Pluto TV and the Nostalgic Joy of Drop-In Television

Every night after bath, my 3-year-old and 5-year-old are allowed to pick one show before bed. We have subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, CuriosityStream, and the PBS Kids app, so this can take a while.

Sometimes, as my 3-year-old ponders whether or not he’s in more of a Dino King or Dinotrux mood or the 5-year-old mimes swiping to indicate which exact Paw Patrol episode she wants out of the bajillions available online, my head starts to melt. They’re all the same, kid. Every Paw Patrol is exactly the same!

It’s hard to sustain the upset, though, when the experience is universal. Twenty minutes after they’re in bed, their dad and I will do the exact same thing, only with the addition of silently Googling multiple reviews on our phones. We have two precious hours before we collapse from exhaustion. Why am I wasting this time reading Netflix roundups? Why is this so hard?

Surfer’s Paradise

In this endless loop of quarantine time, this repeating scenario is why I have become mildly addicted to Pluto TV. It’s a free streaming service that you can watch either in your web browser or through an app on any streaming device. Programming is presented live, just like broadcast TV. You scroll through different categories—news, sports, music—and whatever’s on, is on.

It’s advertiser-supported, so the quality of content is surprisingly high. At least, I think so, given that I mostly have Pluto on in the background. The sports section has constant soothing replays of Major League Soccer games, or professional anglers wildly excited about tigerfish, or surfers in endless green barrels on the Action Sports channel.

My other recommended channels are British TV for the anglophiles, MTV, and the cult movies channel, which seems to exclusively play movies that were popular during my formative years (this morning, it’s Memento and Donnie Darko). There’s also a 24/7 kitten and dog channel in the Home section!

Watching random things seems like a hard sell. There’s a lot of really great TV and movies on demand, a lot of fascinating podcasts (including our own). Every day is an endless, circular discussion. Everything has to be intentional.

But considering your options takes time and energy. My day is filled with dozens of draining, tiny time sucks. It’s the 10 minutes that I stand at the door, my dog waiting not-so-patiently at my side, scrolling through podcasts to find just the right one to listen to on our walk.

It’s the 15 wasted minutes out of the 40 minutes I have earmarked for a run, all because I wanted to add a few more songs to my playlist. “Weren’t you going to go on a run a while ago?” my husband asks, as I finally head out the door. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

Pluto TV erases those minutes lost to decision-making. There are only a few channels in every section, so picking a groove is easier and faster. It turns out that I don’t always miss having The Perfect Thing on all the time. In fact, watching The Perfect Thing used to be an event, like watching The X-Files every Friday night with my mom. Those times were special.

Most of the time, broadcast TV was just what happened to be on. I miss that—broadcast’s oddly specific rhythms. I like popping into the middle of a show and shouting, “Whoa! What are they doing to those wildebeests!” I miss the hilarious associations, like choosing to make out to Clear and Present Danger with my high school boyfriend in the basement because it had the loudest background noise.

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