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Dad Daze: Trying to turn TV time into family time

UPDATED: Sun., May 9, 2021

Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin in Netflix's "Stranger Things."  (Netflix)
Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin in Netflix's "Stranger Things." (Netflix)

Watching television and spending time with yours truly is typically off the table for my children. For some reason, my kids prefer catching their favorite shows by their lonesome via their tiny iPhones as opposed to on the big screen with their father.

If an alien landed and witnessed my progeny watching programming on a 2-inch screen and their papa enjoying his favorite shows on a 75-inch Sony, I would be regarded as the advanced form of life. That’s how I’ve explained it to my children as I desperately try to persuade them to engage in communal TV time.

“The aliens would quickly change their minds about who the advanced form of life is if they watched anything with you,” my oldest son Eddie said to me last summer. “You’re so difficult to watch TV with.” Unfortunately, annoying is the adjective that is often used by my children to describe the TV experience with me.

“Seeing anything with you is like watching a football game with an analyst,” my youngest son Milo said. “I don’t mean that in a good way. You will literally stop a show and explain a scene or offer an opinion about it and proceed to dissect it.”

Former NFL wideout/color analyst Cris Collinsworth does just that during NFL games every autumn and winter. “That works because he gives his take in between plays,” Milo said. “There is no break between scenes of any movie or show.”

Milo suggested that I take my opinions to college. “You need to teach a class in television at a university to get it out of your system,” Milo said. “I can’t ever watch another episode of ‘All In the Family’ with you because, well, you’re you.”

Well put. While playing Milo a classic episode, “Everybody Tells the Truth,” from Norman Lear’s groundbreaking series, I killed it for my younger son. I explained how that show, with three takes from three different characters, was about as perfect as an episode of a sitcom that has ever been produced.

After we discussed the significance of “All in the Family,” I explained to Milo why the British version of “The Office” is infinitely better than the Steve Carell vehicle, and that was the end of our TV relationship. My reward for edifying my children is isolation.

It would have been more fun watching “Mad Men,” which I finally experienced last summer, with another viewer. When my daughter Jane, 11, recently asked me to watch “Stranger Things” with her, I jumped at the chance. It was nice since she already viewed all three seasons and decided to share a TV show she loves.

“I know you like ‘The X-Files.’ If you like that show, you’ll like ‘Stranger Things,’ ” Jane said. I didn’t care if we were watching a test pattern. I just wanted to connect with my daughter. “Don’t say anything. No analysis or criticism,” I thought to myself.

Mission accomplished. I didn’t say a word during the pilot. We had a nice discussion afterward, and I waxed about the series star, Winona Ryder, and Googled some photos of the Academy Award nominee when she was the age of the young actors from “Stranger Things.”

All was well until toward the end of the second episode. During a flashback scene between Ryder’s TV sons, the older brother, while playing the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” explains the merits of David Bowie and the Smiths to his sibling.

I lost it. The show is set in a small Indiana town during the early to mid-1980s. The Smiths, like a number of seminal bands from that period, didn’t attract much of an American audience. I caught the Smiths in 1985 in suburban Philadelphia, and only half of a house, 1,500 fans, showed.

Major market music fans didn’t know about the Smiths, so no way anyone in a tiny, off-the-map Indiana town pre-internet would have ever heard of Morrissey and company. “Winona Ryder is the mom, and she’s so cool, and she would have known the Smiths,” my daughter Jillian said.

Maybe Ryder was aware of the Smiths when she was a teenager in the ’80s in Northern California. But I explained that the character Ryder is portraying, a stressed-out mom who works in a supermarket, isn’t the cool celebrity who dated Johnny Depp and Dave Pirner when people cared about his band, Soul Asylum.

If the character was indeed Ryder, perhaps she would have stolen the phone she needed instead of purchasing the old school communication device. Then the Smiths classic “Shoplifters of the World Unite” could have aired during that intense point of Episode 2.

For some reason, Jane hasn’t asked me to watch the third episode of “Stranger Things” with her. I’m aware “Stranger Things” is a science-fiction horror series, but I would like a little reality and at least period accuracy.

When one of the characters from the show said she was going to chill, no one uttered that phrase a generation ago. If someone said they were going to chill, the response would have been, “What do you mean?” “You’re a killjoy,” Jillian said. “Why can’t you just have fun? You ruin the experience.”

What Jillian remembers most about “Back to the Future” isn’t the amazing skateboard scene or the hilarious interplay between the son from the future with his mother from the past. When Jillian recalls one of the greatest feel-good films of all time, she goes back to a scene in which a “Honeymooners” episode aired.

“You said that the particular ‘Honeymooners’ show that (the characters) watched in ‘Back to the Future,’ didn’t run until 24 days after the date of when the ‘Back to the Future’ scene was said to have happened,” Jillian said. “You said it ruined the movie for you.”

I explained that I was joking. “Sometimes, especially when we were young, we couldn’t tell when you were kidding around,” Jillian said. Wow, I have to keep my opinions and jokes to myself when it comes to entertainment.

I enjoy watching television with my kids. Perhaps all of this goes back to my childhood. We had one television, and my mother, father and I would watch sports, sitcoms and the news together.

Just as I wondered if my children would ever give me another chance to gaze at the television with them, Eddie, out of the blue, started watching “Seinfeld” on the big screen just 5 feet from me.

Sure, it’s a passive activity, but I receive so much joy hearing my son laugh, and then we chatted about what we witnessed after the show concluded. “Good job,” Eddie said. “Don’t say anything until the credits appear.”

Got it. I’m still getting the hang of appropriate viewing behavior. “Just like those aliens who think you’re the advanced life form,” Eddie cracked.

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