Don't make like you haven't been there.
It's Friday night—like, late Friday night; Saturday-morning-late Friday night, as a matter of fact. You, for whatever reason, are at home. Maybe it's because you're tired after a long week of work. Maybe it's because you're saving up for a bona fide rager on the flipside. Maybe it's because the gee-danged cold sores still haven't cleared up, no matter how many times the doctor tells you the outbreak shouldn't last much longer than a month. In any event, the why of the thing isn't what's important: the point is that you're here, and that you're lonely, and that you, Meat.
You need some late-night TV lovin' ASAP, if only to keep from staring too hard into that dark and awful void.
So you pop on the ol' boob tube and find...what, exactly? The after-midnight cable lineup is nothing if not a curious beast, a ragtag amalgam of softcore skin flicks and soul-saving telesermons—hardly the stuff of anyone's pillowtime dreams, to say the least. The lone source of stability, as is so often the case, is sports; whether it's the third consecutive showing of SportsCenter or a thickly-accented rundown of the day's international cricket results, there's something infinitely soothing about a pinch of gamesmanship right before bed. In that spirit, this week's list celebrates the gentle joys of predawn sports television, and the subtle comfort to be taken from our sharing of them. After all, you might be by yourself when you're watching the programs highlighted in this week's Spot, but come on:
When you know millions of other post-adolescent losers are doing the exact same thing, you can't ever really be alone...
Number Five: World's Strongest Man Reruns
What's the only thing better than watching a horde of hulking Nordic endomorphs tow double-decker buses for time? Watching a horde of hulking Nordic endomorphs tow double-decker buses for time just after watching said endomorphs haul the infamous Africa Stone for distance, that's what. The World's Strongest Man series is a foundational pillar of the ESPN empire—so much so that you'd be hard-pressed to take a spin around the dial after 11 p.m. without tripping across at least a few snippets of syndicated nostalgia. Maybe it's Magnus ver Magnusson, grunting his way to one of four titles in the early 90s; or Bill Kazmaier, reeling off a three-peat from 1980 to 1982; or even, if you're really lucky, little Franco Columbo, snapping his left shin bone like a popsicle stick while trying to run with a refrigerator on his shoulders, way back in the inaugural 1977 event. Ever the optimist, the diminutive Sardinian (Sardine?) expressed hope in a post-injury interview that he'd be able to finish the competition...which, if nothing else, is exactly the kind of positive thinking that can get a guy through yet another weekend spent ogling large men in tight spandex.
Number Four: Promo Spots for John Basedow Products
Anyone with the stones to unabashedly dub himself a "Fitness Celebrity" is plenty all right by us. And let's be honest, Meat: it's not like Basedow doesn't back up the talk. The Fitness Made Simple franchise is at the fore of America's latest weight-loss boom—and at a cool thirty bucks a video, the man behind the methodology is getting fat off the proceeds. The secret to Basedow's success? It's not the chiseled abs, or the frosted tips, or even the brain-dead transparency ("exercise more, eat less") of the FMS program; put plainly, it's the dude's ability to make like he's a big shot. Hence, of course, the endless loop of curiously compelling post-primetime infomercials, which have proven once and for all that even a scrawny, effete dork can market-saturate his way to stardom. Think of it like this: when unsubstantiated rumors of your death in the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami are able to generate a national mini-saga (check the —Net if you missed it), you know the publicity campaign was well worth the investment.
Number Three: Spanish-Language Soccer Highlights
Or Spanish-language programming in general, actually. Univision and Telemundo, for our money, are the undiscovered gems of the late-night TV universe—and if you haven't seen enough to agree from experience, we won't even try to explain it to you. Suffice it to say that the delightfully epileptic ftbol commentary—GOOOOAAAALLL!, in the words of the great Andr's Cantor' is but the tip of a far less effable iceberg, a spring from that font of transcultural madness which defies the logic of any language and still somehow makes sense in all of them. Let's put it this way, Meat: if you need a translator to understand the ratings-friendly appeal of a mocha-skinned redhead wearing a bikini and high-heels while juggling three torches and unicycling figure-eights around two apparently appreciative monk seals...you probably aren't ever going to get it.
Number Two: Ultimate Fighting Championship Events
Have you ever seen this stuff? The UFC, near as we can tell, is the rough equivalent of post-apocalyptic gladiatorial combat, a vision of the way the world might look if people ever got to taking Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jean-Claude Van Damme too seriously. (State of nature meets Bloodsport; do your damned homework.) If you're into primal human aggression, you've found your steel-caged Mecca—and even if you're a mosquito-sparing pacifist, we'll bet you won't be able to change the channel. It's like they say about train wrecks: people hate to see 'em, but they love to watch. So go ahead, Meat—indulge that nasty voyeuristic rubbernecker jones you've got going. Just do us a favor and pass the popcorn, because we never could swallow human agony on an empty stomach...
Number One: Tom Emanski Commercials
The precision, the efficiency, the discipline—it's hypnotic, really, like an old Leni Riefenstahl reel minus the melodramatic goose-stepping. To watch a Tom Emanski commercial is to fall under the fundamentally-sound spell of the man whose teams won back-to-back-to-back AAU championships in the 1990s...and that's before Fred McGriff's mug flashes across the screen, at which point any baseball fan with half a pulse is almost desperately ready to shell out $29.99 for immediate shipping on the first of nine groundbreaking instructional tapes. Better still, we at the Spot can't watch an Emanski ad without being reminded of our own Little League experience: the Saturdays at the park, the milkshakes after the games, the crippling inferiority complex that grew out of our inability to hit anything even resembling an off-speed pitch. It's not exactly a shiny-happy stroll down memory lane, of course, but then again wallowing can be a beautiful thing, when it's done right, and hey
If you've spent the last who-knows-how-many Friday nights surfing the airwaves for company, you might as well learn how to savor the wretched struck-out misery of it all.