TV teamwork

`ALL your mother and I really want from television,'' my father said, ``is a movie to watch at 8 p.m., preferably an old movie. And we've developed our own way of watching.'' He began describing what he called their ``method of cooperative viewing,'' a process that involves genuine teamwork. ``Stick around for the show and you'll see what I'm talking about,'' he said.

At 7:45, they put their visiting granddaughter to bed. She likes to be told a story before falling asleep, and this assignment fell to my mother, since my father tends to invent tales that use too many technical references and polysyllabic words.

``The last time he told one,'' said my mother, ``Peter Rabbit overloaded a computer's random access memory and had to offload the data onto a storage disc. The child was asleep in about 40 seconds.''

My mother's story held her audience a bit longer, so she missed the first 15 minutes of the movie, a Sherlock Holmes mystery starring Basil Rathbone. She entered the room, saying to my father, ``Now it's your turn to tell me a story,'' meaning he was to fill her in on the show's progress.

Without interfering with the current action, my father proceeded to explain the whos, whats, wheres, and whys, rapidly blurting out bits of information whenever there was a lull. He seemed well practiced and very skilled in this technique.

``Man in prison knows where stolen engraving plates are hidden. For counterfeiting 5 notes,'' he said. ``Makes music boxes in prison. Three of the boxes sold at auction.'' He got all that in when a character paused to open a car door.

Twice during the 8 o'clock hour, my parents' phone rang. My father took both calls, while my mother prepared to reciprocate as narrator. She watched the screen like a hawk and, when the calls were out of the way, reported the plot details so lucidly that my father did not feel he had missed anything.

Most every movie night, there comes a point when they decide to have a snack -- which explains why my mother bolted from the sofa at the start of the third commercial break. Popcorn is frequently the food of choice, and neither of them has yet been able to prepare it within one message break, although both are hopeful of someday achieving that glorious goal. On this night, my mother, despite a valiant effort, was again late, a fact she blamed on ``stubborn and extremely obstinate'' kernels.

Since the dialogue was still audible from within the kitchen, what was required of my father in this situation was to provide something like stage directions, so that my mother could visualize the action while tending the stove.

``Who said that line?'' called out my mother. ``The woman who earlier posed as the maid,'' my father replied. ``She's in the study ... sneaking a smoke bomb into the cabinet behind the desk ... Watson going to get extinguisher ... she crosses to desk and retrieves music box from jar ... exits study....''

Since my parents are very early risers, they frequently drift off to sleep before a movie is completed. On this night, my father noticed when my mother's eyelids were beginning to grow heavy and took it as a cue to become extra alert. He absorbed the details of the show's final scenes, looking a bit like a student cramming for an exam, knowing that in the morning he'd better be prepared for the question that will come with breakfast: ``How did that movie come out?''

As I got up to switch off the set, my father mused, ``I'll have to explain to her about the identity of Dr. S and reconstruct for her the scene in which Holmes intercepts them in the museum.''

For years my parents have watched movies in this way -- one missing 10 minutes here, the other missing 15 minutes there. Yet, owing to their ``cooperative viewing,'' they always feel as if they have seen a complete show. When they visit a theater and do sit still throughout a film, they don't seem to enjoy it as much. I think they miss the verbal give-and-take. They miss the element of teamwork.

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