Since I often work at home, I make it a rule not to turn on the television in the middle of the day. I find the tepid assortment of soaps, fake courtroom trials, and home decorating shows dispiriting at best, but the rule exists more because I know too well my own susceptibility to malaise. Once the sun goes down, switching on the set feels a tad less disreputable; it's sort of like drinking.
But recently I broke that rule. I came home around lunch time, carelessly tore into a blister pak of Tofurkey sandwich-meat substitute with a cheap serrated knife, and pushed the blade right through the plastic, deep into the very real meat of my index finger, cutting a gill-like flap of tissue into the tip. It was fascinating to watch, but then the blood came pulsing out and I had to stanch with a lot of paper towels and sit very still with my hand raised as if signaling Stop! or How! It didn't bode well for an afternoon of typing, and with health-insurance issues yet unresolved, an afternoon in the emergency room seemed too rich for my blood--what was left of it. I decided to coagulate on my own and pursued the course of treatment I believed most readily available: Cinematherapy.
For those unfamiliar with the new cable channel WE: Women's Entertainment, Cinematherapy is their premier original program, little more than a station-identification frame around a film--any film--from their archives. The premise, according to WE's promotions, is, "Movies are more than mere entertainment: Movies are self-medication." The show consists of an introductory song with Ricky Lee Jones-like vocals, opening credits in breezy sanitary-pad-commercial-style animation, and silly skits and commentary by hosts Kate and Jessie, "licensed cinematherapists"--all of which is almost worth enduring to get to the actual movie, which, once it gets rolling, has no commercial interruptions.
I wish that the decision not to air ads during the movies stemmed from a heightened aesthetics, but the sloppy dubbing and slash-and-burn editing a la TNT or USA suggest otherwise. Perhaps few advertisers have yet signed on. Cinematherapy is, however, also a movie reference book penned by the show's hosts, so the entire production serves as tacit endorsement of the product, and vice versa. You have to admire their synergistic moxie. Still, they've aired the same Neutrogena ad touting a microbead scrub so many times I need an exfoliant to slough it out of my brain. Ditto the New Age meditation clips that flank most commercial breaks: a flower unfurling, a placid blue lake, an undulating sea of grasses. Accompanying captions exhort me to relax, restore, recharge--as if I were frenetically multitasking, not spread languidly across the sofa watching television.
These may be a byproduct of the channel's recent inception, or makeover--the self-consciously neo-feminist, celebrity-slathered WE was formerly a niche cable channel titled Romance Classics. Perhaps that's why it gives off the same conflicted aura as so many publications geared toward women, where the surface message is one of glossy self-realization while the content is largely diet plans and sex tips. "Women" would seem to comprise too broad a market to cater to, though currently three channels purport to do so. Lifetime and Oxygen came first, but neither offers WE's volume or assortment of movies.
They're an odd lot, sleepers and straight-to-videos and the occasional terrific but unsung little gem. You might see Sissy Spacek, who is fetching in any film; you are more likely to encounter such unholy screen alliances as Jennifer Jason Leigh with Rutger Hauer. Or Jude Law struggling valiantly to portray a teenager alongside Claire Danes and that insufferable kid from Dawson's Creek (you know the one). Jude Law in a football jersey! Succumbing to peer pressure! I once spent an entire morning parsing out for my helpless breakfast companion the complicated, preposterous plot of one late-night Cinematherapy offering that starred Kenneth Branagh as a priest who fathered twins by the wife of one of his flock and who failed to follow up on a murder admission--and no, it wasn't offered in the sanctity of the confessional. He was, as you might expect, a tortured priest, but, curiously, not over either of those matters.
Movies are categorized by themes such as Men Behaving Well, Dysfunctional Romance, and Bad Hair Day. Inexplicably, the Branagh vehicle (titled The Proposition; consider yourself warned) was dubbed Happily Ever After, though the female lead (Madeleine Stowe, struggling valiantly to maintain her dignity) dies at the end while giving birth to those priest-begotten sons.
Many of these films are Hollywood's unwanted children. That means they're large and small bombs with a budget, projects in which most of those involved would just as soon forget ever happened. Thanks to WE, I can watch big-name stars shot in exotic locales, camping it up in period dress and generally humiliating themselves, and it makes me feel rather tender and protective toward them. Surely it's therapeutic, that bolstered sense of nurture. I'm enfolded, however briefly, in the warm embrace of someone else's blunder, rendered on a much grander scale and with far better production values than my own.
How infinitely preferable to Lifetime Originals, wimpy docu-dramas that pander so shamelessly to women's victimhood. Those blur in my mind into one convoluted, misogynous plot: A woman marries her date rapist, only to discover he's cheating on her and may be a killer. She gets pregnant, but a life-threatening disorder forces her to choose between abortion or her own demise; meanwhile an obsessed barren woman is hovering by the stirrups to kidnap miracle baby and raise it as her own. Starring Kate Jackson and Harry Hamlin.
I found out on my finger-maiming afternoon that, alas, Cinematherapy is aired evenings mostly, except for some weekends. But the weekday injured or slothful needn't despair: The same idiosyncratic assortment of movies are broadcast on Between Us With Naomi Judd, described by the WE Web site as "a new daytime programming block devoted to relationships." Tune in a half-hour late for the 2 to 4:30 p.m. block, else you will be subjected to House Calls, a segment that has psychiatrist Irvin Wolkoff intruding into the homes and lives of histrionic exhibitionist lovers, spouses, parents and children, and quite possibly pets and pet owners. A few homilies and many tears later, everyone's hugging. I can get that from Oprah, and sometimes even Ricky or Maury. I want from cable what I can't get from the networks: namely, frontal nudity and commercial-free movies.
Each day's film offering is purportedly used as a springboard for relationship topics that Judd will then address, but I cannot comment knowledgeably on that as I have strictly curtailed further exposure to Between Us. Perhaps it's the jarring effect of Judd's severe, Sunset Boulevard cosmetics in that forcibly homey, coffee-klatch context. There she sits in her cozy kitchen, pies a'browning, an aging amalgam of Ginger and Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island. My fear is that if I break my no-daytime-TV rule again to listen to her faux-folksy blather on relationships, I'll be swilling vodka straight from the bottle long before dusk. I like to watch movies, even poor ones, and I don't get premium cable, so I'm willing to endure a great deal for the pleasure of some light, quirky fare without commercials. Still, I prefer to be in the hands of professionals. Judd may be a country-music maven, and her house-calling shrink may hold an advanced degree, but neither of them are licensed cinematherapists.