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June 12, 2013

‘The Couch Potato’: Thanks to on-demand selections, I can watch classic TV any time

NEW CASTLE — When I was growing up, we weren’t poor. We weren’t rich either, but it’s not like we were barely scraping by.

I had my sweet Nike kicks, a comfortable brick ranch and as many snacks as we could handle.  

BUT WE DIDN’T HAVE CABLE!

My mom is one of those people who holds out on new technology until she absolutely has to cave in. For example, she just got a cell phone two years ago and even at that, it’s barely a cell phone. It flips open and she gets ticked if you text her; that’s an extra 10 cents.

Anyway, when I was growing up, most of my friends at school were big “Simpsons” fans and what I had caught of the yellow-skinned cartoon show, I had liked. But we didn’t get Fox on our old antenna, so I was mostly in the dark.

I started catching the show at my neighbor’s house and made it a point to get there every Thursday night so I didn’t miss it. Of course, this was the season that Mr. Burns tried to block out the sun so that the town of Springfield would have to use his nuclear power non-stop.

If you’re a fan, you know that in the final episode that season, somebody shot Mr. Burns in a classic “whodunnit” episode.

After a long wait during the summer of 1995, September finally rolled around and it was time to find out “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” I knocked on my neighbor’s door, no answer. I waited a minute, still no answer. And then it hit me — I was not going to find out who shot Mr. Burns that night. Or the next night. Or the next.

Maybe one of my seventh-grade classmates at school would tell me, but that’s not the same as watching it. There was no Internet, no Netflix, no DVR, no nuthin.’ I was out of luck and gloomily had to find out at school the next day from one of my friends.  

It took about five years, but I finally did get to watch that episode and though I already knew who, I found out how baby Maggie came to shoot Mr. Burns in a fight over a lollipop. I caught the episode in a rerun and it was bittersweet after a five-year wait.

My mom did finally get us cable for Christmas at the end of 1995. It was joyful, but actually more of a relief that I would never miss out on good television again.

So here we are. It’s 2013 and television is better than it’s ever been. Some are calling this the “Golden Age of TV,” and it’s hard to argue with that. Some of the best, most compelling shows ever are on your set right now. Even better, most of these shows are ALWAYS available.

I figured all of this out a few years ago when I got my Netflix subscription. For the first time in my life, pretty much every show on television was at my fingertips. Since I’m cheap like my mom, I opted to start out with some HBO and Showtime shows that weren’t available on basic cable. I plowed through the entire series of “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Dexter” and didn’t stop to catch my breath.

I kept hearing that AMC had two really amazing shows and while I had access to the channel, I had already missed the first few seasons of both.  Netflix saved me with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” two of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Both are coming to end within the next year  — “Mad Men” has a few episodes left in its next-to-last season while “Breaking Bad” will finish up this summer. I won’t ruin it for you, but if you want to see the inner workings of a bustling 1960s Madison Avenue advertising agency while exploring the drama of what it’s like to be human, catch up on “Mad Men” right now. Believe me, it’s better than it sounds.  

If action is more your cup of tea, check out “Breaking Bad” where cancer patient and former high school chemistry teacher Walter White builds a crystal meth empire from the ground up to support the family he believes cancer will force him to leave behind, only to realize that the only thing bigger than his new bank account is his ego.  

Regardless of which show you pick, you won’t be disappointed, but save yourself the decision by watching both.

In any event, if you’re like me, you should be comforted by the fact that these two shows and every other show is available now at any time. Mr. Burns may have survived his “whodunnit” episode, but the days of appointment TV are now long gone.

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