I don’t know about the rest of you, but I, for one, have been spending such an extraordinary amount of time lately staring at my television, iPad, cell phone and computer that I am afraid I’m turning into a couch potato.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown, I started watching those 24/7 cable network commentators detailing everything about the crisis, hoping to become the most informed person on the subject.
Unfortunately, after of seeing four weeks of contradicting views and opinions, I found I was rapidly becoming the most misinformed, so I decided to change channels and go in search of other sources of information and diversion.
When TV (and the rest of us) were in our infancy, we spent many hours in front of a tiny screen, enlarged by an attached magnifying glass, observing a fuzzy black-and-white image of the stationary logo of our one local station.
Today, many of us are fortunate enough to not only watch sharp HD images on 65-inch flat screens with literally hundreds of channels and thousands of programs, plus rich content on multiple other platforms.
Being a sports fan, I was disappointed to find most live sports events had been cancelled for the duration of the pandemic.
But I was pleased to learn that thoroughbred racing, with online betting, continued to flourish on TV at various tracks throughout the country, albeit with no crowds in attendance.
These included Gulfstream Park in Hallendale, Fla., where my wife and I used to go and bet — very conservatively — with my late mother-in-law.
There are various betting sources on television which allow you to wager as little as $1.
We found it to be a welcome diversion, as long as we limit ourselves to what were our customary Saturday visits with a limited investment.
Without any live boxing matches, I was still able to satisfy my appetite for the pugilist sport by turning to YouTube.
There I got to watch all the great boxing films — the career of the “greatest pound for pound” Sugar Ray Robinson; “Rocky Marciano’s Greatest Hits,” the famous Joe Louis-Max Schmeling rematch and on and on.
And for basketball fans, ESPN’s 10-episode series “The Last Dance” chronicled all the fabulous Michael Jordan years with the Bulls.
There was, of course, much more than sports. I rediscovered TCM, which, in celebrating its 25th year anniversary, featured Ken Murray’s vintage movies of some of Hollywood’s greatest stars at play in their home settings.
I also saw Al Jolson in the original 1927 talkie “The Jazz Singer,” as well some great old comedy films from the ’30s like the Marx Brothers’ “A Day at the Races” among others, including a “Popeye” cartoon.
I took great pleasure in watching all the great musicals of the day. There was the 1943 movie “This is the Army,” a filmed version of the staged Irving Berlin live touring show to raise funds for Army relief, featuring cast of military personnel which ended in a magnificent finale of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.”
The film also featured Sgt. George Murphy, who portrayed a hoofer/choreographer who led the dancing chorus, and a Cpl. Ronald Reagan, who, while not singing or dancing, did excel as the stage manager, an experience no doubt which contributed to his career as governor and president.
If you ever wondered why some people say “They don’t make movie musicals like they used to,” you should check out a few of them on TCM.
I saw the MGM 1948 film “Easter Parade” starring Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ann Miller and Peter Lawford. Believe me, nobody did it better.
With some of the greatest songs of Irving Berlin — the romantic “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” the plaintive “Better Luck Next Time,” the comic “We’re a Couple of Swells” and the celebrated “Easter Parade” — this lush, colorful, gentle, corny piece of old-fashioned whimsy, is a reminder of life as we used to wish it could be.
And speaking of Irving Berlin: Hershey Felder, who is familiar to Chicago audiences for his one-man performances, had to cancel his scheduled Goodman Theatre production as Debussy, decided to help raise money for shuttered theaters by bringing a livestreamed version of his Irving Berlin classic via Zoom from his home in Italy.
When it comes to streaming, there are innumerable opportunities available to see some great works and performances.
A new production company, Broadway’s Best Shows, put together a weekly series on the Actors Fund YouTube channel. The first show, David Mamet’s play “November,” is about a foul-mouthed, unpopular president, Charles Smith, played by an hilarious John Malkovich, who, on the eve of his re-election, is willing to do anything to insure his success.
The play also stars Patti LuPone as his speechwriter, Dylan Baker as his lawyer, Ethan Phillips as head of the Turkey Association and Michael Nichols as an offended Native American. It’s pure Mamet, filled with more F-words that you can count and enough politically incorrect statements to fill several plays. But it is funny if you can handle it.
Definitely not for the kids, it is an unusual production in which each of the actors is in their own home screened via Zoom. Yet it all seems to work.
So should the group’s upcoming production of A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters,” which consists of a reading by only two characters played by Bryan Cranston and Sally Field set for May 21.