As a public service, I have been detailing my attempt to "cut the cord" and get the idiot-box bill below the weekly grocery bill for a family of nine, four of whom subsist entirely on saffron-dusted goose livers and Godiva chocolates.
To recap: The satellite company, perhaps keen to put itself out of business as quickly as possible, announced an online streaming version that was half the price. The offer came with HBO Max. I have no idea what that is. Is it HBO? No, it's something else. Does it have HBO shows? Yes. OK, then just let me know when you roll out HBO Min, which boils all those seven-season shows down to 90 minutes.
They also offered a movie channel with some nondescript name, and I declined. Here's how it works these days:
Ten minutes scrolling through Netflix for something to watch. Nothing looks good. Or it looks too good, and you don't want to commit to a series right now. Plus it reminds you of those other series you never finished but meant to. Some day you'll finish that series you really liked, but for now, you just want to watch something you don't like too much.
You don't find the right show on Netflix, so you go to Amazon Prime, where an entirely different slew of unfinished shows awaits. Save those for tomorrow when you're not so tired.
You don't find the right show on Amazon, which leaves your saved shows on the satellite box, the Apple TV shows, the shows on Hulu, or CBS Now, which is on Apple TV, or CBS Then, which is on Amazon, or CBS In the Theoretical Future on the app panel on the Blu-ray player. You decide to watch the first 10 minutes of that James Bond movie you've seen 37 times.
So, no, I don't need another movie channel.
But I did decide to get the rest of the new service. I immediately encountered the first joy: logging in. Remember logging in to broadcast TV? Man, that was a pain. You had to write your password on a sheet of paper and mail it in. Took weeks. Now you can do it from home. Alas, you can't see what you type for a password because little black dots obscure what you entered in case there are hackers outside pretending to be phone repairmen at 10:30 p.m., using binoculars to steal your credentials.
Next step: Record the shows my wife likes.
First one: "Great British Bake Off." Never watched it, myself, but I've passed the TV when it was on. Seems like a group of self-effacing people in a tent in the rain in the country somewhere, presenting a tray of 30 tarts they made from an ounce of flour and a single fig. We're all rooting for her! We're also rooting for the nice fellow who made cannolis that look like the noses of famous British admirals. It's his dream.
It didn't show up in the search panel. Perhaps I'd gotten the name wrong. Tried "Big English Bake On." Then "Grand British Cook-Up." Nothing.
Hmm. Well, it has to be here somewhere. The sign-up page said the service had the local channels. We need PBS, because it has all the British shows my wife likes. Such as "Call the Midwife," which I assume involves near-constant midwife summoning. There are 47 seasons, I think, but they're those British "seasons" that consist of two episodes.
There are "Masterpiece Theater" shows I like, if they involve surly detectives who got divorced six years ago because his wife couldn't handle what the job had done to her husband, and we understand her point because he's a bit of a jerk but, darn it, he gets results. He is paired with a young sarcastic female inspector, and they can't stand each other for the first 12 seasons, but in the last run of 17 seasons they gradually warm to each other.
I don't know the name of this show, but it's set either in an Oxford college, which has one ritualistic murder of the faculty per week over a period of 29 years. Or maybe it's in a small, quaint village whose population remains steady at 350 despite the constant murdering going on.
Then there's "The Crown," if you're a fan of monarchies, or that "Downtown Dear Abby" or whatever show, if you're a fan of oligarchs standing around in big drafty houses wondering whether the manservant has pressed the family crest into the butter pats for the gala ball. Also, Herbert is back from India, where he got a tropical disease that makes parts of his body drop off. (I assume that's what it's about, plus infidelity and the gathering sense that their time is about to end.)
None of these shows seemed available on my new, wonderful cut-cord system.
Turns out I needed the PBS app for the TV. Well, I can get that in a trice. Downloading ... Done. "Search for Big Welsh Basting Contest" or whatever ...
Wait. It's premium content. I have to pay for it. Five bucks. Five bucks to watch people make cookies and deliver babies.
When I related this story to my daughter the next day, she fixed me with a stare: "Don't you know you can get the baking show on Amazon?"
I was crestfallen. Why can't all the shows be in one place? No PBS leaking into Amazon. PBS over here, Amazon over there. You know, like it was when we just had the satellite.
What I really need to simplify things is an electromagnetic pulse to fuse all electronic devices so I can spend the night with a candle and a book.
Don't despair, you say. There's lots of 2020 left!