I cut the cable a while back. Not literally, but the giant corporation and I had a disagreement over their ever-increasing cable bill: they wanted me to pay it and I disagreed that I had the money to keep doing so.
It was the end of a long romance. I remember being captivated the first time I saw cable, back when Teleprompter was the service provider for Tuscaloosa. Its cable access channel consisted of a camera panning back and forth across a bank of three weather gauges 24 hours a day, and it couldn’t have seemed more impossibly futuristic. There was a lot of curious programming in that desolate video frontier, notably the circuitous Bible lectures of Reverend Gene Scott, a preacher in a cowboy hat
Then later there was that fateful night at Ray and Terri Westbrook’s house, where they got this new cable channel called MTV. Ah, the music videos of the Eighties; glitzy as Nancy Reagan’s aspirations and as vapid as Ron’s.
And don’t get me started on Dean and Company.
So leaving cable and its instant gratifications was a trifle traumatic, but as a hardcore television consumer, I knew I had to find another connection. Mistrusting satellite reliability and having nothing to receive with my old analog rabbit-ears antenna, I needed a 21st Century solution for my 20th Century addiction.
I got a Roku box.
Ever since I invested in X-Ray Spex in the back pages of DC comics, I have always been a sucker for exotic technology, especially the kind that’s cheap and portable. About the size of a square hockey puck, Roku offers a way to play internet-streaming video on your TV without a computer. You buy the box for fifty bucks (ninety for the deluxe model), hook it up to your internet provider and your screen, and suddenly a very strange world of visual delights pours into your domicile.
Much like the internet, Roku aims to strike a bargain between the supremely eccentric and the viably commercial. By its own reckoning, Roku’s most popular channels include Netflix, Amazon Video, the Disney Channel, Fox News Channel, Major League Baseball and Hulu Plus.
If you’re used to streaming Hulu on your phone or computer, you know it’s a repository of TV shows new and old. By coughing up $8 a month for Hulu Plus, the Roku user can be plunged deeply into the nether world of video.
For example, new this week is the Korean drama series Vampire Prosecutor 2—what, you missed 1?—in which Yun Jung Hoon once more stars as Min Tae Yeon, the barrister with a taste for histrionics and hemoglobin. Only one episode in the queue so far, but the season is young.
There’s also director David Lynch’s Dumbland cartoon series; a Japanese high school drama called Answer Me 1997 which might single-handedly trigger a Nineties nostalgia craze; hitherto forgotten episodes of The Frugal Gourmet; a reality show from Liverpool entitled Desperate Scousewives; and among dozens of anime epics, the one whose title sums up contemporary television: Humanity Has Declined.
That’s a nice variety of shows from Hulu Plus, but Roku aims to take you to the fringes of the video universe, offering whole channels that could not exist in normal gravity. Submitted for your approval, there’s Koi TV, “The Color of Water,” a channel that “contains koi-related videos targeted at koi hobbyists.” You know who you are.
Right now, I’m pondering adding Al-Mouridiyyah Television, “available exclusively by Hizbut-Tarqiyyah,” mainly because I have a hard time keeping up with religious events in Senegal.
There’s no shortage of spiritual journeys on Roku. Of course there’s a Mormon Channel (with its spin-off, BYU TV), but Calvary Chapel in Melbourne has its own channel, as do Jimmy Swaggart, Kenneth Copeland, and God. (Is GOD TV in HD? Subscribe and see!) There’s room enough on Roku not only for Jewish and Muslim channels, but also for EWTN and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil.
Reverend Gene Scott, sadly, is no longer available for screening.
Should you be of a more secular bent, Roku can hook you up with Trigger Talk, where the conversation is always high-caliber; the Airplane Owners and Pilots’ Association channel; the somewhat redundant Warriors of War channel; or Boboc TV, consolidating all your favorite Romanian channels. All of them.
There seems scarcely a niche Roku cannot fill. I admire the aim of JDRF TV, all about living with Type 1 diabetes, but my aluminum foil hat is tipped to offerings such as Shear TV, dedicated to the past and present output of Rhonda Shear (formerly the hostess of USA Network’s Up All Night movie series); the Hypnotherapy Channel (watch it once and you’ll never turn it off); and my personal favorite, DOG TV. No, it’s not GOD TV spelled backwards, but a channel designed to be left on for your pooch to watch when it’s home alone.
According to the producers, “DOG TV should help stimulate, entertain, relax and habituate dogs by exposing them to various movements, sounds, objects, experiences and behavior patterns.”
In other words, a nice change of pace from Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
I kid the Roku box, but there’s some serious content to be had from it as well. Cable never gave me an option for watching the televised feed of Democracy Now, award-winning journalist Amy Goodman’s weekday compendium of news from a progressive point of view. Roku gave Amy her own channel to fill. Likewise, cable TV has given space reporting short shrift, so when Curiosity landed on Mars, I was watching the NASA TV stream on Roku. Though I’ve found only one live news stream on the box, it’s a good one to access in these troubled times: Al-Jazeera English.
About the only thing I miss from cable is a televised hygrometer. All in all, Roku is a good box to think outside.