I don’t really watch TV. I don’t mean that in a wanky way. We are not against screens in this house. DH and I are currently both concurrently on computers, with the West Wing on in the background. But we don’t watch soaps or other random crap on TV. What we do watch in large measures are DVD box sets. I love the comfort of watching familiar episodes of good quality TV drama or comedy. I just wanted to share with you some of my favourites, in case you haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching them, along with some classic scenes.
The X Files
Ah, this is where it all began, my love affair with American drama. If you were by chance in a coma during the 90s, the X Files was a series about two FBI agents, Special Agents Mulder and Scully; the believer and the sceptic. The two scrappy and dashingly attractive public servants were charged with investigating the X Files, a raft of unexplained mysteries, ranging from a giant murderous tape worm to also murderous shape shifting aliens. Fox Mulder, battling a legacy of a sister, kidnapped by aliens, searches through the X Files in search for answers to his sister’s disappearance. Dana Scully, medic and scientist, is assigned to work with him, to try and debunk his work, which she manages to do less often than you might think. Together this dynamic duo, sexier than Batman and Robin, cross states and continents to discover the truth about extra terrestrials.
This series was the backdrop to my teens. During a my college years a kooky friend and I would have all night X File marathons. We would copy down our favourite quotes, cut out articles referencing the series or the main actors. We were, to put it mildly, obsessed. Now, I’m not really a sci-fi fan, I’m what the online fan-geeks call a ‘shipper’, my main motivation for watching the program was the relationship between the two main characters. The platonic relationship continued for about 8 of the 9 or so seasons; threaded through the nearly 10 years, was an emotional connection that couldn’t be broken by kidnapping, faked death, or seduction by various single episode characters. Despite rumoured (and contested) rifts between the lead actors, the chemistry on screen was electric. There is no doubt that the characters were in love. Us shippers lived for a look, a touch of a hand, an off the cuff remark. We lived for the will-they-won’t-they, mollified by dynamite storylines of government conspiracy, freak shows and alien life. And did they? Well, I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t seen it through to the end. But I recently discovered videos on You Tube, dedicated to shipper moments from the X Files. They have been put together by even geekier and more dedicated shippers than me. They take me right back to my teenage years and remind me of being in love for the first time. Sometime I want to watch the whole ten seasons from start to finish but in the meantime I’ll keep watching these videos.
The West Wing
Without doubt one of the best, most intelligent and sassiest dramas ever. Yes I just used sassy, it’s the only way to describe this show. Running from the late 90s for about 10 years, the West Wing charted the highs and lows of the top people in American politics. From the Messianic President Bartlett, down to the weird yet indispensable assistant Margret. The West Wing never played to the lowest common denominator. Even on the
sixth fourth viewing, I still often haven’t a clue what is actually going on, but it never matters because it’s about the process and the characters. The West Wing made politics sexy. The clear left wing liberalism of the writers meant that you always felt that the politicians were working for the greater good, just like you hope they are, but never believe in real life.
The West Wing is noted for it’s development and judicious use of the “walk-and-talk” filming technique, where the characters engage in lengthy dialogue while walking along the West Wing corridors. It added a sense of dynamism to the dialogue heavy show. Aside from the brilliantly paced script, the next best think about the West Wing was its casting. Originally meant to be a minor character in a show about the West Wing staffers, Martin Sheen stole the show as the President, frightening clever, with a self professed folksy charm, President Bartlett commanded loyalty that most politicians can only dream of. Scrumptious Rob Lowe played the naive but idealistic Sam Seaborne. Richard Schiff perfected gruff pessimism with a hint of witty charm, and Bradley Whitford the politically astute deputy chief of staff who you just want to mother. Allison Janey was the woman we all wanted to be, powerful, charming, passionate; a classy dame among a den of testosterone.
DH and I watch this show again and again, always getting something new from it, still gripped by the cliff hangers that we have watched numerous times. If you haven’t got into this show, then I really recommend that you do. The beauty is, that despite starting well over a decade ago, and finishing 7 years later, it just doesn’t seem to date. This is one addiction you won’t regret starting.
Sex and the City
My feelings for this show have changed a great deal over the years. The original premise was four sexually adventurous women living glamorous and romance filled lives against the backdrop of New York City. Carrie, the main protagonist, is a journalist who writes a column about sex, for which she seems to get disproportionately well paid, given her Manolo Blahnik habit, and the fact that she, nor any of the other main characters, appear to ever eat a homemade meal (yes, these are the things I notice nowadays). Initially the show was about friendship, and, basically, sex. Talking about it, doing it, not doing, doing it in all kinds of positions. I was at university when this originally aired, and me and my girlfriends emulated the show, not so much the copious sex, but the talking about it. We were a generation of sexually unafraid and explicit women. We felt like we had discovered our own brand of feminism. These sisters were doing it for themselves. Of course we weren’t, and neither were the characters on the show. Ultimately it was all about getting the guy. And to do that you had to be successful, rich and beautiful, as well as sexually promiscuous.
Sex and the City was ground breaking, and it gave women a dialogue with which to communicate with each other about sex, masturbation, and relationships. Even if the show didn’t portray reality, it allowed us to find out from each other what was normal, and what wasn’t, and to even be ok with the not normal. I still watch this for nostalgic purposes. It reminds me of being young free and single. Great series of its time. Don’t bother with the movies though, they’re awful.
The Big Bang Theory
Ok, this show is still airing and is the current amour du jour for DH and I. It follows the life of two geeky physicist flat mates, their two equally geeky scientist friends, and their beautiful blonde bimbo neighbour. Yes, there are stereotypes a plenty here, but somehow with the sharp humour in the show it doesn’t matter.
Sheldon may be a stereotypical geek, highly intelligent, scoring quite high on the ASD spectrum, but he has become a cult figure, a hero for all those geeks out there. And Penny may be a poorly educated, shallow blonde, but she befriends the socially inept quartet, and anchors them in reality, teaching them how to conduct relationships with other lesser mortals.
Later we have the comic excellence of Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s female counterpart. She is played by Mayim Balik, a real life neuroscientist, Jewish spokesperson and high profile attachment parenting advocate. Amy is a straight laced girl-geek, seduced,quite literally, but her friendship with the cool and popular Penny. Raj is an Indian, curry hating, selective mute, who cannot find a girlfriend, but finds solace in his close friendship with Howard, the only member of the four who doesn’t have a PhD. His sleazy brand of charm wins the affection of Bernadette, another highly educated member of their social circle, and they are currently the only two to hold down a stable relationship.
The characters are played with equal amounts of humour and sympathy. Brains are celebrated over beauty and fashion sense in this programme. While it treads the familiar ground laid by friends and other group sitcoms before it, The Big Bang Theory brings the cerebral edge to an a otherwise well-worn format. Oh, and the theme tune by the Bare Naked Ladies is ace:
So that’s my favourite four. There are many more series that I haven’t yet got into, but would like to try: Mad Men, Borgen, The Good Wife, The Wire, late seasons of 24. The beauty of the DVD box set and services like Netflix are that you can watch these shows whenever you want, as often as you want, and without having to wait a week till the next episode. The biggest problem is stopping yourself watching them through the night, and having West Wing style dreams!