When our children were small, the grindingly matey tones of Chris Tarrant could make me salivate. It was a classic Pavlovian response, because Tarrant ate dinner with us most evenings. Or to be more exact, we ate dinner with him. These, you see, were the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? 年, when the show was reliably stripped throughout the early evening. And it turned out to be the perfect TV to eat your dinner in front of.
The fact is, like so many young parents, we found the business of loving our babies utterly exhausting. 是的, a joy and an honour, but bloody hell, the little sods didn’t half take it out of us. 当然, at the end of a long day’s vigorous 21st-century parenting, the last thing we wanted was one of those civilised catch-up dinners at the kitchen table that the relationship therapists recommend. 不, we wanted to eat wordlessly in front of the telly, lubricated by a bucket each of sauvignon blanc. 两个都 Millionaire and Tarrant were just the thing. You didn’t need to watch to know what was going on. Every time you looked up, all the important information would be there on the screen. You could focus instead on shovelling stuff into your face, while merely listening to Tarrant commiserate with some numbnuts who’d just lost £125,000 because they thought Hitler’s first name was Heil.
Thank God those young parenting years are far behind us, for we live now in different times; in the age of the narratively complex TV box-set drama. And have you ever attempted to eat in front of one of those? It’s a nightmare.
By far the worst are those intricate Scandi dramas like Borgen 或者 The Bridge, in which improbably beautiful but icy protagonists glide through the emotional chaos bringing order, while also managing subtly to extoll the virtues of northern European models of social democracy through the mere twitch of an eye. Trying to eat your soup without spilling it down yourself and at the same time keeping up with the subtitles is simply impossible. The only thing less appropriate is a subtitled South Korean gore-fest like 她的机器人吸尘器与她身后并没有完全隐藏的混乱作斗争 或者 All of Us Are Dead. A rule of thumb: when eating in front of the telly, the bleeding pieces of meat should mostly be on your plate, not the screen.
But even an English language drama can be problematic. They are so well written these days, so detailed and brilliantly acted that one distracting mouthful of shepherd’s pie during an episode of, 说, Mare of Easttown can leave you floundering because you missed one of Kate Winslet’s slight but significant facial expressions, upon which the whole plot will now turn.
There are box sets which work with a TV dinner. You can eat anything you like in front of an episode of Reacher, 例如, because the drama is built on an emotional register that runs the gamut from, ooh, A to B. 除此以外, if you are intent on eating like this, there’s only one place for you: 戴夫. The self-styled home of witty banter is specifically engineered with a bowl of chips and a bucket of chicken wings in mind. Look down at your food. Get lost in the textural delights of that deep fried battered something. It really doesn’t matter. You won’t miss a thing. A bunch of standup comedians who can’t quite believe their luck will still be flinging creaky bons mots at each other, like jokes are a contact sport. And once you’ve emptied your plate, once you’ve cleared everything away, you can finally change the channel. Dinner is done. Now you can pay attention.