Fireworks? Phooey. Craning your neck to see past a gaggle of gawking tourists and self-absorbed picnickers, just to join in the annual chorus of Pavlovian oohs and ahhs that's supposed to mark what, exactly? America's 200-year-long descent into officially sanctioned kitsch? Barbecues? Bah, humbug. Middle-aged spatula jockeys baring their knees for the first time since last year, varicose Velmas getting gossipy on gin, and potato salad that'd just as soon kill you as look at you. And don't forget the twining, existential conversations about lawn furniture.
Family? You saw 'em last year. Friends? You'll see 'em next weekend. In case you hadn't noticed before -- and don't try and tell me you're always stuck in the Hamptons with "Steve" Spielberg and the Baldwins -- the Fourth is consistently a couch potato's paradise. Judging by the way television execs pack the schedule with "Twilight Zone" and 24 Hours of Eastwood, there are plenty of losers out there -- let's say iconoclasts -- just like you (and yes, most of them are apparently guys). Got cable? Then you've got plans. Admit it. Stare it straight in the eye, for 24 straight hours. Declare your Independence Day.
12:00-1:30 Damn! Dark Passage already started, at 11:30 on Turner Classic movies (TCM). Bogart and Bacall in this crisp noir, about a wrongly accused man who gets plastic surgery and winds up looking like just Bogey. Do yourself a favor, and start a half hour early.
1:30-2:00 Cleanse your palate with the last half hour of the milk-fed cowgirls of America's Junior Miss on TNN. Or go with TV Land for a dose of Sanford and Son, Redd Foxx being pretty damn funny. I won't make you choose.
2:00-3:00 A Must-See for this particular experiment: Independence Day: The History of the Fourth of July. Breaks permitted for the consistently sublime Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist on Comedy Central at 1:30. If you absolutely must watch Naked Gun I, bring a note from Mom. It's on USA until 4.
3:00-6:00 Get low in the saddle for the Magnificent Seven. Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn (the infinitely cooler young model) and Charlie Bronson (ditto), all the way down to Robert Vaughn as the nervous guy and Eli Wallach chewing scenery as the head bandido. Nuke some nachos and enjoy the ride. Did I mention TNT has a lovely habit of rewarding night owls with a lower dose of commercial interruption? Alternate for the ladies and sensitive men: Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn in the weeper Robin and Marian, on A&E from 4 to 6. For the geeks: "X-Files" muse Kolchak the Night Stalker, about a vampire-hunting cop (Darren McGavin) from 5 to 6. Another of the SCI-FI Channel's dusty gems. (Who knew that the 3-to-6 slot could be so stacked?)
6:00-7:00 A pick from the retro-chic rack: Wild Wild West, starring not Will Smith but Robert Conrad, or back-to-back half hours of that mouse of the Rat Pack, Joey Bishop, in his eponymous comedy show. Sinatra stop-by not likely. On TV Land.
7:00-7:30 Yes. Do it. Watch the Teletubbies on PBS.
7:30-8:00 The networks aren't all bad. This Old House on CBS.
8:00-9:00 Morning is cartoon time. Froot Loops and NICK, for You're on Nickelodeon, Charlie Brown, followed by a bracer of Looney Tunes. But don't you dare stay for Tiny Toons. Spielberg is a hack.
9:00 Now entering the live-event zone. Check in with NBC’s Wimbledon coverage and laugh at the British, starting at 9 and runs as handy wallpaper until 3 p.m. Perfect for commercial breaks. Alternate, if you’re still on breakfast: Bugs and Daffy on TOON till 10. 10:00 Coverage of the X Games starts at 10 on ESPN2, and, like Wimbledon, runs all day. Perfect if you prefer a can of Jolt to the whole champagne-and-strawberries thing. (Pabst-and-pork-rinders: Inside NASCAR on TNN.) 10:30 Time to catch up with the gasbags’ view of the world -– they do run the country, after all. With Tim Russert giving way to Bud Collins on NBC, the Sunday chats are left to Face the Nation on CBS and This Week on ABC. Aside from the venerated annual Nathan’s Hot-Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, these two shows (plus Wolf Blitzer on CNN at noon) will likely be the only news events of the day.
11:00-12:00 Not to be missed: VHI’s instant chestnut, Behind the Music, takes on "Weird Al" Yankovic. Sorry, no ODs or orgy stories, but you do get a free look at Al’s new look -– he got eye surgery and shaved the mustache and tamed the hair –- and the new "Star Wars" song parody. Get Weird, baby! (For true Al addicts, UHF, with Michael Richards thrown in for good measure, was on early in the morning, but I was embarrassed to mention it. Check local listings surreptitiously).
NOON It oughta be on the History Channel, but you’ll need Classic Sports to catch an epochal moment in the history of Air Time: The 1976 ABA Slam-Dunk Contest, in which Dr. J dunks from the free-throw line. Worth it for the afros and the patriotic red-white-and-blue ball alone, but Dr. J from the free-throw line? Nothing less than the birth of the highlight film.
12:30 Normally I would never recommend this, but apparently there’s some pretty wild stuff going on in MTV’s Real World VIII, like nudity, same-sex smooching and a mess-with-the-Biodome intervention by MTV producers on behalf of an alcoholic guest. For demanding voyeurs, this incarnation of a supremely ridiculous series may finally clear the bar. Two episodes, back-to-back.
1:30 If Wimbledon, skateboarders, and baseball on Fox are leaving you dry, head back to the movies. A Fistful of Dollars on TNT. Clint and Lee Van Cleef, in one of Sergio Leone’s better dishes of spaghetti. Or at 2, try the The Molly Maguires on BRAVO, a Richard Harris-Sean Connery coal-miner saga. Much better than it sounds.
4:30-6:30 Giiiirrrrrrrlllllls!!!! U.S. Women’s World Cup Soccer, vs. Brazil or Nigeria, on ESPN. Everybody’s talking about it, and you know what? Believe the hype.
6:30-7:00 No nudity yet? Another Real World VIII tides you over till 7.
7:00 Rumble in the Bronx. High camp with Jackie Chan, and without doubt the most fun I’ve ever had in a movie theatre (watching a movie). Try it on TBS.
8:00 Sunday night. Eight o’clock. Need I say more? The Simpsons, followed by the inferior-but-still-Groening Futurama. At 9, ditch Fox for the Emeril-fest Big Bam Countdown on the Food Network, or PBR Bull Riding on TNN. For the cineasts, two excellent movie options for the prime time. Rebel Without a Cause, on TCM, or Todd Solondz’s hilarious "Happiness" predecessor, Welcome to the Dollhouse, on IFC.
10:00 Post-prime time. Bellies are full, kids are dozing, and across the country, suckers are fighting traffic. After a long and glorious day, things are slowing down in TV land too. Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis in Sex and the Single Girl on TCM. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine on A&E. Dumb & Dumber (no "Kingpin," certainly) on TBS. Try for the Benigni segment of Jim Jarmusch’s spotty Night on Earth on IFC. But don’t worry, because...
11:00 Mystery Science Theater 3000 will take you into that sweet goodnight. Featured movie (as if it matters): "The Touch of Satan." The janitor and the robots won’t let you down. Especially if you’re good and drunk by now.
12:00 Be proud of yourself. You stood apart from the crowd and plopped down on the couch, murmured something like "give me TV or give me death" and accomplished what most men only dream of: A day of total passivity (did I mention to stock up on grub on Saturday?). Your personal Independence Day is over, and you’re a new nation unto yourself. Keep watching if you want. I’m going to bed.