After Life

We’ve been watching a lot of TV lately.  Who hasn’t?  When the workday ends, you’ve been reading from a computer screen for nine hours straight, and you’ve just taken your third walk of the day around your neighborhood, what the heck else are you going to do?

after-lifeI’m not sure you could call this a positive, but because of abundant TV sampling we’ve watched some shows that we probably wouldn’t have watched otherwise.  And, because of the high-volume exposure to the boob tube, I’ve also identified a core problem with me, as a TV viewer.  The problem is that, instead of simply enjoying a show, I always try to figure out what the creator of the show wants me to think about the main characters.  When I watched House, for example, I always wondered whether the creator of the show wanted me to grow to like the brilliant main character, or sympathize with him because of his bad leg, or think he was a colossal, egotistical jerk who would never have a friend like Wilson in real life.  Dr. House’s complex, multi-dimensional character (brilliantly played by Hugh Laurie) was one of the things that made that show a good watch in my book.

For most shows, figuring out how you’re supposed to react to a character isn’t a problem, because most shows are written so that it’s quickly apparent that a particular character is supposed to funny, or repellent, or heroic, or whatever.  It’s pretty rare for a show to leave that central issue ambiguous, where the creators are comfortable with different viewers, perhaps, reacting to a particular character in different ways.

After Life is one of those rare shows.  Written and created by, and starring, Ricky Gervais, it features a main character, Tony, who is one of those ambiguous characters.  He’s obsessed with watching highly personal videos of his life with his wife, now dead of cancer, and has been toying with the idea of killing himself because her death makes him so sad.  That’s pretty sympathetic, but a lot of the videos that he watches reveal him to be a kind of annoying prankster and a bit of a jerk.  (His wife, on the other hand, seems like a real saint to laugh, for example, when he sets off an air horn while she’s sleeping.)  He’s a colossal jerk with some people, for no readily apparent reason, and a nice, supportive guy to others.  He’s ridiculously mean to people who wouldn’t challenge him, but won’t say boo to the world’s worst therapist who’s supposed to be helping him deal with his grief.

So, what are we supposed to think of this guy?  Dismiss him as a weepy sad sack who just can’t move on?  Feel sorry for him because he’s so totally distraught?  Think he’s funny because of his witty snark?  View him as a jackass who’s just pushing away most of the people who are trying to help him?  Decide he can’t be all bad because he’s got a great dog that he obviously cares about, and anybody who’s got a relationship like that with a dog must have some redeeming qualities?  The perspective on Tony keeps shifting.

It’s worth watching.

Increasingly Online

Even before the coronavirus shutdown, our economy was increasingly moving into more of an internet economy, where a lot of consumer commerce was done through online ordering.  With the shutdown, that process has accelerated to warp speed.  We’re to the point now where Amazon, Fed Ex, UPS, and U.S. Postal Service trucks are an everyday sight in our neighborhood, appearing at all hours.  And when you walk down the street you see packages left on a lot of doorsteps.

It’s been a godsend during the shutdown, when the “brick and mortar” stores are for the most part closed by governmental order and people have turned to the internet to supply everything from groceries to clothing to shoes to whatever might help to keep their kids entertained while they are cooped up indoors.  It’s hard to imagine what this period would have been like without the online economy to fill the void when the traditional stores were shuttered.  That’s the reason you see signs in many places, like the one above, thanking the hardy delivery people for playing such a key role in helping people to make it through this extraordinary period.

But . . . what’s going to happen when the reopening occurs?  Are people going to go back to the real-world stores, or will the shift to online shopping be permanent?  That’s a crucial question, because while the online world is convenient, it employs only a fraction of the people who worked in the brick-and-mortar retail world before the shutdown.  If the American shopper goes into full online mode and the local businesses close, we’re going to have a serious, systemic unemployment problem.  And there’s also a local, community element at play.  The online behemoths are usually located far away — and perhaps overseas — the stores in your neighborhood typically are small businesses, owned by people in the community who have an interest in the community.  I saw a sign recently that read something like “Amazon won’t sponsor your kid’s baseball team.”  There’s a lot of truth in that sentiment.

Like everyone else, we’ve done our share of online ordering during this shutdown period, and have appreciated having that option.  But when the shutdown ends, I’m going to focus on trying to buy from the local businesses and brick-and-mortar stores that have been so hard hit by the shutdown, and perhaps even be a little more generous than normal in my spending.  These parts of our community are going to need help to get back on their feet.