Television, bless it, can invoke both small-time and big-time snobbery.
There are people who believe that watching television is a plebeian pursuit. Such people believe that if they had servants – and some probably do – then downstairs in the servants' quarters is where TV shows would be watched. Upstairs, they study their stock portfolios, order the Giller-nominated books online (not to read, just to have in the house) and stare out the window, sneering at their neighbour's cars. Or so I'm told, anyway.
Then there are those who believe that the only TV to be consumed is serious cable drama. Everything on network TV is, of course, utter rubbish. Such people boast about watching Homeland and view Boardwalk Empire in frustration because about half the scenes seem to unfold in the dark and feature a bunch of guys who all look the same wearing hats. Such people pray that one of these guys in the scene will light a cigarette because otherwise it's impossible to know who is shafting whom. I feel for such people. I've had the same experience myself.
And then there are those who watch no comedy or drama at all. Because, you know, it's all made up. And made-up stuff is silly. People who hold this view tend to assert with pride that they are interested in the news and documentaries. That is, the truth. Not made-up nonsense with actors and foolish pretense. This category of person will, therefore, fail to be enticed by The Office (Thursday, NBC, 9 p.m.) where Stephen Colbert makes a guest appearance. Apparently he's playing Broccoli Rob, who was Andy's college a cappella group nemesis. What larks. Likewise, the anti-comedy and drama crowd will ignore the fact that Buzz Aldrin makes a cameo as himself in tonight's The Big Bang Theory (CBS, CTV, 8 p.m.) in a Halloween-themed episode. Such people are probably anti-Halloween, too.
For the latter group, this column is proud to present a menu of four documentaries to fire up your no-nonsense appetite. And for the rest of you, an opportunity to clear your mind of the cant of made-up stuff, and deal with the truth. If you can handle it, of course.
Babies: Born to be Good? (Thursday, CBC, 8 p.m. on The Nature of Things) takes a look at the question, "Where does our moral compass come from?" We are informed that "in laboratories around the world psychologists are grappling with the age-old problem of morality." What this means is babies are being pestered about their moral sensibility. And no, they are not being asked deep philosophical questions, but they are being studied to determine if their sense of right and wrong is innate or nurtured through their environment. As shocking as it may sound, it turns out that some of them are lying through the teeth they don't have yet. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. But only in places where pipe-smoking is allowed, of course. Otherwise it would be wrong.
Anger in America: The Fire Within (Thursday, CBC, 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) informs us that there is a lot of anger in the United States. Who knew? Seriously, there is much coverage of "the wave of negativity" sweeping across the U.S. The middle class going hungry. Union busting. Four million families rely entirely on food banks. Banks have foreclosed on four million homes. Fewer than 50 per cent of Americans believe their children will be better off than they are. These stats are tossed around as many "ordinary" Americans are interviewed. What's striking is how so many are unable to articulate their anger or find a focus for it. Nobody points this out, unfortunately. Little wonder that Mitt Romney's weird, vague optimism is selling well. If this thing is your bag, be glad. This is the first of a three-part series. You can weep for America for weeks.
Northwords (Thursday, CBC documentary channel, 10 p.m.) has Shelagh Rogers taking some writers to Labrador to be inspired and stuff. Okay, that's sketchy. It's a nicely made and thought-provoking doc and should be on CBC's main channel, not the too obscure documentary channel. In the summer of 2011, Rogers picked five writers – Joseph Boyden, Alissa York, Noah Richler, Sarah Leavitt and Rabindranath Maharaj – to join her in a trek around Torngat Mountains National Park. They see, they think, and inevitably talk about "the idea of the North."
Engraved on a Nation: Playing a Dangerous Game (Friday, 8 p.m. TSN) is superb social history. Made by John Walker, it's a flavourful and nuanced look at the 1969 Grey Cup held in Montreal during the FLQ crisis. We get a political and social context, a great interview with a member of the bomb squad, the memories of players, Miss Grey Cup and the sight of Pierre Trudeau, in a crocheted hat and scarf, kicking off the game. A delight.