I’ve written a lot of blog posts at this stage – over 200, incredibly – and I’ve neglected to discuss, until today, something rather important – television. It’s one of the most significant cultural influences in the world, I think – certainly, it is for me. The shows you watch, and those you spent your youth watching, can have a hand in shaping the way you think about stories, about life, other people, about everything. Of course, my small-screen favourites didn’t influence me as much as the books I loved, but I’ve wittered on about books quite enough around here, as I’m sure you’ll all agree.* So, I thought perhaps I’d talk about some of my favourite TV shows, old and new.
But first – I have to throw this in here:
I am, of course, a child of the eighties. I wasn’t born during that decade, but most of my memories are from that time. So, my favourite shows from my early days include such gems as Grizzly Adams, The Littlest Hobo, The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, Highway to Heaven, Knight Rider, Alf, Harry and the Hendersons, The Cosby Show, Magnum P.I., Jake and the Fat Man, The Wonder Years, The A-Team, and of course McGyver. I don’t think these shows really had anything in common besides they were all American, with rockin’ theme tunes; some of them also featured cheesily happy families, which was something I appreciated in a TV show. I loved ‘Grizzly Adams’ so much that it, quite possibly, gave me the passion I still have today for men who wear beards – though I’m not as keen on keeping bears as pets, these days – and I wanted to go and live with the Ingalls family so badly as a little girl. Actually, watching the TV adaptation of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ led me to read the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, probably the first and only time in my life that I watched a story before I read it. It also gave me an inexplicable love of flat, open expanses of farmland and endless blue skies, and I still have an unsatisfied urge to vist Kansas and walk through a cornfield, all because of that TV show.
A good TV show, a good story, does just what these shows did for me – they get into your head, shape how you see the world, and remain with you through your life. Having said that, I haven’t watched these shows for over twenty years, so I’m not sure how they’ve held up, but I’m glad, in many ways, that my memories of them are unsullied by adulthood. They remain unspoilt, golden and perfect in my mind. I think what they mean to me now, besides nostalgia and warmth, is excitement and adventure and newness – they opened my mind to everything the world could hold when I watched them as a child, as well as showing me that a story could be sustained from week to week, leaving me breathless with anticipation, and looking forward to the next episode almost before the current one had finished.
In the nineties, despite the plethora of brilliant TV shows to be had, one show stood head and shoulders above all the others for me. I regret still that it only lasted for one season. It was My So-Called Life, a programme that told the stories of kids who were (at least on the small screen) the same age as I was at the time, and it was accurate and true to my life and experience despite the fact that it was, again, set in America. And, I’m sure I’ve felt anticipation since ‘My So-Called Life’ was on TV; I’m sure I’ve had things I looked forward to so much that I found it hard to wait for them to roll around. However, the levels of impatience I used to go through as I waited for Friday night to come again so that I could watch the exploits of Angela, Rayanne and their friends were in a league of their own. You were nobody in my school if you didn’t come in on Monday morning full of gossip about what had happened in MSCL and if you weren’t completely up to speed with the very latest on who was dating whom, how dreamy Jordan Catalano was, and whether he would ever make an honest woman of Angela.
I remember like it was yesterday how betrayed and heartbroken I felt when I learned the series had been cancelled, and when I had a chance to buy the DVD boxset of the show a few years ago, I jumped at it. I’ve watched the episodes again over the last few years, and they’re still as good, and as gripping, as they were when I was young. I think the thing ‘My So-Called Life’ has in spades is authenticity – as much as a TV show can be said to be authentic – and a sense of believability which makes it hard for me to admit that Angela’s parents weren’t really Angela’s parents, and that she didn’t really live in a beautiful house in an American suburb beside Brian Krakow, the class nerd who loved her; the show absorbed me, totally. It had everything a good YA story needed – a nerdy boy, a cool but awkward girl who totally, always stuck to her principles (that’s what I loved most about Angela), a messed-up best friend, a closeted gay character, an unbelievably handsome love interest, music references, pop-culture references – the whole gamut. It’s brilliant, and shaped me more than I can say. It let me know that it was cool to be yourself and not to do what everyone else in your life was doing (ironically enough, since watching this show was the most conformist thing I could’ve done, at the time); it let me know that there were all sorts of different people in the world, and all of them deserved to be treated fairly and with respect. It let me know that just because someone looked good on the outside, that didn’t mean they were okay inside, and that what really mattered, at the end of the day, was friendship and loyalty and love.
I’m almost over the fact that the show was cancelled after season one. Almost.
I think there’s some great TV these days, too, even though I’m not sure I love today’s shows as dearly as ones I watched in years gone by. I follow several series (again, I’m showing my age; the youngsters these days are all about YouTube and other things I don’t really understand, which I think is a shame), and there are modern shows, like ‘The Wire’, which are masterpieces of storytelling and fire my imagination like only the very best stories can. There is, to be fair, a lot of dross on the television, too, but occasionally a gem will emerge, a visual story which will last through the years. A good show is a good show for life.
Care to share your favourite TV memories?
*Not really. One can never witter on too much about books, right?