So I flat-out love TV. I know it's popular to be all "TV, mindless drivel, blah blah blah," but that just is not how I roll. I respect TV as a medium, I think great stories are told there every day, and I am an obsessive watcher of television shows. I love TV.
It hasn't always been like this. I grew up in a close-to-TV-free household. It wasn't that my parents had some philosophical problem with it (though they're much more readers than watchers), it was that we lived out in the middle of nowhere and to get any real reception we'd have needed a satellite, which was not a spending priority. So, until I was in high school, we got one network (ABC) some of the time. You can tell when you quiz me on 80s TV trivia--if I know anything about it, it must have been on ABC.
Even though TV was limited, I do have some childhood television memories. No cartoons--I'm sure I must have watched them at some point, but I don't remember them at all. The first show I remember really connecting to was on ABC from 1988-1993 (so when I was 9-14). It featured some historical events, some fantastic period costuming, a hippy older sister and a butthead older brother, a lovely girlfriend who grew up to be a math fiend, and a strong voice-over element. The Wonder Years.
Another show that features heavily in my childhood memories, and this is a tangent I'll save for another time, since I think this show is in mortal danger, is General Hospital. My mom wasn't a fiend, but she was a general fan of ABC soap operas, and even though I think she preferred the now sadly lost All My Children and One Life to Live, General Hospital is the one that resonated with me. I remember recording it and watching it at night all the way through college, and I can still easily get sucked back into it if I'm home during the day. (For those in the know, my allegiances are as follows: Sonny belongs with Carly; Jason belongs with Robin; Lucky belongs with Liz; and Nikolas can sit and spin.)
My other teen years show should surprise exactly nobody. My So-Called Life was only on for 19 episodes, in 1994 and the beginning of 1995, but I watched every one of them when they aired (and possibly cried when it was taken off the air). I loved every minute of that show. Unlike many of its viewers, though, I never thought of myself as Angela. I always wanted to be Rayanne. The scene of her singing the Sesame Street theme song outside the movie theater still features occasionally in my dreams.
I didn't watch much TV during my college years (aside from the aforementioned daily taping of General Hospital). I knew people who were really into the The Simpsons, and this weird show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I had no particular interest in either one. One thing I do remember doing during those years, though, is occasionally flipping on my small TV (a high school graduation present that was usually used for watching movies) to check out syndicated reruns of Roseanne. Running from 1988-1997, the show's trajectory ran parallel to my adolescence, and I had always been aware of it, and seen a few episodes, but hadn't ever watched it regularly. Watching the show in college, it provided me with a really welcome look into a blue-collar world that was much closer to the one in which I'd grown up than anything else to which I was being exposed at that time. Roseanne felt like home.
I still haven't seen every episode of Roseanne. I always intend to go back and watch it from the beginning (the joy of Netflix streaming!), but I haven't done it yet.
Immediately post-college, I moved in with two of my friends and we had a TV! And channels! And, finally, time, at least more than we'd had at Reed. I don't have a ton of TV memories from those days, but two stick out: The first is my friend N., coming home from her AmeriCorp job and sitting in front of the TV eating (I shit you not) carrots and celery dipped in ketchup, watching Friends (in syndication on TBS--I think there were multiple episodes per night). The other? The first season of Survivor. I'd watched a little bit of MTV's The Real World in high school (taped by my cousin Jessie--we didn't get MTV even after we got a satellite), but other than that, had never seen or thought about reality TV. Survivor was a revelation. And a really good time. But it was just that one season--I haven't seen it since.
The next show I remember really loving was another no-brainer. Just like every other freshly minted liberal, I adored The West Wing. It was a few seasons in by the time I got into it, and I still haven't seen the first few seasons, but those middle Bartlett years were crucial to me. Mark and I watched it together when we first got together, and we had a regular Wednesday night date with our housemate, E., during the 4th season. I never watched the post-Martin Sheen show, either, so really my West Wing love is probably just seasons 3-6, but it is strong.
Mark got me into The Sopranos during those years, and I remember watching a lot of home improvement shows as well (that was when Trading Spaces and While You Were Out were getting really hot). Those were also the opening days of my getting into watching TV shows on DVD, which was an amazing change--having to wait for new episodes was one of my major complaints about TV from the beginning, as I'm much more the gluttonous, one-episode-after-another type.
After The Sopranos, Mark and I watched a number of HBO or HBO-styled dramas, and liked a lot of them. We loved Deadwood, The Shield, and the first season of Rescue Me. We got into watching House for a few seasons. The show that really sticks out, though, is The Wire. I maintain to this day that the five season run (2002-2008) is the best thing I've ever seen on television. The writing was fantastic, the acting suburb, the music stellar, and each season was held together by a tight overarching theme. The second season, in particular, which focused so smartly on the comparable institutions of power and powerlessness between white blue-collar union dock-workers and the black drug scene, blew my mind. I had previously liked television. The Wire made me love it.
Mark and I were still watching The Wire when I was introduced to the first show that constituted not just a TV love, but a TV obsession. You all know where this is going--finally, after denying any interest for years, I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I kept watching, burning through all seven seasons in only a few weeks and then starting over again at the beginning. Buffy wasn't just about recognizing great writing and use of metaphor beyond anything I'd ever imagined (though it certainly is that). Buffy was like a new lover, or a new religion. Buffy was in my thoughts, in my dreams, and in nearly all my conversations for months. I didn't just want to watch Whedon's world, I wanted to swallow it whole. It was intense. And oddly immature, really, for someone in her mid-late 20s. I had my teenage response to the show ten years too late. But I'm not at all sorry I did, and Buffy remains a show I can and will re-watch endlessly.
In the last few years, Mark and I have discovered that it does us a lot of good to have a show we can watch together, preferably on Netflix, so it works into our schedules. We watched the first three seasons of Dexter, the first two of Breaking Bad, and made a go at Battlestar Galactica, which we both kinda hated. Then Mark had an idea that I thought wouldn't work, but has been awesome: go back to something that he saw years ago and liked, but barely remembered, which I hadn't ever seen. Something legendary. Something epic. Something so painfully early 90s at moments that I have to pause it to laugh. The X-Files. The show ran from 1993-2002, so there are LOTS of episodes to get through, and though some of them are ridiculously cheesy, others are actually quite good. Though it doesn't move me the way Buffy does, I can easily see how people were obsessed with it.
Aside from having a show to watch with Mark, I like to have something I'm watching on my own. I'll watch just about anything, but there are two shows I have watched recently, one that is still on and one that was sadly cut short after only three seasons, that I think are fantastic. The one with the untimely cancellation is Saving Grace, which is a beautiful show that does a fantastic job with hard topics (it's almost like a grown up Joan of Arcadia, another show I loved) and stars Holly Hunter in what I think is the best role she's ever played.The one that is still on is one I've discussed here before: Sons of Anarchy. The show's fourth season is set to start in September, which gives you plenty of time to catch up on seasons 1-3 and start watching in real-time. It's worth it. I didn't think I'd like it, and only started watching it because there was something else we were watching on FX (the last season of The Shield, maybe?) that was littered with previews for the beginning of season 2 and Katy Segal looked like she might be interesting. After my first episode (the season 2 opener), I was in love. I got season 1 on DVD and set the DVR. The show has gotten into my head, for reasons I can't explain, like nothing else short of Buffy.
So there you have it. It turned out to be more a history than a defense, but this is what I think of when someone asks me why I waste my time watching TV. For the stories. These are some amazing stories.
What are your favorite shows? What didn't I mention that I should have?