Heartbreakers

We’ve all been there: the first look, the initial teases, the memorable first date, the breathless anticipation, the shy touches and blushes . . . and then the shocking flame-out.

Male-female relationships? That’s kid’s play. No, I’m referring to the heartbreaking cycle I’ve endured with my unrequited passion for TV series I loved and lost.

I’m reflecting on that special kind of pain after NBC pounded me with previews for its new series Revolution throughout the Olympics. I even watched the extended preview with scenes of the U.S. after the collapse of the electrical power grid. The view of a weed-choked Wrigley Field in Chicago echoed the conclusion of Planet of the Apes. I saw a young cast led by a bow-and-arrow wielding heroine, sword play, and the quest to turn the power back on. Of course the preview hinted at a vast, shadowy conspiracy and the need to uncover what was really behind the calamity.

I could love this easily imagined scenario. My passion for conspiracy-minded TV is vast. I watched every episode of 24, which rewarded me with thrills and chills and Elisha Cuthbert for eight uneven but gripping seasons. I even posted essays on 24 fan sites, a pre-blogging kind of expression I’ve never done before or since. I also loved the first season of The Walking Dead when I could get it on video; I even read the very long graphic novel afterward. Years ago, I read Stephen King’s The Stand, which was haunting, and enjoyed the mini-series with Molly Ringwald. I became a fan of Firefly, a beloved and influential series that Fox bungled, long after its cancellation — my son suggested that one for me.

But I wonder about Revolution. The tease caught my interest. Would this be the start of a beautiful relationship, or merely the latest in a dreary series of network equivalents of one-night stands? I’ve always been a sucker for sci-fi and apocalyptic TV and movies since I watched The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space in the 1960s. Raquel Welch’s Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C. also captivated me, for more hormonal reasons.

In recent years, my devotion led to naught but regret as one sci-fi series after another dished out the wham-bam-thank-you-Van treatment.

My entertainment Walk of Shame started several years ago when I fell hard for FlashForward. The first episodes were brilliant. Everybody on the planet blacked out at the exact same moment, for the exact length of time, and had disturbing visions of their future. FBI agents, wracked by their own dreams, started to unravel what happened. Even as they did, the series itself fell apart. My sense was the writers couldn’t put together a coherent explanation for the blackout or its aftermath. Loose ends piled up, conspiracies became muddier. I missed some episodes, although I hung on to the end, which hinted at the next flash forward dream. Fox cancelled the series. America yawned.

Saddened, I kept hope for quality TV alive with The Event, with semi-immortal aliens captured by the U.S. government in Alaska. The series grew on me as it progressed. The aliens were riven by intrigue and disagreement about the path to take in deciding whether to cooperate or exterminate earthlings. Since aliens are often portrayed in Borg-like agreement on everything, I found this angle refreshing. The series picked up steam and direction as it moved along. The very last scene promised an explosive second season, perhaps on the lines of the movie Independence Day, but that season never happened. A long gap in the airings (curse you, Fox schedulers!), baffling personality changes in the aliens’ leader, and the usual bogus swamp of plot clutter—always involving a sweaty, treasonous Vice President, lurking in White House hallways whispering into his cell phone—sank the series. Viewers fled in droves. Canceled.

I’m feeling sheepish about my most recent ill-starred love. Goaded by relentless promos, I watched most of Fox’s Terra Nova. Go ahead and laugh; looking back, I have to ask, “What was I thinking?” The show threw an attractive multicultural cast in the time-travel blender, built a set that looked like a pre-historic Club Med resort, shook well – and created a mess. I kicked myself for wasting time even as I watched the episodes, hoping the show would coalesce. But it stayed stuck on stupid. Terra Nova had too few rampaging dinosaurs, NO exploding volcanoes and way too much idiotic teen romance. The writers lacked the courage to truly explore the show’s premise. If you could go back in time to rebuild human society, what would it look like, and how would people interact? (Terra Nova opted for Dawson’s Creek with pterodactyls.) The concept of building a new society in the past is strong enough without gumming it up with Road Warrior-style opposition forces and yet another corporate conspiracy. The ending intrigued me—the settlement leaders discover a 17th century ship, hinting at past settlers from other eras—but by then millions of other viewers had broken up with Terra Nova and the relationship ended. Adios, dim-witted teens and brontosauruses. Raquel Welch did far more with far less with her fur bikini in One Million Years B.C.

Sometimes I recognize a loser and bail out before I’m too far in. I tried Kiefer Sutherland’s series, Touch, where he was the father of a silent, autistic boy with the power to bring people together through number patterns. Two episodes of cloying global goodness and an impending conspiracy had me reaching for the remote control. I just couldn’t handle an autistic savant.

So that brings me around to Revolution. This is from NBC rather than Fox, so the commercial breaks might be slightly shorter (less time to wash dishes, fold laundry, etc.) and the plotting more focused. I greatly enjoyed executive producer J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield, a story told completely through found footage from cell phones and camcorders of a monster wrecking New York. Abrams’ vision of a powerless America, including shapely women wielding medieval weapons, could lure me back to the TV singles bar one more time in my endless quest for love with a remote control.

Or if it bogs down in its own relentless seriousness and conspiracies, I can always do a Stargate marathon.

Some Modest How-To Ideas

I cover a lot of ground in the book, but one topic I mostly avoid is how-to. By the time you’re in your 40s and 50s, you don’t need my advice on how to present yourself or appeal to men or women. Then again, why not some ideas from a guy who spent years out there knocking around and getting knocked around? I’m compiling a list of pithy, good-hearted guidance, initially for women. As ideas come to me, I’ll add some for men out there who are working the websites and wondering how to make them work better. So:

  • I like self-confidence in a woman, especially on appearance issues. Of course, our bodies changes as we age, and a woman’s sense of satisfaction and self-acceptance is very appealing. Put your best foot forward and save the neuroses for your girlfriends.
  • When going out to dinner with a man, take plenty of time to find a restaurant you both like. Once there, select what you want to eat with a minimum of agonized consideration; long discussions about the pros and cons of different dining options exhaust and confuse men. We like to decide on what to eat and be done with it. Save the food fetishes and phobias for girls’ night out.
  • If you had an enjoyable time with a man and think the feeling is mutual, surprise him with a hand-written thank-you note. Everybody likes to get real letters yet  nobody sends them. Break that pattern and surprise a man with your communications flair and elegant handwriting — you will make a BIG impression.
  • When using an online dating site, remember that men are intensely visual creatures. Use as many profile photos as possible, selecting those that focus on YOU in a favorable, put-together light. Let men’s imagination wander and envision themselves with you via evening wear, business wear, fresh at-home ensembles. Avoid blurry cell-phone and webcam photos, photos with sunglasses (what are you hiding?), travel pictures that make you look tiny (men don’t care that you visited the Eiffel Tower), or group photos with your arms draped around Uncle Fritz and Aunt Gerdl. Show that you care enough to get appealing photos.
  • Don’t let strong political views overly color dating profiles, since that can turn off men who don’t share those values. You may think “Republicans make me vomit!” and “Rush Limbaugh is a war criminal!” but saying so brands you as a political crank rather than a caring progressive. I found profiles with such intolerant views and they were a major turn-off. Men and women are more than their political views so it’s better to agree to disagree rather than dismiss an otherwise compatible man just because he does not think exactly the way you do. (In my experience, liberal women are far more adamant and unyielding in their politics than conservative women.)
  • While on a date, you may see other friends. It’s perfectly acceptable to stop and chat with them and introduce your date of the evening. Beware, however, if the conversation with the friend turns into a one-on-one discussion that leaves your date feeling ignored and isolated. This could especially sour an early date in a new relationship when people feel vulnerable and want to stay connected with the romantic potentiality. Save the deep discussion for later (post-date, when you’ll want to dish about the date, anyway) and keep the focus on having an enjoyable time with the man/woman of the evening.
  • GUYS: This is for you. Based on conversations with women, such as my dear friend, mentioned in the book as Chloe the Oracle of Romance, show some common sense. Chivalry is still popular: Hold open doors, stand up when a lady enters the room, push a woman’s chair in at a restaurant, observe good grooming at all times, be attentive to a woman’s interests and questions. Don’t drone on about your obsessions, be they sports, World of Warcraft, the “Saw” movies, your prostate, or anything else that could be a conversation-stopper. Keep the focus on getting to know your date and let her know about you — but not everything about you. Sure, you’re interesting — but she is, too.