"True Blood, The Pacific, Treme... Go ahead, first one's free, kid."
Let me just make one thing clear: My childhood was not all fun and games. I know it seems like I’m the product of a functional, loving, stress-free upbringing, and for the most part I was, but there was definitely some darkness I had to deal with growing up that has affected me ever since then. This isn’t something I like to talk about a lot, but I think now is the right time for me to open up about one of the greatest ongoing tragedies in my life:
My family has never had HBO.
Not having HBO is the white people problem to end all white people problems. It’s a veritable white people humanitarian crisis. Since I was about 15 I’ve wanted nothing more than to have unfettered access to the creme de la creme of premium cable, but my cruel and unforgiving parents always said no, even when we were marathoning DVD after DVD of The Sopranos from Netflix. Their excuse was always that HBO was “too expensive,” probably because they were saving for retirement or my college fund, the cheapskates.
So because of my parents’ neglect, I spent years stuck with basic cable, back in a pre-Mad Men time when basic cable wasn’t all that good yet. That meant that when I went off to college I was totally at a loss when all the other upper middle class kids would make references to Curb Your Enthusiasm or Flight of the Conchords or Game of Thrones - and if I can’t participate in pop culture references, then what’s the point of all this?
There’s a lot of places in my life where I’m willing to settle for less - that’s why I do most of my clothes shopping at Target and drive a car that always feels like it’s one pothole away from collapsing like a beer can pyramid. Even when buying peanut butter, which is hands down one of my favorite spreadable substances, I’ll still buy the dirt-cheap Kroger brand stuff to save a couple bucks. But TV is different. I want the best TV money can buy (although if I could avoid paying for it that would be super.)
But my parents aren’t the only ones guilty of depriving me of HBO - HBO itself has also gone to great lengths to keep me from enjoying its violent, profane, sexy content. For four years now HBO has refused to offer their online streaming service, HBOGo, as a standalone product instead of just a supplement to their cable service. What that means is that if, like me, you don’t have cable* and instead watch all of your TV online, you can’t get HBO - unless, that is, you can get your hands on an HBOGo login.
*Actually my apartment does have a basic cable package included in the rent, but it was set up years ago by some old tenant who has since moved on and all of the important login/password information has been lost to time. Because we don’t have the account information we can’t upgrade our cable to get HBO - and we also can’t cancel our cable, since we don’t know the name on the account we’d want them to deactivate, which means we’re pretty much stuck in cable purgatory watching Family Guy reruns and ESPN2.
Since nobody under the age of 35 pays for their own HBO subscription, there’s now a television black market of sorts where 20somethings secretly swap and share their parents’ HBOGo logins to get premium cable without the cable. For years I’ve been trying to find somebody willing to make one of these deals with me, but since I never bought drugs in high school I don’t really know how to find a clandestine supplier.
Luckily, last week my friend Sabba offered me a life-changing opportunity to escape from cable purgatory - one of her friends would be willing to share his parents’ HBOGo login with me in exchange for an old Hulu Plus subscription I’d forgotten to cancel. As deals go, this was a no-brainer - trading access to Hulu Plus for HBOGo is like trading a bag of gravel and dog hair for Luxembourg.
Sabba acted as middlewoman, collecting my Hulu information and forwarding it to her friend, then sending me the HBO information. Hands shaking, I scurried to my computer to login and authorize my AppleTV for HBOGo.
And then I was in.
For a good ten years I’ve found myself repeating the phrase, “Oh, I really want to watch that, but I don’t have HBO” every time somebody starts raving about some incredible show. Entering HBOGo’s ‘SERIES’ menu, I found myself staring at a decade’s worth of top-quality television that had previously been off-limits, all of it available instantly at the touch of a button.
I blacked out and came to sprawled on my bed 12 hours later, halfway through an episode of Lucky Louie. I had demolished a season and a half of Eastbound and Down, two episodes of Vice, and rewatched a couple of midseason episodes of True Detective. Normally I make a point of only marathoning one show at a time, but the sheer range of options was too much for me to handle - I fought the urge to run out and buy 5 more TVs so I could watch it all at once.
I started building a viewing schedule in my head, mentally organizing my days to allow for maximum HBO consumption - Eastbound and Down and Bored to Death in the mornings, Boardwalk Empire and Oz all afternoon, an HBO Original Movie with dinner, Six Feet Under before bed… I figured I’d have to give up on most of my other goals and aspirations in life in order to accommodate this schedule, but that was okay, because the only goal I really cared about anymore was “Be Person Who Spends Entire Life Watching HBO.”
But the following morning I woke up to find that the pearly gates had slammed shut - when I tried to log in, HBOGo took me to a dark screen with a tersely worded message informing me that too many devices were logged into the account at once. As it turns out, Sabba’s friend had shared the password with more people than just me, so HBO and I are kind of in an open relationship at the moment.
And I guess that’s fine, since I can watch HBO in the middle of the day when the other suitors are at work. It might actually be a blessing in disguise, since getting kicked out of HBOGo for a couple hours will give me an excuse to eat and bathe. Still, I really wish I could have an exclusive relationship with premium cable - I just don't wish it enough to actually pay the premium.
Truman Capps is probably going to give Carnivale a miss.