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TiVo Wishlist Roulette: War

In addition to making it easy for subscribers to record their favorite shows, TiVo has a trademarked feature called "WishList," which allows users to view a rolling two-week schedule of upcoming movies and TV shows starring their favorite actors, or directed by their favorite directors. The WishList also has a "keyword" option, so that, for example, dog lovers can find shows with "dog" in the written description. But TiVo can't read the owner's intent. A dog-loving subscriber who takes all TiVo's suggestions may end up recording a Travel Channel special on dogwood festivals, or Lasse Hallström's coming-of-age arthouse favorite My Life As A Dog.

To test our luck, The Onion A.V. Club entered the keyword "war" into a TiVo WishList and examined the first 14 programs that came up, though for variety's sake, we didn't record any channel more than once, lest we end up with 14 hours of The History Channel. Here's what TiVo scheduled for us, along with an assessment of how well the shows in question would appease those looking for a little war.

3/27/05 — 10:00 a.m. — Military Channel

Show: Battlefield Diaries: Battle Of Al Khafji (2005)

TiVo description: "The Iraqi military launches a surprise invasion in an effort to draw Coalition forces into a ground war during the Persian Gulf War."

Content: American soldiers recall the Iraqi incursion into Saudi Arabia and how it was thwarted by tactical application of air power and tank battalions. A woman taken prisoner during the conflict recalls her ordeal. Ominous music plays over file footage.

Fits the category? Perfectly. War junkies would likely drool over all the shots of military hardware, and soak up the first-person narratives of a little-remembered but historically important clash.

3/27/05 — 5:00 p.m. — VH1

Show: And You Don't Stop: 30 Years Of Hip-Hop (2004)

TiVo description: "Life After Death—The rap war forms from a rivalry between Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records; the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls."

Content: The fourth episode of VH1's thorough and deeply personal hip-hop docu-series explains the origins of the East Coast/West Coast rap feud, as Wu-Tang Clan and Nas emerge with their own New York-bound counter to N.W.A.'s Los Angeles gangsta vision. Later, Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. become sensations, but their larger-than-life criminal personae and hip-hop's code of macho leads to tragedy.

Fits the category? Not expressly, but the escalation of tensions to a point of no return should ring familiar to anyone with an understanding of military history.

3/27/05 — 9:30 p.m. — Toon Disney

Show: Spider-Man (1996)

TiVo description: "Goblin War—Part 1 of 2."

Content: A device called "the time-dilation accelerator" opens a hole in the sky to another dimension and sets greedy supervillains Kingpin, Green Goblin, and Hobgoblin against each other, keeping Spider-Man on his toes and Peter Parker away from his increasingly frustrated girlfriend Mary Jane.

Fits the category? Fractured alliances, sinister strategies, sacrifices on the home front, and men in uniforms: That's war in a nutshell, even if it comes accompanied by sky-scooters and web-slinging.

3/27/05 — 10:00 p.m. — Starz! Westerns

Show: Bad Company (1972)

TiVo description: "Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown, Jim Davis, David Huddleston. Two Civil War draft-dodgers team up for thievery in the Old West."

Content: The excellent feature debut of writer-director Robert Benton features what may be Jeff Bridges' best early performance; he plays a goodhearted bad boy who leads the prim Brown astray as they forge west. Brown, meanwhile, tries to teach Bridges a little moral relativism, urging him not to steal two chickens when they only need one. Pop trivia: At one point in Bad Company, accomplished bad guy David Huddleston humiliates Bridges—an early lesson from The Big Lebowski to The Dude.

Fits the category? While it's true the West was built by people ducking the war, this laconic Western isn't much interested in the historical record. It's more about how the banality of evil unites souls across eras.

3/28/05 — 3:35 a.m. — True Stories

Show: A Short Wait Between Trains (1998)

TiVo description: "Black soldiers arrive home from World War II and encounter prejudice."

Content: Following a harrowing, starkly lit black-and-white battlefield sequence, this well-made fiction short bursts into vivid color to tell an unsubtle but affecting story about a band of decorated African-American GIs who stop in a southern town and are told to eat their lunch in the alley behind a restaurant while Nazi POWs dine inside.

Fits the category? Absolutely. Moreover, this is the kind of curio that people might not discover without a TiVo WishList.

3/28/05 — 7:00 a.m. — Encore Action

Show: Time Tunnel (1966)

TiVo description: "Last Patrol—James Darren, Robert Colbert, Lee Meriwether, Whit Bissell. Gen. Southall (Carroll O'Connor) travels back to The War Of 1812 to confront his ancestor and save Doug and Tony."

Content: O'Connor does a Charles Laughton impression, speaking in a priggish British accent in his dual role as a redcoat colonel and an RAF general. Time Tunnel's heroes spend most of the episode in buckskins, waiting to be rescued. Costumes aside, the era isn't particularly well-represented.

Fits the category? The episode is supposed to take place on the day of the last battle of the War Of 1812, but those rarely satisfied War Of 1812 buffs will find little to chew over.

3/28/05 – 11:00 a.m. – The History Channel

Show: Tales Of The Gun (1999)

TiVo description: "Japanese Guns Of WWII–Japanese armaments were badly outdated as World War II began."

Content: A series of talking-head historians and a museum-quality-dry narrator explain how Japanese bolt-action rifles (with bayonets!), groove-handled pistols, and crude machine guns left the country ill-equipped to fight a modern war. Weapons are photographed lovingly, then demonstrated. Vaguely oriental music plays.

Fits the category? Sure, though there's something a little unsettling about experts dispassionately explaining why the Japanese didn't kill as many people as they should have.

3/28/05 — 7:00 p.m. — G4

Show: X Play (2005)

TiVo description: "'God Of War'; 'Chicago Enforcer'; 'Playboy: The Mansion'"

Content: Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb review video games with maximum snark—even the games they like.

Fits the category? Remember that Simpsons episode where Bart says of Generation X-ers, "We need another Vietnam to thin out their ranks"? The current war came too late to knock off these two insufferable aging slackers.

3/28/05 — 7:30 p.m. — MTV

Show: Viva La Bam (2004)

TiVo description: "Uncivil War—Bam discovers a Civil War cannonball on the property and holds a re-enactment."

Content: Pro skater Bam Margera and his family and friends spend a day swearing at each other and wrecking stuff. Somehow they get Civil War re-enactors involved, as well as a kindly Amish man who tows Margera's Hummer with his horse and buggy. Occasionally, Margera poses Civil War trivia questions to his friends. When they answer incorrectly, he pushes them over hay bales.

Fits the category? If the Vietnam movies of the '80s are to be believed, wartime is pretty much exactly like this.

3/28/05 — 9:00 p.m. — Turner Classic Movies

Show: Tomorrow Is Forever (1946)

TiVo description: "Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles, George Brent, Lucile Watson. A woman's husband, listed dead in World War I, goes to work for her second husband around World War II."

Content: After decades in Austria, a newly bearded, accented, and enfeebled Welles returns to the U.S. and watches his former wife Colbert (unaware of who he is) struggle with their grown son's decision to enlist in the fight against the Nazis. It's a straight-up melodrama, full of syrupy strings and noble sacrifices, about good people pushed to the brink by circumstance.

Fits the category? All the talk of causes worth fighting for seem to paint the movie as pro-military propaganda, but this is really just a programmatic (though exceptionally well-acted) Colbert weeper—war is an excuse for her to gaze forlornly off into the distance, overcome by emotion.

3/29/05 – 8:00 a.m. – ABC Family

Show: 3rd Rock From The Sun (1999)

TiVo description: "Charitable Dick–John Lithgow, Jane Curtin, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart. At a charity auction, Dick gets in a bidding war with Strudwick over a worthless painting."

Content: Stewart and Joseph Gordon-Levitt try to concoct a mission statement, while Wayne Knight deals with Johnston's snoring and Lithgow lets his competitive spirit get him in financial trouble. The aliens learn that charity requires sacrifices.

Fits the category? War is full of tough choices, compromises, and situations that spin out of control. Otherwise... no.

3/29/05 — 1:00 p.m. — The Travel Channel

Show: Loretta Lynn's Haunted Plantation (2003)

TiVo description: "Civil War ghosts haunt Hurricane Mills in Tennessee."

Content: A five-minute anecdote about strange goings-on at Loretta Lynn's house gets stretched into an hourlong special, with biographical information about Lynn interspersed with recreations of the "visitations." Lynn adopts a matter-of-fact tone as she explains how cold mists and dead flies are common signs of haunting.

Fits the category? The ghost of Johnny Reb doesn't stick around long enough to tell any war stories, so no, not really.

3/29/05 — 2:30 p.m. — Nickelodeon

Show: Hey Arnold! (1998)

TiVo description: "Arnold Betrays Iggy; Helga And The Nanny—Cool Iggy sleeps in bunny pajamas; Helga declares war on a practically perfect nanny."

Content: In the first episode, Iggy has a secret; his friend Arnold reveals it by accident, then tries to compensate by doing Iggy's bidding for a day. In the second, Arnold's disagreeable friend Helga gets annoyed by her nanny's meddling and tries to make her look incompetent, with honestly poignant results.

Fits the category? Loose lips sink ships, Arnold. Also, steer clear of problematic alliances.

3/29/05 – 3:00 p.m. – Fox Movie Classics

Show: The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit (1956)

TiVo description: "Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, Fredric March, Marisa Pavan. A World War II veteran can either rise on Madison Avenue or be with his wife and family."

Content: This sober '50s social drama by writer-director Nunnally Johnson has Connecticut suburbanite Peck taking a job in public relations with a New York broadcasting company so he make more money. A boring commute and petty ethical dilemmas make Peck pine for his days as an officer in WWII's European theater, when he made real life-and-death decisions.

Fits the category? Surprisingly yes, and not just because there's a lot more hard-boiled combat footage than a viewer might expect from a description of the plot. Like The Best Years Of Our Lives, this is a frank movie about transitioning from the drinking, carousing and killing of wartime to the constricting responsibilities of middle-class careerism. Easing out of war proves to be a war in itself.