Screen savors

A series problem.

It's not every day that someone confesses an addiction to you while you're attending your weekly shiur, but these are not normal times. No, it just isn't normal when traditional TV watching habits are being trampled on with impunity by seemingly innocent members of the viewing public. Yes, we're talking about those of us who've become hooked on (shudder) renting their favorite series. You can spot them a mile away - the telltale wrinkles under the eyes, the satiated yet empty look, like the expression on the woman in question, who admitted that she and a girlfriend had gone to a Dead Sea hotel with a portable DVD player, ordered room service, and watched an entire season of Alias for her birthday. What's going on out there? We'll tell you what - it's a revolution. Instead of being left at the mercy of some dull clod at Channel 2 who can't remember which episode of Prime Suspect to pull out, viewers are increasingly heading for the video library, where their "fix," in the form of foreign and local TV series, provides instant gratification. How'd it all get started? Simple enough - we just got tired of waiting for the next round of episodes of our favorite shows. While our American friends were kvelling about the latest season of The Sopranos, we had to wait months to see Adriana go to the Big Nightclub in the Sky. Suddenly, TV series - also proliferating, thanks to the advent of new cable and satellite stations - started going almost directly to DVD after being screened in the States or UK. The more such series made it onto our local screens, the more they were in demand, leading to a wave of imports. And lo and behold, the (generally) six- or eight-episode DVD set didn't come with all those annoying commercials either. Indeed, fans who don't have YES will soon have to go to the video store to see the next season of The Sopranos or The West Wing, which will only be shown on the satellite service. In the past year, things have only gotten better (or worse, if you happen to be the spouse of one of these new-wave TV viewers). You know who you are - often left alone with the laundry because your significant other is busy catching up on the latest episode of Nip/Tuck, Sex and The City, or Angel. But is this good for us? Shouldn't relieving our tension over whether or not Christian will get to keep the baby, or the twin Francie will get what's coming to her, without having to wait another week, be beneficial? Not always. "It's not such a good thing; there's something therapeutic about having that week in between," admitted the Alias abuser as we calmly made a deal for her to turn over Season 4 of The Shield next week. Apparently, some of us need to return to this world for a week before reentering fantasy land. Indeed, there are drawbacks to living life in the TV fast lane. Bringing home Alias Season 3's eight-episode double disc set was both exhilarating and enslaving. While we felt free of the fetters of Channel 2's abuse of the show - one of several favorites, like The Sopranos and The West Wing (now on YES) thrown to the winds with the disappearance of Tel-Ad from the Channel 2 licensees - there was definitely something sinister coming over us. At 1:30 a.m., when we knew we should be headed to bed, a voice kept saying: "Just one more episode!" and when it comes to Jennifer Garner... well, the flesh is weak. While the special features tend to be a mixed bag - our Sopranos collection had actors doing voiceover comments, which we found to be simply annoying - there's still an innate sense of not being your local station's freier. Preempt my program for the Miss Toenail Clipper awards? I don't think so! On the downside, unless we're all able to share in the goods, you become a walking spoiler, desperate to share some of the stuff you've gleaned ahead of everyone else (Sydney has a sister), but feeling like a heel when you actually let something slip, like (Alias fans beware - spoiler ahead) they killed off Vaughn. Hagi Ma'ayan of Ozen Hashlishit's Third Ear Jerusalem branch says the revolution began three years ago, with the proliferation of the DVD format. "It's definitely a strong part of our sales," he explained. "You don't have to be home at a certain hour, or be hostage to the station your program is on." Ma'ayan says the latest trend is releasing old favorites - Different Strokes is now available at his store, for example. Probably the best side of this technological breakthrough, along with the ability to download fresh episodes off the Internet - which strikes us as even more desperate somehow - is the ability to catch up with or be introduced to a series you may have missed. The combination of better technology and more must-see-my-TV-show-now fanatics have boosted demand for such shows at Third Ear, one of the best sources for such programming. US and British programs arrive within months of being screened or turned into DVDs abroad. Still, we've changed. No more watching your favorites with your family around the living room. Increasingly, it's on the computer, or alone in the wee hours of the night, or while they're off at school and work. Remember when we all watched Dallas and L.A. Law together, as a united people? Wasn't that better ? And why can't I put down Season 3, episodes 17-24??!! Let us know what you think of the new phenomenon (e-mail your thoughts and comments about this column to and we'll air some of your thoughts. In the meantime, remember - just cuz you stayed up till 4 a.m. watching Buffy, Season Five doesn't mean you don't have to drive.