There comes a time in every TV aficionado’s life when they get super excited for a new program, only to realize five minutes before the series premiere that their beloved show’s patron is the backstabbing bastard of every American’s worst nightmare. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about premium channels, or, by their more popular name, “The Channels You Have to Pay For.”
I already pay for television. It’s called a cable bill. Why the hell should I have to cough up extra cash so I can watch “True Blood” every summer? Not only that, but Starz, HBO, Showtime, et al. are usually the channels that give us college students exactly what we want: explicit sex and violence. I understand making these channels subscription-based allows all these gratuitous extra goodies to bypass normal broadcasting censors. But it also makes me feel like I’m ordering Playboy TV when I call up the cable company. I’m not watching porn. My shows are cultured. Duh.
Take “The Tudors,” for example, which rejoins us April 11 for its fourth and final season. Although the show has become a total snooze-fest since the fierce Natalie Dormer got whacked — and that won’t be changing if the preview episodes available online are any indication — I still can’t look away from the train wreck. Is it the pretty dresses that keep my interest? Probably. Henry Cavill’s smoldering good looks, despite the production company’s continued desire to uglify him in a vain attempt to make Jonathan Rhys-Meyers attractive? Yes. Oh, and all the hanky-panky thrown in helps too. Don’t look at me like that. Henry VIII was a historical figure. This show is practically educational.
Speaking of historical shows, while cherishing fond memories of HBO’s “Rome,” I was suckered into “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.” I know, right? My “Vampire Diaries”-watchin’, “Glee”-singin’ ass was the last one I thought would end up hunkering down on a Sunday night to watch gladiators duke it out in front of a very obviously computer-generated coliseum. But 10 episodes in, this dumb show has become the highlight of my television week. Does the hardcore boning and rampant throat-slitting warrant my attention, you ask? Of course not! That stuff is strictly representational of the time. I watch because ancient Roman politics are just so interesting! (Well… Lucy Lawless, too.)
And I’ll be honest with you; I haven’t actually started watching “The Pacific” yet. “Band of Brothers” is just so near and dear to my heart that there isn’t much room for another war show. But I can completely assure you, all three million people who tuned in for the premiere were completely unmotivated by the fact tons of stuff would blow up. They were there purely for the narrative.
Look, the hard truth is the TV shows that appear on premium channels are generally just better than their standard cable counterparts. Going down HBO’s lineup, all I see are fantastic representations of drama and comedy: “Big Love,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Entourage,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Sex and the City,” “The Sopranos” and “True Blood,” to name a few. Perhaps the fact that we have to pay for these shows makes them feel more exclusive and appealing. Or do these channels just attract better writers? Do they have bigger budgets? Better ideas? We may never know.
But the shagging and gore certainly don’t hurt.