Friday, January 05, 2007

tv highwater marks

I have a friend who every year has made it a point to watch the original Star Wars movie with his son.

His rationale is very simple: "Star Wars" was one of those watershed events for our generation. When it came out in 1977, everybody went to see it. It shaped our generation's entertainment for years -- literally. Donny & Marie, "Quark," heck even the Saturday morning "Happy Days" cartoon show -- they all had episodes that were direct rip-offs of "Star Wars." It and Star Trek pretty much defined science fiction up until the new Battlestar Galactica series.

So, since "Star Wars" with its pop religion, blockbuster status, runaway merchandising, and GOK what else was so important to Tom and everyone else in our generation, he wants to pass that experience on to his son.

It's something I've been thinking about the last few weeks. Amid all the drek that gets foisted upon us every year, there are some movies, some TV shows, some books, and some music that absolutely must be passed on to the next generation. There's the high culture stuff, like Tchaikovsky and Victor Hugo, but there's stuff we're inclined to dismiss as irrelevant or unworthy because it's pop culture.

What should get passed on? It's stuff that has more value than just what you immediately perceive. It has to raise awareness of the human condition, and inspire us to be better people. It's why we all should remember The Beatles when we're 54, but forget most of what the Beach Boys produced by the time we've grown up to be a man.

Sad to say, there's not much TV that I've watched that fits into this category. (Which is probably one of the reasons why we don't get cable or sattelite TV, and don't let the girls watch much of it, even on DVD and VHS.)

In no particular order, here's my initial list of TV shows I intend to share with my girls when they're old enough to appreciate them:
  1. M*A*S*H. No one would remember the Vietnam War-protest movie if it weren't for the TV show, and there's a good reason for that. The movie was just dark and despairing; the show moved beyond a bleak view of war to show the compassion and decency that can rise out of humanity in the middle of our worst moments. More than any other movie or show, M*A*S*H shaped the Gen X view of war, the military, and blind conformance to authority.
  2. Star Trek, specifically Classic Trek, Deep Space 9 and about half of The Next Generation. Although its wasn't value wasn't initially recognized by the execs at NBC, Classic Trek gave us the premiere treatment of the Cold War and the social tumult of the late 1960s. It defined science fiction for the next 30 years, and sowed the seeds of a franchise that it took Voyager and Enterprise a total twelve years to kill. Unlike the original series, NextGen had an aura of cultural superiority about its morality tales, with the basic message that we'd all be better off if everyone were a late 20th-century enlightened Western humanist. DS9, despite a few false starts, had an amazingly complex web of stories that ran for five years as the Federation grappled with the Dominion, and it dealt with a number of timeless themes about fear, suspicion, loss, faith, hope, security and freedom, identity and prejudice. I saw the entire series in 2006 and had to keep reminding myself that it was not about the war on terror and post 9-11 America.
  3. Battlestar Galactica. Not the original series, but the remake. Everything that Star Trek was to science fiction and the 1960s, BSG is to science fiction and post 9-11 America. And it hasn't had a single "Spock's Brain" episode.
  4. Looney Tunes. For sheer laughs, nothing beats the work of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and the other geniuses behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the crew. My parents grew up watching them, I grew up watching them, and I'm proud to say that my kids are growing up watching them. Nothing comes close, not even
  5. Rocky and Bullwinkle. The animation is dated, and the kids aren't going to get the Cold War jokes surrounding Boris, Natasha and Fearless Leader, but the wit behind the series and its features like Dudley Doo-Right, Fractured Fairy Tales and Mr. Peabody have given this series staying value.
  6. Monty Python's Flying Circus. I'm not so keen on the post-Cleese era of the show, where they relied more and more on shock and crude language to get laughs, but I still bust a gut laughing at sketches like the World's Deadliest Joke, the Mouse Problem, and Cheese Shop. Evangeline, who has never seen a single episode, still knows to ask me if I write my music in the shed.
  7. Get Smart. At least I think so. It just came out on DVD, and I'm waiting to get a set so I can watch it from the safety of my Cone of Silence. Perhaps I find it assuring that Maxwell Smart triumphs over Kaos despite being such a bumbling idiot, perhaps I simply enjoy the outrageous antics of the show. Still, it's a keeper.
  8. The Simpsons. First eight seasons. There is no better record of America in the 1990s than Homer's household. All the faults and virtues of the American family lie there, in all their exaggerated glory. The show is a sitcom, but it's a sitcom that nonetheless provokes some serious discussions about issues we will face as long as there are humans to face them.
Heh. I notice that all but one of those series are comedies. I guess "St. Elsewhere" and "Matlock" don't make my personal cut, but if anyone thinks I've overlooked a show, let me know. I'd also love to hear if you think I listed something that's better off forgotten.


Anonymous said...

I've already been scolded by you once (for not having watched classic Trek), but I have to admit to enjoying Voyager... of course, it's entirely possible that that may have been partly due to having a secret (even to myself) crush to all the strong women on that show.

I'm totally behind you on the BSG thing, though. That's the most brilliant show I think I've ever seen. Blew my previous favourite (Buffy the Vampire Slayer... yes, I know... ) completely out of the water.

marauder said...

I've never actually seen Buffy, believe it or not, though I'm told it's brilliant.

In fact, The Wittenburg Door a few years ago named Buffy the theologian of the year.