What is on the Mobergs' DVR, you may be wondering? Yes, of course you are. It's not always easy to find the time to sit down together to enjoy a TV program, but that doesn't stop me from recording shows and movies that we might like, loading up the DVR's storage capacity and watching an hour's worth here and there each week. Let's ignore the movies, a hodgepodge of both child-friendly fare and PG-13- or R-rated movies that I've read about but never got the chance to see in theaters (some of which have been waiting for me on the DVR since 2007!). Instead, here's a look at the TV shows that our DVR has been set to record this season:
For the Family
Crusoe (NBC) -- I have never read the novel Robinson Crusoe, so I can't judge how accurate this short-run TV series is in terms of recreating the book's characters and plot. As a work unto itself, however, it's really entertaining. The Englishman Crusoe and his friend, the islander Friday, are stranded on an island and have created an elaborate tree house with conveniences invented by the imaginative Crusoe and cobbled together from the remains of his wrecked ship. Weekly Crusoe yearns for home, and the story of how he got to the island in the first place is slowly unfolding in flashbacks. Mariners, pirates, and cannibals keep showing up on the island, too, offering Crusoe opportunity, danger, adventure, and surprises in each episode. We're often on the edge of our seats while watching, and the show is shot beautifully on a lush island with excellent actors.
The Amazing Race (CBS) -- Entertaining and educational as the girls get weekly lessons in world geography and culture as we watch teams race in a scavenger hunt of sorts around the globe. We marvel at the challenges and root for our favorites and simultaneously curse and congratulate the editors who, each week, manage to splice together the show's ending in such a way that it seems that the final two or three teams to cross the finish line are truly neck-and-neck (when we would see, if played in real time, that they were probably actually hours apart in reaching the destination).
Dancing with the Stars (ABC) -- Again, entertaining and educational as we all learn from professional dancers about the intricacies of multiple dance styles ranging from ballroom to hip hop. We root for our favorite celebrity/professional pairing, do our own armchair judging of their dancing, boo and hiss the judges when we don't agree with their assessments, and phone in and e-mail our votes each week! As dancers themselves, the girls enjoy seeing what they could do someday with their training in dance.
Barefoot Contessa (Food Network) -- Ina Garten, the host of this cooking show, is very good at what she does and is perpetually cheerful, a combination that makes her splendidly watchable. Her crew has a knack, too, for capturing the colors of the ingredients and the vivid sounds of her every chop, slice, dice, fry, blend, etc. The show is filmed largely at her home in the Hamptons, and she's not shy about sharing glimpses into her high-end lifestyle. It's like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meets Julia Child.
Divine Design (HGTV) -- Even more appealing a host than Ina Garten is Candice Olsen, the designer for this home makeover show. Susan and I would feel perfectly comfortable handing Candice the keys to our house and giving her carte blanche to start redesigning, remodeling, and redecorating because we have seen that everything she does she does with style and class. She's also beautiful and danged funny, making every episode a joy to watch: we're amused by her and wowed by her ability to turn any space into something incredibly beautiful and livable. (Are you reading this, Candice Olsen?! Come to our house!!) She also has several design collections available for you to put into your own home; check them out!
HGTV Design Star (HGTV) -- Because both HGTV and Food Network are pretty safe choices for family viewing (some channels that purportedly offer programing for the family run violent or sexually suggestive commercials, defeating the purpose), they are channels we turn to when sitting down as a family--which is how we started viewing this low-end version of Top Design (see below). By putting designers through weekly tests of their ability to make over rooms, the network whittles the pack down to the best candidates from which to choose one person to get his/her own design show on the network. We like critiquing the designers' work and reacting to the judges' assessments. We don't so much watch the winners' shows afterward.
Top Design (BRAVO) -- Similar to Design Star (see above) except that the designers compete for money and a spread in a design magazine rather than a chance to host a home makeover show. It has the feel of Project Runway (see below) with its eclectic collection of eccentric personalities, several with questionable style and talent. We pass judgment as the contestants face each week's challenge, feeling superior, I suppose, because we're secure in the knowledge that we'll never have to prove ourselves at such tasks in front of millions of viewers.
Project Runway (BRAVO) -- The n'est plus ultra of design contests with the perfect hosts (Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn) and judges (Michael Kors and Nina Garcia), whose mix of knowledgeable insight into the world of fashion design and unbridled bitchery make for fun viewing (because we're not on the receiving end of their critiques). The collection of kooks and actual talent amongst the contestants outdoes even that of Top Design (the names of whose contestants--including Goil and Wisit--represent merely the tip of the iceberg of oddity), although I find myself at some point or another feeling sorry for even the rudest of the wackos on Project Runway. There is some true talent on this show, and we keep watching to see if the judges will be able to see it for themselves (and not pick the ugliest garments on the runway to win a particular week's challenge).
The Next Food Network Star (Food Network) -- This is to Food Network as Design Star is to HGTV; the winning chef gets his/her own Food Network cooking show. We probably wouldn't watch it were it not for the fact that we're often checking out the network anyway for its interesting and child-safe programming (ditto HGTV and Design Star). But we do enjoy watching food shows (and then sampling the best in our own kitchen afterward), and we do enjoy judging others as they work under pressure and we watch from the low-pressure environment of our family room.
For Susan and Me
Heroes (NBC) -- What would happen if regular people suddenly discovered that they have super powers? This series started with that question, and Susan and I have been watching from the start through all the highs and lows of the plot and the casting. We're pretty good about watching this one weekly and not letting a backlog of unwatched episodes accumulate because it's the type of show that gets written about in the media each week, and we're likely to encounter a "Can you believe what happened last night on Heroes?" article on the Internet or in a magazine that would spoil our enjoyment of the show if we didn't "keep up."
The Office (NBC) -- We love not only the characters and their totally inappropriate workplace behavior but also the actors and their ridiculously appropriate acting choices, always driving home a joke with a subtle take to the camera or a lift of an eyebrow. We look forward to Thursday nights for this bit of laughter therapy.
30 Rock (NBC) -- Who knew that there could be a show to make us laugh harder than The Office? This one does. The characters say and do the most bizarre things but never seem to find any of it out of the ordinary. The jokes and pop culture jabs and allusions fly fast and furious, and we find ourselves laughing so hard at one joke that we miss the next four or five, so we have to rewind multiple times. Perfect casting, writing, acting--this plus The Office equals heaven in an hour.
Chuck (NBC) -- What would happen if a regular Joe--a geek, in fact--suddenly had an encyclopedia of spy information uploaded into his brain? That's this show's premise, and it's fun to watch each week as Chuck, the unassuming geek, finds himself the target of international criminals out to destroy incriminating information and national intelligence agents out to prevent the data in Chuck's head from falling into the wrong hands. Chuck's two secret agent "handlers" try to keep him safe while working under cover, insinuating themselves into his work and personal life and generally guaranteeing that each episode will be full of confusion and danger for everybody involved.
Eli Stone (ABC) -- Eli is a lawyer with a brain tumor that may or may not be responsible for his frequent visions of the future, which nobody but the audience is able to recognize as portents (because they always come true, for Pete's sake). He's trying to maintain his career as a lawyer, which is in jeopardy because his clients, his coworkers, and his boss all think he's losing his mind (and so does he, frankly). His visions frequently feature singing and dancing by the people around him, so it's good that they cast good singers (who are also appealing actors) in so many roles. And George Michael keeps popping up in his visions, too. Because Eli's gotta have faith.
Pushing Daisies (ABC) -- "Quirky" is an apt description but has a negative connotation that is not at all appropriate for this show. The main character discovers that, with one touch, he can bring dead things back to life--but that, with a second touch, those things are sent back to death, never to be reanimated with subsequent touches. When the woman of his dreams dies, he touches her once to bring her back to life but is doomed never to be able to make physical contact again. That premise is quirky enough, but the wacky assortment of characters, the unusual plots, and the unique look of the production style are a good match in terms of quirkiness.
24 (FOX) -- In one 24-hour period, special agent Jack Bauer must save the world from terrorists, traitors, international criminals, natural disasters, and other dangers. Each episode represents one hour in one terribly stressful day in Jack's life. Nobody faces so many perils, defeats so many baddies, or saves the world so many times as Jack. The incredible situations that he faces and the ends to which he'll go in order to overcome them keep us tuning in season after season.
Lost (ABC) -- In the pilot episode, a passenger airplane crashed on an island, and it seemed as though it would be a show about surviving until rescuers could arrive. Except that the passengers all have their own secrets, the island is a hotbed of odd phenomena and mysterious inhabitants, the laws of time and physics don't apply on this island, and all the people and all the events are interconnected. Unraveling these interconnections in order to solve some mysteries and reveal others is the mission of each episode, which might flash backward to reveal tidbits about a character's past before boarding that fateful plane or flash forward to show tantalizing details about what will happen once that character makes it off the island. We're always kept off-balance and tune in to see if we can ever figure out just where this show is heading.
The Shield (FX) -- My friend Darin first got me hooked on this show about a police precinct in a high-crime district in Los Angeles. It's very realistic in its portrayal of criminals and cops and their daily lives and lifestyles with gritty language and plots and violence and a filming style to match. What makes this cop show stand out is the choice by some of its cops to fight crime with crime, using blatantly illegal means to apprehend some baddies and to steal from the criminals to pad their own coffers. Of course, one illegal deed brings the risk of discovery and must be followed by another and another until everything is about to come crashing down around them. This was its final season, and I was mesmerized by the terrific writing and acting. Although we viewers were never asked to like the criminal cops or approve of their choices, we were enabled to see things from their perspective and experience the unraveling of their lives and the tragic consequences of their choices . . . from the safety of our own homes. This show deserved every Emmy nomination and win that it got.