Before appointment viewing and must-see TV, before binge-watching and spoiler alerts, there were, in my early television memories, channels 3, 8 and 30. There were the helicopter propellers of “M*A*S*H” and the “Murder, She Wrote” typewriter, the “CHiPs” engines revving and Laverne and Shirley counting off: after-dinner cues that announced what we’d be watching that night.
I was reminiscing recently about those days, when you watched what was on, even if you didn’t particularly like it. When you tried to stay very quiet when Tattoo cried: “The plane! The plane!” hoping your parents would forget you were there — just us adults, watching our adult shows, too immersed in story to trifle with childish concerns like “bedtime.”
When I want to revisit the comforts of pre-streaming TV, I turn, inevitably, to streaming channels, where I can call up every season of “The Golden Girls” or “Growing Pains” and fall into the predictable rhythms of the old episodes: conflict introduced before the first commercial break, conflict resolved before the closing credits.
John Koblin wrote recently in The Times of the resurgence of the procedural, the overwhelming popularity of shows like “Criminal Minds” and “NCIS,” even as elaborately plotted serials like “The White Lotus” get all the critical attention. (“Criminal Minds” was the most-watched show in streaming in 2021.)
“Part of the appeal is that the procedurals have a low barrier to entry,” he wrote. “They are, to a fault, uncomplicated — if viewers zone out or scroll through their phones, they won’t be missing much.”
A sad commentary on attention spans, perhaps, but also a testament to the irresistible draw of the familiar. I have several friends who turned to “Columbo” for comfort-watching during lockdown (Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote a lovely homage to the show here). “Columbo” was a “howcatchem,” as opposed to a “whodunit”: We see a perpetrator commit a crime early in the episode, and then we watch as Columbo pieces together clues to figure out how they did it.
Rian Johnson’s new howcatchem series, “Poker Face” (Peacock, Thursday), is inspired by his love of “Columbo” and other detective classics. It stars Natasha Lyonne as a human lie-detector who solves a different mystery in each self-contained episode.
I’m interested in a show that’s snackable, packaged in tidy episodes that don’t require a full-season commitment. The structure is appealing in the way short stories are appealing, perhaps. I tend to prefer novels because of the reliable grief I experience at having to say goodbye to a short story’s characters so quickly after meeting them, but I’m enchanted enough by Johnson’s storytelling (he made “Knives Out” and “Glass Onion”) that I’m willing to love and lose a few guest stars.
As The Times’s television critic James Poniewozik put it, “TV series of the past decade have aimed less at hooking viewers from the first minutes than at getting them to sink in, as into quicksand.” There’s something refreshing about a show that takes you in for an hour and then spits you out, rather than an intricate narrative saga that means to swallow you whole.
🍿 “Skinamarink” (out now): Two very young kids wake up in the night. Their parent is gone. The doors and windows in their home are gone. It’s dark and there’s a voice. The trailer for this low-budget horror movie is itself one of the scariest things I’ve seen in years. I watched it at home, at work and on my commuter train, and each time, I felt that terror tingle make its way up my spine. And that’s just the trailer! (Warning: This film is more experimental than you might think. Consider reading up a bit before you go to make sure it’s for you.)
📚 “Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory” (out now): It’s a testament to the quality of her work that Janet Malcolm, a longtime writer for The New Yorker, could flame her entire profession with a single, eternal quote (“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible”) and still remain among its more beloved practitioners. Malcolm, who died in 2021, is in autobiographical mode in her final book, which the reviewer Charles Finch called “superb.”
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
The Year of the Rabbit begins tomorrow with the Lunar New Year. Noodles, rice dishes and dumplings are traditional to the holiday, so Genevieve Ko has a suggestion: wontons! They are more of an everyday food, and that’s precisely why they’re great for a new year party, she writes. Although making them from scratch may seem intimidating, the recipe is straightforward, as if Genevieve herself were holding your hand all the way through. The filling — a mix of minced shrimp and ground pork seasoned with ginger and scallions — is adaptable, so feel free to tailor it to your own desires, swapping fish or scallops for the pork, adding chopped mushrooms for meatiness or water chestnuts for crunch. Whether you fry them until crunchy or float them in soup, they’ll make a satisfying meal on Lunar New Year and beyond.
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Dry for January?: Bars are catering to the “sober curious.”
Intuitive eating: Two experts created a method that has become a cornerstone of the anti-diet movement.
Nutrition myths: The truth about fat, dairy, soy and more.
Pickleball: The sport can be a way to make fast friends while traveling.
Inflation laments: Egg prices are rising, and memes are flying.
ADVICE FROM WIRECUTTER
Digging out from winter
Struggling to dig out a snowbound car tire or clear a frosty windshield with a coat sleeve can show the value of using the right tool for the job. The Hopkins snow brush and the Voile telepro shovel are two of the most crucial car accessories that Wirecutter has found in nearly a decade of testing, which once included a trip to Ford’s subfreezing automotive lab. If you don’t have a car, the True Temper mountain mover shovel is perfect for clearing off your sidewalk, and maybe your neighbor’s, too. — Harry Sawyers
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills, N.F.L. playoffs: Just three weeks ago, during a game between these two teams, the Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field after a routine tackle. It was a shocking moment, even for a sport so accustomed to violence. This weekend’s rematch will be an emotional reminder of the sport’s dangers. But once it kicks off, the focus will likely return to the spectacle — the throws, the tackles, the Super Bowl within reach. 3 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, CBS.
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