Friday, 16 May 2008

UnderRated: Television that Shaped my Life

Over the years I have been an avid television watcher and there are many programmes and series for which, pre-video, I would drop everything to enjoy. Appointment television I believe it is called. The world stopped for those programmes. Dinner was arranged to be finished before it started. The Onedin Line, Howard's Way, Dallas and the like. Sunday night blockbusters... (was Dallas on a Sunday or midweek?). Anyway, great series but not life-changing ones like the list below:

Star Trek
My mother used to watch this every week. I grew up worshipping Captain James Tiberius Kirk (and still retain a fondness for William Shatner in his elderly incarnation as Denny Crane of Boston Legal). He was the hero who came through for his people every time, with the aid of his faithful cohorts, Spock, McCoy, Scottie, Chekhov, Sulu and Uhuru. It was a series that gave us 'logic', the first inter-racial television kiss and androids. I retained a healthy fear of several of the aliens for many years - the horrible biped dinosaur-type monster that Kirk had to fight single-handed, the 'bumheads' who messed with your brain so you saw what they wanted you to see and who could forget the wonderful self-propagating tribbles?

The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Keith Michell as the eponymous King and Dorothy Tutin as Anne Boleyn, with Anne Stallybrass (who would later go on to be Mrs Onedin) as Jane Seymour. Riproaring historical drama, but with a keen eye for the facts as they were known in those days. All those heaving breasts and lusty kisses... but it is the image of the musician, Mark Smeaton, with the scabs and bruises all over his face after he had been tortured with a knotted rope being pressed into his head and tightened that will stay with me forever. It was history brought to life, desanitized and real. And it was on after 9pm so I wasn't allowed to watch it first time around when I was only nine. It was repeated again when I was 12 or 13 and I was still considered too young to watch it because it had 'scenes of a sexual nature'. However, I was lucky enough to have a very unreliable black and white tv in my room with a portable aerial and, if I kept the volume low, I could watch most of it before my parents came up to bed and caught me watching something unsuitable.

I Claudius
At that time, I never noticed the cardboard scenery and that they wore the same costumes all the time. This was history on a shoestring budget but the amazing scripts and fantastic performances transcended all that and took you back to a time of poisonous assassinations and the political machinations of a dynasty. Orgies and decadence and murder. Derek Jacobi was unforgettable in the stuttering title role and supported by such theatrical giants as Brian Blessed, Sian Phillips (who brought such menace to the scheming Livia), Patrick Steward (with hair - long before his incarnation as Jean Luc Picard on the Starship Enterprise) and John Hurt as the totally psychopathic Caligula. Magical.

The World at War

With a strong Jewish presence in my family, this series was a timely reminder of just how lucky I was even to have been born. The eye witness accounts, the grainy footage from official newsreel and the immense commentary from Sir Laurence Olivier made this an unmissable, salutary and sometimes terrifying feast.

Blue Peter
What can I say? The seminal children's programme. How fortunate was I to grow up in the era of Valerie Singleton, Peter Purves and John Noakes, not to mention Petra and Shep? Brave exploits, great endeavours with sticky back plastic and the notorious pooping elephant.

Hill Street Blues
This was a strange one. It was on at 10pm and I was working so I couldn't watch it very often. But it grew on me to the stage that I was prepared to risk being bleary-eyed at work the following morning. Steven Bochco's hand-held camera and the unforgettably haunting theme music made it so different to any police show that I had watched before - and I had been a great fan of Softly, Softly and Starsky and Hutch. This was an ensemble piece with no vaunted lead and they all played their part in melding together such a realistic picture of life in a US metropolitan police station.


Another ensemble piece but this time from Marshall Hersgowicz and Edward Zwick and with an earworm of a theme tune by W Snuffy Walden, complete with a baby's giggle. A feelgood series about a group of people of a certain age starting families, coping with being a parent and all the responsibility it entails. Couples loving each other, hating each other, fighting and making up. It was everything I wanted my marriage to be... and wasn't. I was in love with the impossibly beautiful Michael Steadman and envious of his immensely capable wife, Hope, and the love they had for each other but it wasn't until the series had ended and I had my own small child that I could actually empathise with them.

Sex and The City
I don't think I can quite describe the open-mouthed shock with which I watched this series back in 1998. I was a mother of two, wearing leggings and big baggie tshirts and feeling that no one would ever lust after me again. So here were these four women discussing sexual acts that I had never even heard of. It was energising and exciting. The episodes I remember most? Well the one about the 'up the butt girl' and of course Charlotte's introduction to the Rabbit. It would still take me several more years before I actually got anywhere near one but it was Carrie and co who made the transition possible and Samantha who imbued me with a far more healthy attitude to sex.

Boston Legal
Allan Shore and Denny Crane behaving badly, with the help of Candice Bergen's Shirley Schmidt and her blow-up doll lookylikey. Completely bizarre and full of cases that would surely never get to trial in the real world but which so definitely should have. A programme that encourages the idea of male bonding and elderly people finding love and having sex.

The L Word
A programme that has helped me to start to examine my attitude towards sex and my own sexuality.

Television has no influence on us? I don't think so.


Blog every day in May



Vi said...

I can't WAIT to see the Sex and the City movie!!!! Yeah, that episode where Charlotte discovered the rabbit was brill!

Karen said...

I can relate to Sex and the City and also Boston Legal both of which I always enjoyed. I haven't seen any of the others I'm afraid even though my husband is a HUGE Star Trek fan...leaves me cold I'm afraid.

Great post Cake.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Haha, the bumheads! I think that was the pilot episode. But they could use their power for good as well. At the end they gave the disabled captain and his lady love the illusion of their youth and beauty. There was some sexy stuff in I Claudius with Messalina.

h said...

Me suspects you write professionally. These were superbly written. And the only one I've actually seen is Star Trek. And probably not all of those.

Happy Over-Under Day

Anonymous said...

What can I say...I am a Trekkie...the whole world stopped when Kirk, Spock and McCoy were on...still love them to this day and I am eagerly awaiting the new Trek.

Walker said...

I am a Trekkie big time.
Well just short of dressing up like one that is but the book shelves are full off ST episodes but I still watch the reruns of all the Star Trek series when they are one daily as a habit.
I met William Shatner twice when in town and he's quite the character but then again he's just another Krazy Canuck LOL.

Have a nice weekend

Jackie Adshead said...

And I STILL haven't forgotten your fanny painting re the Sex and the City episode! It's due to be done verrrryyyy sooon! Promise!!!!

Joanna Cake said...

Vi - I know! Im so excited! Apparently people are saying that no straight man will be wanting to go to the movie cos only women and gay men like SJP...

Gypsy - Sacrilege!!!! The World at War is really worth watching on dvd. It's the story of WW2 and because it was made in the 70s, it has interviews with people who were actually there as well as lots of film footage from the time. It isnt fun at all but I think some people should be made to watch it as a reminder of the horror of war.

Mr Bananas - I think you're right, that was the pilot episode. The one without William Shatner. It was quite a heartbreaking story and one which was revisited by the Captain Kirk and his crew in a later episode. One of my faves. And I adored Messalina. Such a bad girl :)

Troll - Professionally? Why thank you, but not me, Im afraid. I just love tv :)

Kate - I didnt know there was going to be a new Trek but they mentioned it on the radio only this afternoon so I shall google next :) Ive enjoyed all the different series and the movies were pretty good too.

Walker - What's a Krazy Canuck?

Jackie - Shhhhh! Im trying to do culcha here. LMAO. Looking forward to seeing the finished results.

moi said...

Thanks for the memories, as I remember being glued to the set for I, Claudius, and 30 Something, a pioneering program for sure. Great post.

Mr. DNA said...

Boston Legal is one of those shows my wife like to watch. But if I think about it afterwards it just seems too absurd. It's one of those "in the moment" things for us. Kinda like sex, I guess. Less thinking, more doing.

Riff Dog said...

Count me in for the Sex and the City movie. I even admit to liking SJP (I find her very sexy, actually.) If there will only be women and gay men there, so much the better!

Aunty Belle said...

Blue Peter?? Never knowed that one, honey chile'.

Star Trek--oh yes!

I'se thinkin' that TV could be the best ever tool, but too much is silly, but the good is GOOD.

Ms. Inconspicuous said...

I cannot *begin* to tell you how much I love Star Trek.

I had very early childhood (sexual) fantasies involving Captain Kirk. :)

Brian said...

It was obviously there since childhood? Live Long and Prosper is Vulcan for two in the pink and two in the stink. ;-)

If you like Thirty Something check out The Big Chill IMDB

It was a big Influence for the TV series.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Boston Legal! Im not a big SATC fan, though.. but Star Trek, yes! Have had crushes on most of the stars at some point!

JW said...

I had to beg to watch I Clavdivs but it was a truly phenomenal series to watch.

Star Trek was always more acceptable (despite my grandma's mutterings about how it was disgusting - most things were) and that fed a developing love of SF that has never since been filled. I must admit that I now prefer the professionalism of the more recent versions but I'll never forget the original series.

As for Blue Peter, well, how could that not have left its mark on me? I have to admit, though, that it was always frustrating: I'd make the things that they showed me how to make and I was always left disappointed by the results. John Noakes was an absolute hero.

I can't believe you didn't mention Dr Who though!

Anonymous said...

you know i love BL too .. but everything else is a little vague for me. I never got SITC.

Joanna Cake said...

Moi - You were glued to the set for I Claudius? Was it you holding the whole thing together :)

Mr DNA - Overshare

Riff - You're only going to watch for research purposes!

Aunty Belle - I think the vast quantities of dross today make all the gems stand out so much more.

Ms I - Me too. Captain Kirk provided some of my first sexual stirrings :)

Brian - More sacrilege!

Isa - Most women have a thing about Worf but he does nothing for me.

Ro - No Dr Who because it was too terrifying. I watched with all my teddies from behind the sofa and was left traumatised by the cybermen.

BS - Probably too young for most of the rest :)