I like television. I know there are a lot of people who turn up their noses and say mean things about it, (stupid, mindless, valueless time-suck) but I feel that it's important to stay informed - I watch the news and try to keep up with the culture at large.
But until recently, I never had cable. I only watched broadcast television, because it was free. I haven't seen The Real Housewives of New York/Atlanta/Sheboygan/whatever. I have never seen an episode of Mad Men, The Sopranos, or Sex and the City. I am vaguely familiar with them all as cultural phenomena, but I couldn't pick the actors out of a line up (except Christina Hendricks - she was on my favorite doomed sci-fi series Firefly). And that was okay by me. Broadcast has some excellent programs (Castle, Bones, The Big Bang Theory, Nova...) and the annual rebroadcast of How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the 1966 animated version - I have standards.) The local channels even showed reruns of Star Trek. What more can you want?
But to get any television at my new location, I have to have cable. I have now had cable for two months and it's like regular television, only more so: a whole lot of schlock and a few gems. (To put in in perspective: cable has added 50 new channels to my television line up - I watch 4 of them.) My new favorite is Chopped from the Food Network. It's a cooking competition, where the chefs have to create dishes out of weird and wonderful ingredients that they have only just seen, and then they have 30 minutes to get it all cooked and on the plate. Oh, and presentation counts, so the plates have to look good too.
Chopped is compelling. I find myself on the edge of my seat wondering what kind of main course can you make out of liver, strawberry pop rocks, sea beans, and ghost chilies. Will ranch dressing work with mango? Is he overcooking the fish? Will they get it all on the plates in time? It's thrilling, really.
I am also astounded by the cooks' ability to look at a basket full of disparate ingredients and immediately come up with something. Last night the appetizer round featured pig snout, kale, and tarantula candy (candy in the shape of a tarantula, not candied spiders - just to be clear). I'd have given them all a prize just for coming up with something edible.
I used to think I was a pretty good cook, but Chopped reveals to me my true amateur status. These people are genius.