I don't watch alot of TV, but when I do
it's around 2 in the morning. Unfortunately, and this will come as no
surprise to anyone else who watches TV at 2 AM, it's almost all
crap. Now I know that 90% of everything is crap, but even I since I
got digital cable the late-night crap ratio is high even by TV's
rigorous standards. If I got Comedy Central it might be a little
different (the animation alone makes it worth while -- "Dr. Katz",
"The Tick", the oft-touted virtues of "South Park"), but the
mesh-fucking lab monkeys that pass for executives at TCI are so busy
trying to pull the 'digital revolution' out of their fissure-pocked
asses that they wouldn't recognize the wishes of their customers if a
nekkid Shannon Tweed popped off the screen of a Skinemax erotic
thriller and gave them the 411 by talking through her vagina.
I do admit that the dial isn't an utter
wasteland. I have a weakness for old sitcoms on Nick at Nite, but I've
never recovered from them taking "The Donna Reed Show" off the
air. And I _want_ the Sci-Fi Channel to deliver, and occasionally it
does -- sometimes it comes through with just the right "Twilight Zone"
or a letterboxed version of "Silent Running", but again, 95% of the
time, it's something like "A Battlestar Galactica Christmas" or
"Highlander III: The Blooper Reel".
But sci-fi TV ought to deliver something
more. I want robots and gore and special effects both cheesy and
astounding, imagery fucked up nearly beyond recognition. I want to see
writers, real writers like Bradbury or Sterling or Ellison talking
about their passion instead of pushing product. I want to see the
archetypically American genres of sci-fi and horror reflected back at
me in the funhouse mirrors of other cultures.
Lucky me. Completely unpromoted, a little
channel called Psychic TV (Somewhere, Genesis P. Orridge must be
preparing a lawsuit) popped up, nestled between the all-Catholic
channel and Animal Planet 2: The Seas. In a matter of mere weeks I've
come to count on that little crystal ball icon in the corner, even on
their oddly CBS-like 'all-seeing eye' promos. I could drone on and on
about why I like it, and I will, in fact, spew rationalizations later
in this review, but in the tradition of impartial before and after
comparisons, here's a two-week late night viewing diary, pre and post
Psychic TV. Each entry represents what I consider the best viewing
option at the time.
Pre Psychic TV:
Saturday, 11:15 PM. Mildly drunk, I
managed to choke down 20 minutes of SNL before giving up in disgust.
Tuesday night, 2 AM: After work, I caught
a Mary Tyler Moore show rerun on Nick at Nite. Pretty funny.
Thursday night, 12:30 AM: Lucky me, "Conan
the Barbarian" is on TNT. I was reasonably satisfied, modulo the
Friday night, 3 AM: Post bartime, I caught
the tail end of the 'Best of Scrappy Doo', on the Cartoon Network. I
went to bed despondent at the depths to which I have fallen.
Post Psychic TV:
Saturday night, 1:30 AM: Stumbled home
after work, pulled out some cheesecake and Cab Sav and flipped on
Psychic TV for the first time. What do I see? "Inju Gakuen" ("Sex
Beast on Campus"), often called the live action equivalent of such
anime tentacle porn as "Legend of the
Overfiend". Uncut. Uninterrupted. Uncensored. I stand and watch in awe
as Gigeresque phallic tentacles crawl all over taught Japanese
coeds. Now, I think, now we're getting somewhere.
Sunday night, 11 PM: Lucius Shepard,
sitting in an overstuffed chair, talking about bumming around Latin
America in his twenties and how those experiences fed into his later
Wednesday night, 11:00 PM: Psychic TV
serves up John Carpenter's first movie, "Dark Star". Unfortunately, I
no longer get stoned.
Thursday, 2:15 AM: I checked to Psychic
TV and stumble into a full hour of computer animation highlights from
Siggraph (the biggest computer animation conference in the
world). Much of it is like MTV's Amp, but with stilted grad student
narration instead of music. But the visuals are stunning; I was
mesmerized until 3.
If that anecdotal evidence isn't enough to
convince you that Psychic TV is a good thing, you're just not someone
who'd appreciate it. But I'll lay down some arguments anyways, so all
you budding cable executives out there can learn something.
1) Psychic TV understands its target
audience. They know to put on their best programming between the hours
of 10 PM and 3 AM. Watching the Sci-Fi Network, one gets the
impression it's run by suits who occasionally consult focus groups of
nerds they pull out of Star Trek conventions by finding the guys with
the most Dorito crumbs stuck in their beards. Watching Psychic TV, you
get the impression that it's run by failed sci-fi writers, doing it on
a lark to meet their heroes. My kind of people. It's a difference that
might be lost on, say, my mother, or the inhabitants of sororities,
but to me it's as clear as the exit wound left by a 12-gauge slug gun.
2) They care about the creative
process. They have a regular interview show, "Behind the Dreams" (bad
title, I know) where they sit down with writers & directors and talk
for an hour. It reminds me a little bit of the old "Later", before it
got hijacked by Greg Kinnear's asanine, short-circuited robo-Letterman
act, when Bob Costas would sit down and talk with his guests. Not push
product, not throw them setups for their funny stories, but talk like
real live human beings. I've gotten to see Kurt Busiek (of Astro City
fame), Wes Craven, Lucius Shepard, Richard Matheson, and Tim Burton
talk about what they love doing -- writing, directing, creating. I've
learned something every time.
3) They operate like a 'premium'
network. No commercials. Letterboxing. They don't cut out the
sex. It's amazing how much difference that makes in the enjoyment of a
movie, even when they're just showing B-movies/classic sci-fi (take
your pick) like "Them" or "Forbidden Planet" on 'Friday night
drive-in' or their Tuesday 'Cormanpalooza'. And they sure do take the
no-censorship policy out for a spin, mostly with weird Asian
sci-fi/sex films. Millions of 12 year old boys are developing
life-long Asian bondage fetishes as I write.
4) They reach out to other cultures for
material. In addition to the Saturday Asian Trash Cinema night,
they've got a few regular series from around the world (and by 'around
the world', I don't just mean the BBC). The most notable one is "Agent
Pylyshyn", which sometimes (unfairly, I think) gets called the
"Russian X-Files". It does share the central conceit of a federal
agent (Piotr Pylyshyn; sort of like Fox Mulder, if Mulder liked
torture instead of pornography) investigating mysterious events in the
former Soviet Union (the show's run actually goes through the end of
the cold war). Granted, not all the foreign shows are winners -- for
every "Rancho del Diablo" (sort of a cross between "Dallas" and "A
Hundred Years of Solitude", but better than you'd expect) there's a
show like the Phillipino "Monster Hunter", which makes early "Doctor
Who" special effects look like "Terminator 2" in comparison.
Remember the old Saturday Night 'creature
feature' shows that had old black & white horror films with some local
cheeseball hamming it up during the commercial breaks? When I was a
kid, they were the coolest thing in the world. There was the raw, new
thrill of being an 10-year old kid up past midnight, and all that
sci-fi/horror imagery -- Godzilla, vampires, zombies, aliens -- was
strange and scary, but fascinating too, and those nights were one of
the few places that felt like home to me. In our post-cable and
post-VCR world, those shows are gone, and I think that the world has
lost something real. Psychic TV is the closest I've come to getting it