And now for something completely different.
There’s not much on television these days that I enjoy watching. Actually, there’s little that I have time to watch. There are a smattering of regular series here and there that I enjoy but too often I lose interest due to all of the other demands on my time. Had I owned a DVR when Lost or 24 was on the air I would have recorded and enjoyed them in their entirety, but they are beyond the price range I’m willing to pay for series I never watched. I liked the first season of The Walking Dead but lost interest when it took AMC a year to get the second season on the air. Many will be surprised to learn that a guilty pleasure of mine is South Park. And you thought you knew me.
I avoided the purchasing of a television series for years, but over time I’ve managed to accrue a few. I’d probably own a few more (such as WKRP in Cincinnati, Hogan’s Heroes, the Twilight Zone or the original Star Trek) but unfortunately my budget…and time…will not permit that. So I’ve had to choose carefully. Here are those chosen few.
I fell in love with this series almost from the very beginning and once I was hooked I did not miss a Monday night for almost six years. It remains one of the most well-written and interesting cast of characters ever (in my humble opinion) and has held up very well over time. Joel made me crazy with his New Yorker fish-out-of-water schtick, but I still loved the guy. Holling, Maurice, Shelly, Ed, Marilyn, Ruth-Anne, Chris and Maggie rounded out a great cast. On an almost weekly basis this show would end on a pitch-perfect note, and as the credits started to roll I’d sit with a little chill running up my spine. I know that it was filmed in Washington state, but in my mind’s eye I’ll always want to leave the lower 48 behind and move to Cicely, Alaska, and have a beer and steak at The Brick. And the music! The music on this series was phenomenal. I could post almost any number of clips on YouTube, but this is one of my favorite endings to an episode.
Yes, I blush mightily when I admit that this was the first DVD series I purchased. I couldn’t pass up the three season complete series when I found it for the absurdly low price of $20 (it was normally $50 at that time). This was a show I grew up watching in the afternoons after returning home from school, and while the other series on this list are recognized more for their excellent writing/story-telling, this one is here for its pure, mindless fun and for taking me back in time to a much simpler time in my childhood. You all know the Castaways: Thurston Howell III and his wife Lovie, the Professor (who could do great things with bamboo as rods and vines as conductors but never could get them off that damned island), the Skipper, Ginger and Mary Ann and of course, Gilligan. Quicksand, coconut cream pies, headhunters, voodoo, Shakespeare (remember Harold Hecuba?), hammocks, huts, fillings made of explosives and of course the eternal question: Ginger or Mary-Ann? I’m such a geek I know the actual names of the Professor, the Skipper, and the purported first name of Gilligan. I’ll let you Google for yourself.
I will spare you the dissertation that I could, and would, provide on this show. Yes, it can be overly-sentimental, but I think that’s because of its unabashed honesty. I grew up watching it for a few years, lost track of it, and rediscovered it in reruns about ten years ago. It’s the show that inspired me to want to write and to explore the great books. I’ve started and stopped several times writing my own book inspired by the lessons of this show…lessons that we too easily dismiss today. This simple little paragraph does not do it justice, but I’m cutting it short because I have written so much about it already, albeit it in an (as yet) unpublished form. One interesting thing to note: when I was younger I identified with John-boy, and even Jason a little. But now, as I’m older, it’s Ralph Waite’s portrayal of John Walton that I am drawn to the most. This is a clip from an episode titled “The Prophecy”, in which John is not thrilled about the prospects of facing his old classmates at his 25th reunion because he feels like he stayed behind and is not a success in the eyes of the world. The clip below was supposed to begin at the 8:23 mark when John-boy gives his father some advice through the writing of Sinclair Lewis, but for some reason it wants to play the entire clip. Just skip ahead to that mark to see what I intended. And keep watching for conversation that follows at the table amongst the classmates and what by my thinking is a terrific definition of success.
“It’s a good job and not for gold would I recommend it as a career to anyone who cared a hoot for the rewards, for the praise, for the prizes, for the embarrassment of being recognized in the restaurants, or for anything at all except save the secret pleasure of sitting in a frowsy dressing gown before a typewriter exulting in the small number of hours when the words come invigoratingly out, and the telephone doesn’t ring and lunch may go to the devil.”
Lewis was talking about writing, but as a husband and father and with a tweak of a word or phrase, I think it might apply to that vocation as well.
The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
I purchased this 27-episode series just two weeks ago when I happened across a crazy-good sale price on Amazon of $23. Since debuting on DVD six years ago it has always been at the ridiculous price point of $99. Apparently I was not alone in jumping at the set as when I first found out about it there were 17 left. When I decided to go ahead and order it that night there were just two left, and I got one of them. This FOX series was on the air for just one season in 1993-94 and cancelled for reasons only known to some now out-of-work and demoralized executive suit. FOX never did fill the hole on Friday nights left by this show when it was cancelled. I myself only discovered it when TNT aired it in syndication during the late 1990s. I was immediately hooked for reasons difficult to explain. It’s a combination western and science fiction, sort of like the old Robert Conrad series from the 1960s The Wild, Wild West, which is another favorite. All of the characters are interesting and it’s just a lot of fun, with Bruce Campbell, Kelly Rutherford, John Astin and Billy Drago comprising a solid cast. Aaron Viva, the sheriff of Hard Rock is so over the top that you can’t help but smile. I’ve been enjoying squeezing an episode or three each week into my late summer in between baseball games.
The World at War
Perhaps the series that first made me interested in history, I watched this often on PBS on Sunday nights while awaiting Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Wonderfully narrated by Sir Lawrence Olivier this series offered for me and for many a first glance at a lot of footage as yet unseen of that terrible war. It could be, and still is at times, difficult to follow because it does not necessarily follow a neat-and-easy chronological timeline of events. It can be disjointed in that approach and it’s difficult to keep it all in context at times, but when it works it works quite well. I have written before of two of the more poignant moments from the series here and here.
The series has 26 episodes. Producer Jeremy Isaacs asked Noble Frankland, then director of the Imperial War Museum, to list fifteen main campaigns of the war and devoted one episode to each. The remaining eleven episodes are devoted to other matters, such as the rise of the Third Reich, home life in Britain and Germany, the experience of occupation in the Netherlands, and the Nazis’ use of genocide. Episode 1 begins with a cold open describing the massacre at the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane by the Waffen SS. The same event is referenced again at the end of Episode 26 and the series ends with Laurence Olivier uttering the poignant word, “Remember”.
So those are my initial five. In an upcoming post I’ll present another list of five DVD series I own, enjoy and recommend to others for their home video library.