The Sun Always Shines on TV

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:

*sigh* Morten Harket, how I used to love thee... Image:

*sigh* Morten Harket, how I used to love thee…

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 HendersonsThe Cosby ShowMagnum 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.

The kids from My So-Called Life Image:

The kids from My So-Called Life

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?

7 thoughts on “The Sun Always Shines on TV

  1. Maurice A. Barry

    I was always rotted that they never followed Magnum up with the scattered movie. On te bright side Selleck makes the ocasional episide of ‘Jesse Stone’ and I am fond of the series :>)

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      I’m trying to keep up with ‘Blue Bloods’, another Selleck vehicle, but it keeps slipping away from me. Magnum was the man, and no mistake. 🙂

  2. Kate Curtis

    Interesting to read about your childhood TV programs – half of which I haven’t heard of! I’m sure some of them probably didn’t air in Australia, others may have been on at the wrong time. I actually watched The Goodies re-runs probably partly because they aired just before dinner. They’ve aged really well too, and when I re-visited them I got a whole lot more out of them than just slap-stick giggles. The re-runs of Little House on the Prairie were just on at the wrong time. I liked a bit of Punky Brewster, although I don’t remember much of it now.

    I too was a huge fan of McGyver and I liked other ‘problem-solving’ programs too like Matlock and Murder She Wrote. Locally, I enjoyed A Country Practice. More into the nineties, I had a thing for Dr Quinn Medicine Woman.

    I think that’s my lot. I’m sure more will come to me! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      How could I forget my Australian favourites… I was obsessed with ‘Home and Away’ for years, and I loved ‘Flying Doctors’, too. I liked ‘Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman’, but I was never a diehard fan.

      I’m realising I watched a lot of telly as a kid. Probably more than I should’ve… oh well!

  3. MishaBurnett

    I am somewhat older than you (I went to high school with the guy who invented dirt) and so the TV shows that made a big impression on me as a kid are largely lost in the mists of time–and quite justly so.

    A man named Irwin Allen probably did more to shape my generation than anyone else. He was the producer of “The Time Tunnel”, “Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea”, “Land Of The Giants”, and “Lost In Space” among other things. (He also pretty much singlehandedly invented the Disaster Movie genre–“Earthquake”, “The Towering Inferno”, “Airport”, “The Swarm” and let’s not forget “The Poseidon Adventure”.).

    His work didn’t age well, and he’s kind of a joke now, but there were some important life lessons that I learned from him.

    “Stay calm.” People who panic get themselves killed, and sometimes other people as well. In a bad situation, listen to the person who isn’t shouting.

    “If you broke it, then you’ve got to fix it.” The bad guys in Irwin Allen productions were the people who refused to take responsibility for their actions. The good guys were the ones who realized that actions have consequences, and you have to face them.

    “Plan ahead”. Things are going to fall apart–that’s just the way of the world. Always make sure that you’ve got a plan for when they do.

    “Fortune favors the bold”. There’s no point in doing things half-way. Once you’ve figured out what to do, do it all the way. Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

    Thinking back, I realize that these are credos that I still live by. Life is harsh, and there is no point in whining about it, cowboy up and deal with it. You’ve gotten me wanting to see how much of his work is available on Netflix. They’re camp as hell, bad acting, clunky dialog, and the art direction committed all the sins against style that the 1970’s were capable of… but still. There’s some gold under all that dross.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Man, I love ‘The Towering Inferno’ and ‘The Poseidon Adventure’! I’m aware of the other shows/movies you mention, but unfortunately I didn’t grow up watching them, as you rightly point out, so they don’t have the same importance for me. Even so, I can hear the theme for ‘Lost in Space’ in my head right now, so it clearly made some sort of cultural impression.

      I absolutely love your list of life lessons. No wonder they were such a central part of these TV shows – you can’t keep a good story down, and these tenets are the backbone of a good story. There’s definitely gold under the dross!

      Good luck with the Netflix search. I hope you find that watching the shows again doesn’t ruin your youthful memories. I’m afraid to watch some of the things I loved in my littlehood over again, just in case the whole carefully constructed confection of my early life crumbles before my eyes. 🙂

      I’m going to copy out your list of life lessons and stick ’em somewhere I can see ’em on a daily basis. Fortune favours the bold, indeed.


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