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Davis, California

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Column: Change we can believe in

I’d like to begin this week by apologizing to my politically polarized friends and family who’ve tuned in today because this column’s title suggests I might be talking politics. American politics may be the only institution on earth whose methods have completely transformed with the advent of social media and other recent technological innovations without actually changing what it offers you. It’s still the same old pig, but someone handed it a technologically advanced shade of whorish red lipstick.

Nevertheless, I certainly hope this week’s title did not dissuade the politically uninterested and apathetic from getting past the first paragraph, for it may be you who finds today’s apolitical column most intriguing. Although there are many institutions like our federal government, private banks, credit card companies and public universities that are too busy “providing you with an essential service” to actually respond to your criticisms, there is one institution that has never failed to embody the “change” this country seems to be so desperately seeking.

Go ahead and turn on your television. Yes, right now. Oh, you’re in class? I apologize, then do me a favor and stream it live to your smart phone. Really? No reception in [insert donor’s last name] Hall? Ok, well you get moobilenet here don’t you? So open up Hulu. Or Netflix. Or any of the thousands of websites you use to download your favorite television programs everyday for free. Click on … I don’t know, NBC’s spy comedy “Chuck.”

In the first three episodes of the season, there have already been eight cameo appearances from celebrities famous from other TV shows, movies, or product lines, including the beautiful Olivia Munn, a fake news correspondent on the Daily Show, the original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, and veritable YouTube icon and Old Spice front man, Isaiah Mustafa. When I see the Old Spice guy on a show I already watched without him, you can bet your sweet cheeks I’m tuning in next week. And then I remember to put on deodorant, exactly as Old Spice hoped. Both the viewer and the sponsor leave satisfied 42 minutes later.

You’re already on NBC, so head to Tina Fey’s spoof on sketch comedy shows, “30 Rock.” During last season’s finale, Matt Damon made a rare television appearance as Carol, Liz Lemon’s male romantic complement, a part that remains a contributing force to the current plot line. Last week, Paul Giamatti, who has starred in such box-office monsters as The Illusionist, Cinderella Man and The Negotiator, was next in the cameo arsenal. He functions as a film editor and gnarled civil war reenactor whose romantic interests in Liz Lemon have ulterior motives.

Now, there is a reason Matt Damon and Paul Giamatti star in Hollywood blockbusters other than because they’re extremely talented; they make irresponsible sums of money, sums of money that you could liquefy and swim in. If you’re a classically conditioned American television viewer, you’ve learned to ask yourself “Why the hell are they doing cameos on NBC? What’s in it for them?”

The answer, it seems, is not as malevolent as you and I have learned to assume. Flip to HBO’s “Entourage.”

There have been more cameos on this one hit show than every television show on every network combined. They are often as unreasonable as they are superfluous. Yet for many men Sunday night is a holiday more popularly observed than the Sabbath. For these men, a well-placed cameo makes “Entourage” transcend what it means to simply watch TV and becomes instead a 27-minute change in life perspective. If that guy can hit the driving range with Mark Whalberg and P. Diddy, then so can I. This is why “Entourage” is shooting season eight and ending with a feature film (that’s right bros, a fucking feature film), while Fox cancelled “Sons of Tucson,” a sitcom that might have succeeded 10 years ago, after filming 13 episodes.

Matt Damon and Paul Giamatti are not doing anything sinister (as far as we know). Instead, the major networks are doing something that our federal government, private banks, credit card companies and public universities refuse to; they are listening to you and implementing your criticisms. They’ve changed their game. They aim to lead you by the hand into a new life for 27 to 42 minutes at a time, and do so because your entertainment and their financial wellbeing are directly proportional. This is why I’ve always felt screenwriting is one of the most honest vocations that remain. In order to make a dollar for their network, writers must provide a service that operates exactly as the viewer wants it to. They are contractually obligated to make you smile, the noblest service one can offer.

If you’re as juiced as JOSH ROTTMAN to watch the UC Davis Men’s Lacrosse team play No. 6 Simon Fraser this Saturday at noon, reach him at jjrottman@ucdavis.edu.


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