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John Updike as TV critic

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The year’s best book of television criticism is a novel: John Updike’s new Rabbit at Rest finds hero Rabbit Angstrom an old duffer retired to Florida. There he spends his time playing golf, eating potato chips, and — most of all — watching TV. Rabbit, fingering his remote control, gives us thumbnail reviews of everything from The Cosby Show (a ”summer rerun, one of those with too much Theo”) to The Golden Girls (”all that elderly sexiness, and the tough-mouthed old grandmother, people ought to know when to give it up”) to Cheers (”He can’t stand Cheers now that Shelley Long is gone, that guy with the Cro-Magnon brow he never did like…” — hey, Ted Danson, who’s your favorite author?). Flicking channels, Rabbit stops to watch ”the last 15 minutes of Growing Pains, the only show on television where every member of the family is repulsive.” Updike understands the way TV both illuminates real life and drains life out of it: ”So much canned laughter, so many actors’ tears, all this effort to be happy, to be brave, to be loved….Television’s tireless energy gnaws at him.” Rabbit may be depressed by TV, but John Updike is obviously, as David Letterman would say, hyp-mo-tized.

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