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Reflections of a New Parent on Television, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About My Street Cred and Love Terrible Television

"Really, Mom? Bent? You're embarrassing yourself."

Everything changes with a newborn (duh!), including one’s ability to love and loathe television programs. Having spent the last six weeks caring for a tiny, crying, needy, eating machine (plus a baby- hey-o! Sorry, Chris), I have experienced first-hand the desperation and shallowness with which a new parent engages with the electric story box.

There are a few factors that impact my television choices these days.  First, I’m nursing a baby, and that means I practically have a tiny, but voracious dinosaur attached to me for like six hours a day. This leaves me wanting several things from television.  First, that it is on when I’m nursing. Constantly. Otherwise I fall asleep, make up songs about sore nipples or unyielding baby poop avalanches, or start styling my poor son’s hair like various celebrities (Jersey Shore regulars, Brian Williams, and Justin Bieber are inspirations).  Constant television means that you run out of “top tier” options quickly, and become a hell of a lot less discriminating. Second, it’s May.  That means all my favorite shows have wrapped up the airing of new episodes for the season. Third, I spend a lot of time with my beautiful television in the wee hours of the night, when (ruling out infomercials) the buffet of delightful cable offerings features slim pickings.  Like, really slim. Like, the buffet closes in twenty minutes, and all that’s left is one tough, overly-sauced riblet under a heat lamp slim.

However, even with these limitations, I find postpartum television watching to differ from my pre-parenting habits.  I’m a little more desperate, infinitely more tired, and I can’t commit to an hour-long program with much consistency.  I also can’t focus on complex plots (or, let’s face it, even moderately interesting plots or serialized shows).  Sorry, Mad Men, Community, and Veep, the oscillation between subtle humor and wacky plotlines are too much for me these days.

I believe all of this will change with time, but in the interim, I’m enjoying watching shows I hadn’t (had to) before. So, for all you new parents, bed ridden caretakers to small monkeys, or inattentive insomniacs out there, here’s my take on what to watch (or begrudgingly accept) during this time of immersion into dumber television:

Canceled Shows: New shows still available on On Demand or Hulu that have already gotten the boot from networks are the awesome hook-up buddies of TV.  They’re generally unsatisfying and leave you feeling cheap, but they meet your immediate needs without the fear of commitment.  It doesn’t matter if the baby cries relentlessly or I’m running to wash spit-up off the couch, because I don’t care at all about the characters, and the long-term narrative of the show promises to end abruptly and disjointedly anyway.  I particularly recommend GCB and Best Friends Forever for a steamy one-season stand.

Cooking Competitions: Available on live television 20 hours a day, food competitions make for pretty, superficial viewing pleasure.  Only have 15 minutes of calm from the baby in your arms?  That’s just enough time to find out who lost the appetizer round, and what the X durian fruit is.  Also, food. Is. Delicious. If I can coordinate watching one of these shows with actually eating something, I feel particularly self-satisfied. Once, I caught myself saying “Jerksica, for the win!” during one of these moments, and my son gave me a pitying frown.  He’s so smart, he’s judging others at a nine-month level. I recommend Chopped, Iron Chef, Cupcake Wars, and Sweet Genius.  Sweet Genius is especially good for 2:00 a.m. feedings, when the equally cloying desserts and host, conveyor belt of ingredients, strange accent, and intensely weird props match my own late-night delirium.

Old School Sitcoms: Great (and not-so-great) sitcoms are on in syndication somewhere on your remote 24 hours a day.  They’re also mindless, occasionally funny, and nostalgic.  I don’t identify any more readily with the parents on Roseanne or Home Improvement that I did pre-baby, but I appreciate a well-delivered one-liner from the family matriarch or a slapstick accident with installing a home security system just as much.  More even, depending on how sleep-starved I am on any given night.  Plus, if I can find any humor in a circular saw getting the better of Tim Allen, I can definitely navigate any bodily function Baby throws my way.  And if not, I can always console myself with television.

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