change technology unless required by Star Trek?

  2. My recollection is that the VCR was necessary because we were going to be in Port Aransas for the Playgroup annual beach trip in mid-September, when a season premeire of some ST was scheduled. We got it pretty soon after seeing the cliffhanger so that we could be sure to be able to use it properly, because in the olden days, shows were only shown once, with no repeats until after the whole series was over. However, I remember that the episode that prompted the purchase has been a point of contention in the past.

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