Series I wish I could see for the first time, again

Good God, they were young when Party of Five started.

There are some television experiences that are completely linked to a certain period of time in my life: Party of Five will always equal my high school best friend and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; I will never be able to think of the first time I watched Veronica Mars without being transported to my New York apartment; I can still feel the awful carpet of my first place in LA whenever I watch the Friends series finale.  But just because I cherish the memories of the first time I saw a show, doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could erase them and watch all over with fresh eyes.  Sure, I can watch a series years after the first time and have a completely different experience, but it’s not the same as getting to discover all of the twists and turns without any sort of baggage or expectation.  If I could go back and start fresh with any series it would be:

FNL, so fresh and innocent.

1. Friday Night Lights – I have watched the entire  Friday Night Lights series at least three times, but nothing compares to the first light of discovery.  When it first aired, I cried at the most unexpected moments and found catharsis and comfort in it.  There was something so special about the first time around.

Claire Danes on My So-Called Life

2. My So-Called Life – I cannot watch My So-Called Life without reverting to a teenager.  There is a part of me that wishes I could watch it for the first time now with a little life experience to give me perspective.

I can't imagine how much context I missed on Lost.

3. Lost – When I first started watching Lost I was watching purely for entertainment value.  Therefore I missed all of the historical/mathematical/scientific references along the way.  Sure I could go back and re-watch with that in mind, but the pop-culture conversation is kind of over.  I wish I could have been more of a part of it at that time.

What would you watch again for the first time?

In Honor of Mother’s Day: My Favorite TV Mother/Daughter Pairings

Mother-Daughter relationships are complicated and can sometimes be tough to get right on TV.  But the thing that binds all of my favorites is that the mothers all seem to lay down boundaries with their love.  The mothers tell their daughters that they are going to have to make their own mistakes, but it will be ok because I will be there for you.  All of the moms recognize that there is an element of being friends with their daughters, but it doesn’t come at the expense of being their mother and teaching them how to be independent, confident women.  These are all of the things that my own mother did and probably why I appreciate these moms so much.  I can’t be with my mom today so this is sort of like my mother’s day gift to her.  Love you mom!

Claire Danes and Bess Armstrong of My So-Called Life.

Patty and Angela Chase (My So-Called Life) – Former prom queen Patty had a hard time relating to awkward, angsty daughter Angela, but she tried.  And she kept trying.  And every once in a while, she was rewarded with actual affection from her daughter.  Like I’ve said many times before, this show was my life as a teenager in so many ways, and I definitely related to the mother-daughter relationship portrayed.  All Patty wanted was to show her daughter how great she was, how loved she was, and that she can push all she wants, her mother will always be there.  My mom did that too. P.S. my mom is awesome. Continue reading

Social Responsibility on TV: When I Was A Teen vs. Today

Oh God. How dated is this picture? Remember when the Salingers had a dog? l to r: (ignoring the baby) Scott Wolf, Lacey Chabert, Matthew Fox, and Neve Campbell

I started out writing a big paragraph about how I don’t feel it’s television’s job to show teenagers the dangers of sex or drugs or dieting or whatever.  And I don’t.  That is a parent’s job.  But television shows help start those conversations and they’re doing a much better job of it now than when I was growing up.  When I was growing up, teen characters on TV led softer, gentler lives that involved experimentation without too many harsh consequences (at least not for lead characters.  Secondary characters were always the ones getting killed while playing with guns or actually getting pregnant).  Back in my day (God, I sound like I’m 100), each issue got the “after school special” treatment, but its effects weren’t felt much longer than that.  Not so much today.  Today, teenagers on TV who become pregnant are actually faced with making a decision about whether to keep the baby or have an abortion or give it up for adoption (in my day, teen pregnancies always ended in miscarriages just before it was time to make the decision).  Teens actually live through the pain of addiction or coming out or bullying or eating disorders.  Clearly progress has been made.  Things aren’t perfect, not by a long shot, but again, television shows are not there to teach teenagers the difference between right and wrong.  They are there to entertain – and hopefully start some conversations.

When I Was a Teen: Continue reading

My So-Called Life – 17 Years Later

The Sundance Channel (check local listings) will begin re-airing My So-Called Life’s 19 episodes tonight and despite owning the series on DVD, I may just add it to my DVR.  Here’s the thing about My So-Called Life: It will never not be meaningful to me.  No, I am no longer a 14 year-old gawky teenager, but I was when the show originally aired and it captivated me in a way that television never had before (see: Getting to Know Me Part 1).  I had never seen what I felt or wanted to feel depicted in a relatable way until My So-Called Life.  It embodied my relationship with my parents, my girlfriends, my crushes, my teachers and did so with a worldly voice and stunning acting (Claire Danes and Jared Leto will always be at the top of my list of favorite actors no matter how hard they try to jump off; see: The Mod Squad and Jared’s ongoing destruction of his hair, respectively).  It didn’t have the model-gorgeous actresses or escapism of Beverly Hills, 90210 nor was it quite as melodramatic as Party of Five and I was grateful for that.  It had a real home with real parents and real problems (and some not so real problems too.  I know I, for one, never saw any ghosts in my school at a halloween dance).  There is something about the show that is so unbelievably relatable that it doesn’t matter how old I am when I rewatch it.  Reliving the series is always a joy, even if Tino never, ever shows up.

Some Simple Observations About Thursday TV: Grey’s Anatomy, Fairly Legal, Community etc.

Some simple observations about last night’s TV.  Thursday’s totally kill me they’re so crowded, so I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet.

Yellow wearing candidate Vicki finally lends Pierce a pencil.

Community (NBC) – There were several brilliant details in this episode.  My favorites: The “notches” on the library table – Abed’s “Clever Wingers”, Jeff’s “Ab Mentions” and Troy’s “Notches”; The ticker-tape during Abed & Troy’s Daily Show-esque commentary on the school’s elections included the fact that “Star Burn’s real name is Alex”; Jeff’s amazing Real World audition tape.  It is that attention to detail that makes this show so much fun to watch.

American Idol (Fox) – FINALLY!  The top 24 has been selected.  I am very glad that Rachel (I think she was the one who sang opera at one point?) and Lauren (who sang with Steven Tyler during her first audition) made it, I love Julie and Whats-His-Face who sang “Something” during the Beatles portion, James (“I wish I was Adam Lambert”) has gotten really repetitive, I’m a little sick of the cowboy with a low voice and think that Jordan the teacher is pompous and obnoxious.  (I really can’t wait til I know all of these singers’ names.)  The final choice was a particularly difficult one because 2 out of the 3 (“Babyface” Jacee and Brett) have gotten a lot of screen time and Colton was just awesome. I actually really disagree with the judges decision.  My vote would have gone to Colton.  Oh well.  At least we can hope someone will take some shears to Brett’s hair soon.  Starting next week, America votes. Continue reading

TV says I Love You

I’m a big softie at heart and my favorite television shows definitely have a gooey romantic center.  Entertainment Weekly has a slide show of TV’s greatest “I Love You” moments and it’s pretty great.  My favorite from this list is definitely Carol’s speech to Luka about how much she loved Doug on ER.  Carol and Doug might be my favorite couple of all time and the end of their story (or beginning, depending on how you look at it) is perhaps the most romantic of all time.  I would also add the following.  They might not all include the words “I Love You”, but they certainly convey that message.

Alex catches Ellen at the train station and stops her from marrying someone else.

Alex P. Keaton’s (Michael J. Fox) confession to Ellen Reed (Tracy Pollan) on Family Ties in the episode “The Real Thing”.  What started out as a love-hate relationship turned into a love-love relationship after Alex and Ellen shared a dance to “At This Moment”.

Alex: “Yeah, I love you, ok?  I said it.  I mean, after all Ellen, if I’m going to go this far I might as well go all the way.  I love you, alright?  IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou.  I’m crazy about you.  I’d give anything to be with you.  I can’t live without you.  Ok?  Gotta go, see ya.” Continue reading

Getting to Know Me Part I: “My So-Called Life”

As a TV lover I have a list of favorite shows a mile long, but there are a few that have truly changed both my life and the way I view TV.  I’ll be sprinkling a few of these on the blog over the next few weeks as a way of giving you a little insight into the way I think as a TV viewer.

#1 My So-Called Life – What self-respecting female Gen X’er doesn’t love this show? God, did that show understand me at 15. It wasn’t my life, but it was how I felt about my life. For the first time I understood the point of watching television wasn’t merely to be entertained but to feel less alone in the world and in your own skin. It was also a show that introduced me and my white, suburban upbringing to characters outside my world  Characters who were gay, homeless, alcoholics – all through the eyes of the most accessible and likable 16-year old I had ever seen on TV.

The relationship between Angela and Jordan Catalano (who can never be just Jordan.  He is absolutely deserving of the use of his full name) was exactly as I wanted all of my unrequited loves to play out in high school.  She was just as ambivalent and scared as I was and seeing how she stood up for herself, or not, got him to love her, or not, allowed me to extrapolate how I would react in the same situations.  I loved her friendship with Rayanne and how completely complicated it was on both sides.  And seeing what she went through with Sharon as they moved from Junior High to High School, helped me deal with my own friendships as I went through the same transition.  There were episodes where I literally felt like I was being shown a reflection of what I had just gone through that day at school.

I don’t know that the show would have lived a long life had ABC stuck with it a little longer, it was so real and raw (Judd Apatow would go on to have similar problem years later with Freaks & Geeks) you could almost feel the pain through the TV.  At the time I never really got into the adult story-lines, but re-watching the DVDs now, I have a great appreciation for all of the nuances in them.  The thing that I think I might love the most about this show is the way that it continues to be an influence in my life.  It may be remembered fondly because it never had a chance to really not be remembered fondly, but I don’t think that matters anymore.  Those 19 episodes are seared into my memory with so much vividness that whenever I hear “Blister in the Sun” I immediately see Angela bouncing around her bedroom. Plus it had perhaps the coolest character never to show his face on the screen – Tino.

I watched My So-Called Life because it was a show about kids my age; I continue to watch because it reminds me of exactly how I felt to be that age – a little scared, but mostly open-hearted and willing to be different.