Danny Tyree

I had forgotten about it but my father once reminisced about finding elementary school-aged me habitually “watching†TV with my back turned to the set.

He said I explained that I could imagine more interesting scenes in my mind.

The real demonstration of my creativity was that I could conjure a more tactful response than “How about springing for a color TV, Ebenezer?â€

I still have trouble giving the boob tube my undivided attention.

My wife and I dearly enjoy certain programs; they are not just background noise but our busy lifestyle forces us to multitask. In my case, I scroll through newspaper PDFs, outline a column or answer email while casting glances at the screen.

Yet several recent trends make even the most visually boring programs a hassle to take for granted.

Perhaps the most innocuous is the unexpected transition to a scene where characters are conversing in American Sign Language (ASL).

Truly, it is heartwarming that the hearing-impaired are no longer marginalized as nonexistent but when I recognize a conspicuous silence and scramble to rewind to play catch-up, it’s just one more example of Hollywood guilt-tripping me.

(“You can’t dance like celebrities on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or sing like contestants on ‘The Voice’ or spend money like the clowns on C-SPAN. You didn’t even learn ASL. Or marry a doctor who knows ASL. Or give me grandchildren who used ASL in the delivery room…â€)

Next are the shows where characters perfectly capable of speaking English suddenly go all Tower of Babel and subject us to a mind-numbing string of don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it subtitles. Perhaps the writers are practicing for their own travels. (“Where is the library? Do they have cocaine in the library?â€)

Most annoying is the unheralded shift to characters engaging in a rapid-fire texting marathon, with pivotal messages that are readable only with an IMAX home theater.

Yes, texting is ubiquitous in 21st-century society and writers are trying to “keep it real†but griping about the skyrocketing cost of streaming service subscriptions is ubiquitous in 21st-century society as well. 

No one feels compelled to put those sentiments into the mouth of a dopey dad or hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold. Weird.

Also, the attempt to keep programs cutting-edge and relevant will seem merely quaint in a few years when we all have brain implants and communicate telepathically. (“What are they doing in this old show?†“I think they called it texting …on an intelligent-phone. She’s probably inviting her friends to buy Pet Rocks and churn butter.â€)

I know all the writers, actors, directors, set designers and wardrobe coordinators think there is a social contract that we are obligated to keep jumbo-size Visine handy and scrutinize every blankety-blank frame of every program but that “all or nothing†volley against multitasking may push more viewers to turn off the set and focus on their pets, reading or getting a weekly colonoscopy.

What’s a good compromise? Maybe programs could have a warning siren when there is about to be a jarring change from a run-of-the-mill conversation. Not an Amber Alert, but more of a Pretentious Artiste Alert.

(We need a separate warning for “Stop sorting your grandmother’s recipe cards! This inane chitchat will be interrupted by your favorite character getting creamed by a hit-and-run driver. Again.â€)

I wish my father was here to help. He probably even knew “Bah, humbug!†in Spanish.

Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at [email protected] and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.â€