Up close and personal with arachnophobia

Halloween is approaching, so let’s get into the spirit of the season! Imagine a giant spider – not quite Shelob-sized, but larger than your average webslinger. It casually creeps into your open hand, giving you a cold, multi-eyed stare before continuing up your arm. Its intentions are unclear. Its next move is unknown.

Hands getting a little clammy yet? If so, you and I have something in common: a fear of spiders. It’s not unusual. In fact, arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias a person can have. It’s thought to be more widespread than both ophidiophobia (a fear of snakes) and acrophobia (a fear of heights). Some scientists have theorized that the distress caused by spiders is hard-coded into our DNA by evolution. That theory, given the universality of the condition, has always made sense to me. What didn’t make sense, especially after some research, was the fear itself. So, about seven years ago I decided to try something a little crazy to fight my fear.

I got a pet tarantula!

The decision was impulsive, so the reasoning behind it would not be easy to explain. I think my approach was much like Batman’s – to keep my fear close so it could be channeled into something positive. My tarantula and I didn’t fight crime, but our five years together did plenty to change my world for the better. No, really.

His name was Muffin. This ludicrous handle led to plenty of chuckles from friends and family, and that was my aim. Tell people you got a pet spider and they’ll reel back. Say its name is Muffin and they’ll crack up. Awkward moment diffused.

Muffin was my quiet sidekick for about 5 years.

Muffin was my quiet sidekick for about 5 years.

Muffin and I went through a lot together despite his limited lifespan as a male. I watched him eat, molt, spin silky webbing, kick hairs in defense and grow into a behemoth over the years. Something bizarre happened along the way. My reactions to everything he did slowly changed from revulsion to fascination and from fear to respect. Feeding time became a strange new form of entertainment, and I even learned things about the creature that online research hadn’t taught me. (Spiders have personalities. Who knew?)

Once, I was transporting Muffin’s cage in my car and hit a deep pothole. His cage overturned and I panicked, but not because I thought he would get loose and bite me. I was afraid he was hurt! That’s when I knew my brain had been rewired, leaving me afraid of spiders yet also afraid of losing one.

This cognitive dissonance reached hilarious heights when I finally held the bugger in my hand. Sorry, arachnophobes, but the mini-Shelob scenario I mentioned earlier was not hypothetical. It happened, and I got it all on tape. A lot of my YouTube fans told me this video helped them with their arachnophobia, too.

The sheer terror I felt while handling my beloved pet made me chuckle because it felt so silly. There was really nothing to fear as this fluffy, aging animal bumbled around in my palm. Could he bite me? Sure, but a hamster would be much more likely to do so, and I can’t remember the last time a hamster sent a shiver down my spine. In his short trek across my hand and into his new cage, Muffin took with him most of my fear.

When he died, I was genuinely sad. He searched all over his enclosure for a female, and when he couldn’t find one he lost all interest in food and stopped eating. He died a hopeless romantic. The news was posted to Facebook where my friends and co-workers were quick to tell me they were sorry for my loss. The overwhelming silliness of this made me chuckle all over again.

Do I still have some fear of spiders? Absolutely. But, the decision to get a new pet tarantula was an easy one to make. After all, I still have a lot to learn from these eight-legged devils.

Fall TV winners and losers, so far

Ashlee and I have been Huluing at a frenzied pace this week, like Huluing was a verb. Between that and our regularly scheduled network shows, here’s the list of winners and losers that you need to know in order to enjoy this aggregate of programming, some old and some new.

James Spader stars as a criminal masterpiece assisting an FBI agent in ABC's "The Blacklist."

James Spader stars as a criminal masterpiece assisting an FBI agent in ABC’s “The Blacklist.”

Winner: The Blacklist (NBC)

This is just a television version of The Silence of the Lambs, right?

Sort of, but is that so wrong?  Let’s face it, TV needs James Spader. Boston Legal would have been just another courtroom drama without him. The Office survived another year because of his Robert California. He’s good, except he’s better when he’s bad. The twists in this are already thicker than expected.

Rookie agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) was surprisingly better than I expected at the beginning. She started off with a little, “Oh no, another poorly written NBC tough girl” and worked into, “Wait, this is actually on NBC?”  The network, as a whole, hasn’t had a good new show in so long, it’s nice to see a drama with enough action to make me want to watch for more than 15 minutes. Well played, NBC.

Meh: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)

The potential was there for this show. Being only a week in, I’ll probably give it another shot before I mark it off my list. This is a good cast, the chemistry just isn’t there. The writing, however, isn’t good. This isn’t really a fit for Andy Samberg, who is usually pretty funny. Maybe if we gave him a laser cat instead of a gun…

The Goldbergs embody everything nostalgic and wonderful about the '80s.

The Goldbergs embody everything nostalgic and wonderful about the ’80s.

Winner: The Goldbergs (ABC)

We love nostalgia. We love disfunction in families (see Arrested Development). We love narration and seeing things through the eyes of one of the characters (see Arrested Development and the Wonder Years). This is good writing. This is funny. This is set in the ‘80s with an ideal cast! The older brother will remind you of Leonard from The Big Bang Theory, by the way. Adam F. Goldberg used his home movies from his childhood as inspiration for writing this comedy. I will be disappointed if ABC doesn’t give us at least 4 seasons.

Loser: Sleepy Hollow (FOX)

I love science fiction. I love action and adventure. This had all of that, then it grossed me out and started dragging its feet. It was slower than Heroes and made me want to speed it up like the last fifteen minutes of school before summer break. I became bored around the time witches were showing up and was grossed out to the point of giving up when I saw Harold, from Harold and Kumar, with his head snapped completely backward. I know this will have a cult following of fans, they’ll drive everyone else nuts trying to get them to watch, but it’s really bad.

Agent Colson returns for more superhero action in Marvel's Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

Agent Colson returns for more superhero action in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

Winner: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)

There’s always going to be a place for Joss Whedon at the table. The Comic-Con crowd  will dictate who can-and-can’t make it on television when it comes to super hero type shows. It’s the reason The Flash, The New Wonder Woman, 70s Spider-Man and Heroes didn’t work, but The Old Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Incredible Hulk did. It has to be somewhat corny, funny, over the top, but find balance with good storytelling and character development.

There also has to be some familiar faces. Agent Coulson is it! He was everyone’s favorite mortal in the Avengers-related movies, so we can take solace in knowing he’s back. There’s also a familiar face for fans of classic television. Ron Glass, who was Detective Harris on Barney Miller and (of course) Shepherd Book on Firefly, is in the pilot of this Whedon project.

There will be doubters, complaints and anger from certain groups of geekdom. That being said, this show will be here for a few season and I will be watching.

Loser: The Million Second Quiz (NBC)

Game shows: Over. Reality TV: Dead. Ryan Seacrest: A parody of the last generation of television viewers before we had The Walking Dead & Breaking Bad.

This is absolute garbage created and intended for the bottom feeders of the viewing audience who are looking for the last few threads of hope that reality television is worth watching. If your life revolves around Kardashians, shows about losing weight, talent competitions, what celebrities ate for lunch and looking past the fact that it’s all scripted —  just poorly scripted — this heap of excrement from the burning pits of television hell is exactly what you are looking for.  I hope I live to see the day when reality television and prime-time gameshows are immediately banished upon birth into landfills.

Loser: Welcome to the Family (NBC)

This was unwatchable for me. I got through just a few minutes before finding it so unfunny and awful that I just turned it off. It wasn’t worth the effort to see what would happen. The cast is unlikeable, the idea of the stern dads from two cultures bickering is about as funny as the Zimmerman trial.

Meh: The Awesomes (Hulu)

A superhero cartoon show that starts off with some steam and just goes flat as you drive it because it’s so full of holes. Good cast of voices, don’t get me wrong, it just can’t stand up for more than a season because the story isn’t that funny and they don’t know what direction they’re taking. This would have done better as a short mini-series instead of a full program.


Winner: Drunk History (Comedy Central)

Not a great, life changing, innovative show, but funny enough of an idea. Some familiar faces in comedy acting out the ramblings of drunken story tellers pertaining to historic stories. Parts of it are funnier than others, but I keep watching, so it’s closer to winner than meh.

Shows I will try:

Back in the Game (ABC)

James Caan can be funny and he can be tough. This gives him a chance to be both. I like baseball, I liked The Bad News Bears, but I can’t stand seeing most kids on television because networks try so hard to be cute that it is sickening. This is a toss-up, but I’ll give it a shot.

The Family Guide (NBC)

Executive Producer, Jason Bateman. It doesn’t matter what it’s about.

The Tomorrow People (CW) – I remember the original U.K. series by the same name. It was corny and fun. This will be neither, but it may surprise me. It has some potential, as far as that goes, with the writer from Chuck (Phil Klemmer) the plot (super powers, like teleportation and telepathy) and a team ensemble group of characters who fight crime. As long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it could work.

The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC)

You kind of, out of respect for his incredible television career, have to give it a shot. Even though NBC has advertised this in a way that makes it look like it’s going to be the worst show in recorded history. What is wrong with their advertising department?

I’ll try it and hope for the best while expecting the worst.

Shows I won’t bother with:

Murder Police (Fox) – Family Guy, you had a good run. Twice. You’re done. American Dad sucked. The Cleveland Show really sucked. This has the potential to be the last nail in the coffin of poorly drawn animated programs.

The Originals (CW) – When I heard The Vampire Diaries was getting a spin-off, I thought, “Wait! You mean a show as good as M*A*S*H, or All In The Family, or Three’s Company, or Seinfeld, or Friends can’t make a successful spin-off, but this will?” No. It won’t.

Sean Saves the World (NBC) – Sean Hayes is not now, nor has he ever been funny. I wouldn’t care if they give it a 5 year run and cast Betty White as the character of his aging grandma. There is nothing that can save this show. It is a 2.5 Men meets every failed father-daughter comedy NBC has ever tried. This premise is dead and I wish they’d quit trying to resurrect it.

Undateable (NBC) – Give it a rest, NBC. Go back to what worked for you with comedy and quit trying to pass this off as funny. I won’t even try to expose the premise, but think of everything wrong with the last few date-shows they gave us (Whitney, Free Agents) and then try to rip off the idea of The Big Bang Theory’s lovable-loser guy ensemble chemistry. Mix that all together and pour it over the executive who approved this idea.

Dracula (NBC) – Imagine, if you will, that in 1984, just a few years after everyone in the country was sick of disco, that the worst disco act of all times cropped up and decided it was a great time to come out with an album.

Now, imagine this: The country is sick of vampires, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries and even True Blood is done. So what does NBC do? Presents us with the worst disco it can find long after the need for a 19th century pale faced, long toothed undead man exists. Heck, give him a pencil mustache just for good measure. This is the Love at First Bite of network television.