"Bridgerton" series illustration by Netflix

Binging Through the Mayhem

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Binging Through the Mayhem

By Steven A. Smith

Last week, while rioters were ripping at the fabric of democracy and the coronavirus pandemic was ravaging the land, the big question in our house was this: Will Daphne and the Duke consummate their love and, if so, how many times per episode?

I am only modestly embarrassed to report this. Like much of America, my dear wife, Carla, and I were binging “Bridgerton,” a Netflix bodice-ripping soap opera with actual bodice ripping. My son warned us – he and his wife watched it first – don’t watch if too much sex offends you. We were not deterred.

Why spend about 10 hours of our life watching this sexy, sudsy drivel?

Because we are done. Bored. Cooked? Stuck in April even as the calendar now moves into January.

Each day seems to run into the next with few distinguishing characteristics. I know which day it is only by the days stenciled on my seven-day pill box – Monday pills on Monday, Tuesday pills on Tuesday, and so on.

Pillbox photo by Steven A. Smith

What are we having for dinner tonight? Who will make it? More importantly, who cares?

I do not mean to be making light of our life or the lives of everyone else.

The COVID-19 pandemic has visited more death and disruption than the worst of our expectations last spring. The latest U.S. numbers from The New York Times: Total infections, 22 million; total deaths, 373,000; confined to our hospitals, 130,000. In California, care is being rationed. Some desperately ill patients will not receive basic medical care because others have a better chance to survive. Funeral homes are no longer accepting the dead.

Consider that death toll for a moment. When the pandemic first reached the U.S. last spring, the most pessimistic predicted 250,000 deaths by year’s end. That number seemed inconceivable. But days into the new year we have exceeded that horrific total by another 100,000.

Yes, there is a vaccine, and it may begin to reach the larger number of Americans later this winter and into the spring. But the medical professionals I follow say we will be wearing masks and social distancing – or should be – well into 2022.

There was a time when most Americans could say they knew of COVID only through the news, not personally. But nearly all of us have now been touched directly in some way. We know a victim or know someone who knows a victim. Some of us know several.

This all so depressing, of course.

And then, pandemic news is driven from our minds by a direct assault on democracy mounted by an unhinged president.

I know that in our home, the initial response to last week’s capitol riot was to continue binging “ER” on the Pop network. That’s right. The death and mayhem in a fictional Chicago emergency room, even in reruns, seemed more palatable than news, live and in color.

You are beginning to get a sense of the coping systems in place here in the Smith-Savalli household.

We binge TV and Cable shows, old and new, requiring a second mortgage to pay for all the streaming services we have added.

We re-watched “The Tudors,” Henry VIII as portrayed by an Irish hunk whose six wives look like 20th Century super models. Stuck in British history, Hollywood style, we binged “The Spanish Princess,” and then moved to more recent history for “The Crown.” Otherworldly fiction found its place in my schedule: Anything Star Trek on CBS All Access and “The Mandalorian” on Disney +.

In the mornings Pop plays “ER” reruns for the 10,000th time. The soapiness is addicting even though the show will make a hypochondriac out of the healthiest. “House” is next. But I was a boss too long to tolerate his HR-defying behavior. It makes me squirm.

I am addicted to Turner Classic Movies. But so many of those films are not classics at all, and Carla does not care to watch movies in black and white (unless the movie is “Jailhouse Rock”).

With gyms closed, we bought a nice treadmill last summer. But I find myself walking WHILE watching “ER.” How desperate is that?

We all long for some normalcy though I fear our definition of normal will be so twisted by the time it returns we will not recognize it or will reject it entirely.

I want to travel again. I want to see family and friends. I want to eat at a nice white-tablecloth restaurant that busts the budget. I want to smoke expensive cigars at Northern Quest casino while drinking fine single-malt Scotch.

There are so many things I want to do.

On the other hand, “Bidgerton” is still streaming on Netflix. Daphne and the Duke are – spoiler alert – consummating. Bodices are ready to be ripped.

See you on the other side.

About Steven A Smith

Steven A. Smith is clinical associate professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho having retired from full time teaching at the end of May 2020.

Smith is former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. As editor, Smith supervised all news and editorial operations on all platforms with a staff ranging from more than 140 in 2002 to 104 at the time of his resignation in October 2008. Prior to joining The Spokesman-Review, Smith was editor for two years at The Statesman Journal, a Gannett newspaper in Salem, Oregon, and was for five years editor and vice president of The Gazette, a Freedom Communications newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Newspaper Management Center Advanced Executive Program and a mid-career development program at Duke University. He holds an MA in communication from The Ohio State University where he was a Kiplinger Fellow, and a BS in journalism from the University of Oregon.

Smith serves on the SpokaneFāVS Board.

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