Friday, January 25, 2013

COLUMN: Take It All

I'm becoming predictable in my old age. Every morning, I stop at the same shop and order the same coffee. Every summer, I will invariably complain about the heat and the bugs. And every December, I will stop at nothing in search of that elusive Christmas magic that Young Me found so easily but Old Me seems to misplace more and more. Last weekend, I was pretty sure I had it.

It was just a simple afternoon of shopping. I was wandering aimlessly through the mall when I stumbled upon none other than Kris Kringle himself, and a line of kids eager to dole out their wish lists to the Roly Poly One. Santa looked to be in fine form, and then I caught the expression of the little kid on his lap. He was aglow with Christmas magic. You didn't have to be a mind reader to know that this kid was having THE greatest day of his little life.

A little later, I was sitting at the food court and noticed a fellow walking by who -- well, okay, let's be honest: I noticed him because he looked a lot like super-skeevy adult film star Ron Jeremy, and that's NOT who you expect to bump into over the holidays (unless, I suppose, you're Ron Jeremy's mom.) But then I noticed than Ron-alike had a Mrs. Ron-alike, as well as two cute children who thankfully looked nothing like porn stars. Not that I know what many porn stars look like, coz I don't. Cough.

THE POINT IS... they were all happy. And smiling. I don't think Ron-alike ever STOPPED smiling. He smiled as he helped a lady with her bags. He smiled as he talked to his kids. He smiled as he ordered food. THAT right there is Christmas magic at work. Sometimes it's just as simple as people being in good moods for little to no reason whatsoever. I've been the one whining about a lack of Christmas spirit in the world, when this family was smacking me in the face with it. I, meanwhile, was just some creepy dude lurking in the food court staring at strangers. Not cool.

My last stop was downtown Le Claire, a town carefully and meticulously managed to look like a tourist's version of the perfect Christmas. And guess what -- it works. Window shopping their small businesses while a light dusting of snow gently fell was like stepping directly into a Norman Rockwell painting. By the time I got home, I was in the zone. Gone away was the bluebird and here to stay was a new bird. I was in danger of my heart growing three sizes that day, and for once, it didn't have to do with cholesterol.

So thank goodness NBC came along hours later to ruin everything.

As a rule, I root for the National Broadcasting Company. When I think of my favorite shows through the years, most of them hail from the great studios of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. When I was a kid, you couldn't beat Knight Rider or The A-Team. Everyone watched Family Ties and The Cosby Show. St. Elsewhere and Hill Street Blues were unbeatable dramas. And, of course, it was the home of the two coolest shows in the world: Saturday Night Live and Late Night with David Letterman. As I grew, so did NBC. Cheers was great; Frasier was greater. Friends and Seinfeld defined a generation.

Lately, NBC's fallen in popularity but not quality. The Voice is the most entertaining reality show on the dial, while 30 Rock, The Office, and Parks & Rec are arguably the funniest shows of my lifetime. So I'm a fan. But this fan just turned fair-weather, because NBC just debuted the tackiest, most tasteless, mean-spirited, ill-timed fiasco I've ever seen on national television:

I'm talkin' to you, "Take It All."

Please tell me you saw this atrocity. Actually, please tell me you DIDN'T see it. Right now, there's someone sitting at a desk somewhere who decided it was a GOOD idea to green-light a weeklong game show TWO WEEKS before Christmas where the end goal is to cheat, manipulate, and bilk your fellow players out of lots and lots of money. Classy.

Here's how it works. Like most game shows, the contestants are a carefully cast coterie of over-the-top characters who are whittled down from 5 to 2 via a series of games akin to The Price Is Right blended with a white elephant gift exchange. The final 2 contestants then make a decision: "Keep What's Mine" or "Take It All." If both choose the former, they each get their earned prizes and everyone's a winner. If one person picks "Take It All," they get the other's prizes as well as their own. And if BOTH players pick "Take It All," each player wins NOTHING and everyone goes home empty-handed.

The episode I just watched pitted a middle-aged woman against a guy who was a dead ringer for Santa Claus. At the very end, the two got to face each other and give little heartfelt speeches about faith and trust and family and warm fuzzies... and then the cards are flipped to reveal Santa picked "Keep What's Mine" while the middle-aged woman chose "Take It All," thus bilking Santa out of roughly a quarter million dollars.

"Congratulations!" yelled a smiling host Howie Mandel. Congratulations? Seriously? On what? Proving that human nature is inherently evil? On giving me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach? On making me swig Mylanta while fearing for the future of our planet?

The following night featured a minister proudly telling the audience in a pre-shot clip that he also held a Ph.D in Psychology so he knew how to read a person and manipulate them. That was just before the contestant who told the world that she hoped her pregnancy could land her a sympathy win. That was just before I shut the TV off and vowed my "Take It All" watching days were done.

Really? Is this what we've come to? THIS is today's holiday entertainment? I'm the guy who always rolls his eyes at cheezy traditional Christmas specials, but right then and there I found myself yearning to hear Linus' speech or see anything in Claymation. Look, I know it's not a perfect world. I'm a realist. Sometimes life sucks, sometimes people lie, and sometimes cash rules everything around us.

But folks, this is the time of year when we're all supposed to come together as one and, at the very least, pretend for a few days that we like each other. That's all I ask for. Come January 2nd, NBC can live-air people knife fighting over dollar bills for all I care. Just leave Christmas alone.

After all, some of us are searching high and low for holiday magic. And don't you worry -- I found it. Details next Monday.

No comments: