Rant #18 – All the TV that made me. (Pt 1)

Much like the universe, my journey with TV too began with the big bang (theory).

A casual spat between the local cable provider and my parents led me to grow up without a TV until we moved to a new house in a different area. I was in class four then. Even then it had very few channels for most of the good ones had become exclusive to the private ‘dish’ TV companies. While I had my dose of Tom and Jerry from VCDs and rare glimpses into Scooby-Doo and Courage, the cowardly dog from whenever I visited my grandparents’ houses, I pretty much had no exposure to the mainstream Pokémon or Dragon Ball Z. Pogo made up for the lack of Cartoon Network and Animax but at that age, I could only follow Oswald, Bob the builder, Noddy, Teletubbies and Pingu in silent shame. No self-respecting nine year old would admit in public that they watched Noddy over their meals. It wasn’t until the nostalgia fad in our late teens did we actually start acknowledging these shows. Only after the advent of Power Rangers and the subsequent merger of Jetix into Disney XD did I fit into the TV conversation my friends often had. Phineas and Ferb, Kid vs Kat reigned supreme then with Jackie Chan’s adventures and Avatar, the last Airbender thrown in for fun. But then these were all cartoons and were all dubbed into my regional language. While that’s fun in its own way, a lot of the actual character essence gets stripped away in translation as I soon discovered when Disney XD kept recycling old episodes of Phineas and Ferb and I took to YouTube to catch up on the rest. Watching ATLA in English, especially as I just turned twenty was a tear-jerker that nothing could’ve prepared me for.

I read a lot of books, so I naturally assumed my knowledge of English was on point and that I was more world-weary than say, my parents. But I often never really enjoyed any Hollywood movie as much as they were talked about. I enjoyed the horror and superhero movies that my Hollywood-fanatic uncle made me watch all day and night whenever I stayed over at his house for the vacations but the enjoyment was more from merely watching the movies than appreciating the nuances of the plot or having any actual semblance of taste in cinema. I never developed a keen interest in the Harry Potter movies or Fast and Furious or The Batman. I do vaguely remember enjoying Sam Raimi’s Spiderman and the first Jurassic Park movie. One day, sometime in October 2011, when I was in class ten and a ripe fourteen years old, my friend insisted that I absolutely had to watch this show he liked. Back then I had no idea that the sitcom format existed. I knew movies, cartoons and soaps. Other than ads and the news, everything else on TV fit into one of those three. So I took his pen drive and sat down to watch The Big Bang Theory and I understood nothing. I told him it was boring, he made a face and that was that. A few weeks later, I was particularly bored and decided to watch the second episode. And then another. And another. And my brother and I were through season one in about a week. Slow, I know. We were binging novices. I soon went back to him for season two and eventually grew the sense to download it on my own.

Welcome to America!

The Big Bang Theory season 12 promo picture

The Big Bang Theory, in all its glory, was my front row ticket to life in America. The idea of scientists who love comic books and video games with a cute neighbour all fit into my idea of the ideal future. They even had an Indian astrophysicist. Until then, in my social circle, I was the only Indian guy I knew who was into astrophysics. You know how when people get into relationships, they start borrowing each other’s mannerisms and words? The style of humour in the big bang theory very subtly bled into the way I talked and behaved and I had a newfound love for all things satire. I shamelessly used most of Howard and Sheldon’s comebacks in many conversations and I shall forever be grateful to Raj for showing me how astronomy trivia can double up as ‘some serious panty-dropping stuff’. His words, not mine. It is, however, interesting to note that right now, I am actively applying for a PhD in Astrophysics, primarily in American universities.

Wait for it…

How I Met your mother promo

As I exhausted the Big Bang theory, I was suggested both Friends and How I Met Your Mother but I chose to lean towards HIMYM for no reason whatsoever and I am so glad that I did. While TBBT was primarily humour, HIMYM made a much more balanced mix of humour and reality that sometimes demanded to be taken seriously. Be it Robin’s inability to bear children, Marshal’s dad passing away or the sequences around Barney meeting his real dad and the general soul-crushing moments from Ted’s life, HIMYM was as real as it was funny and I pretty much adapted it to be my go-to guide for all things life and love. Ted Mosby is pretty much the sole reason why I am so unabashedly cheesy in relationships and waltz around wearing my heart on my sleeve. I guess I’ve always been so but he gave me the security to let it out. This show is the reason the fondue section of this blog exists. I still constantly revisit the pre-final season’s episodes from time to time, the parts where Ted has pretty much given up on finding the one. As the audience, we knew the show was coming to an end and he’ll be meeting the mother soon but he didn’t and it got real dark from his side and it all changes at the last instant. Nothing gives me more hope than that.

I’ll be there for you

FRIENDS sitcom promo

There isn’t much I can tell about Friends that hasn’t already been told on the internet. By now I had grown accustomed to the sitcom format and unlike TBBT or HIMYM, Friends needed no period to get used to. I was hooked right from the pilot. I further layered myself with Chandler’s sarcasm and at least attempted Joey’s charm but it was the juvenile jokes that stuck. I know Friends is almost universally liked and so I constantly use scenarios from it to justify many of my real life actions, which somehow seems to never work at all. People are hypocrites.

Mistakes of youth

Two and a half men promo

I started this show just because someone told me that it was written by TBBT writers and it’s pretty much the big bang theory with dirty jokes. It wasn’t. Until I got to this, I’ve always found myself quality-blind. People seemed to unanimously agree that BBT deteriorated in quality in later seasons, the mid-seasons of Friends were too boring and so on but I’ve never been able to notice that. They were stories with no set goals, they weren’t movies heading towards a climax – they were sitcoms which captured the day-to-day happenings of a group of people and I was very accepting of the fact that interesting things don’t keep happening always and some parts are just going to be duller than the rest. Not Two and a half men. I could see the quality of the show drop starkly after a couple seasons, especially once they killed off Charlie Sheen and the only reason I kept coming back was ’cause I’m a sucker for closure and I needed to know how the story ends. While I did find it smart how they managed to keep the ‘Two and a half men’ theme going – first it was two men and a kid, at one point it was two men and a robot, for a while it was two men and a lesbian girl – that was sort of smart but never did I look back on TAHM once I finished the series.

Relatable FRIENDS

That 70s show promo

That 70s show was not suggested to me but was a decision that I made simply because of the “BURN” memes on the internet. I came for the context, stayed to watch Mila Kunis transform into a woman from her teens. I was born in ’97 and a taste of the 70s was brand new for me. It essentially was like Friends but with teens with their teenage problems instead of the adulting world. In that respect, it felt way more relatable. Factual or otherwise, but it did give a fun view into all the hallmarks of the 70s – be it the emergence of hippie culture, the first star wars movie, TVs getting ‘clickers’ or the onset of the feminist movement – it was fascinating to see how people reacted at that time to the things we take for granted today, or fondly look back at in nostalgia. While the first season tried to take on some of the more serious moments of the 70s – there was talk of the Foremans losing their homes due to the recession, Red’s disgruntlement with President Nixon – but the creators chose to keep it a full-fledged comedy starting from season 2 and the rest is history. While the previous sitcoms were a doorway into the adult lives of people from different histories, this show was all about the late teen years. Most high-school Hollywood movies don’t show much beyond the jocks vs nerds drama, or the small town transfer girl sitting alone in the cafeteria while the distinct ‘cool’ groups sit afar and bully her – it’s just the same stories over and over. There’s got to be more to high school and college than where to sit and have lunch or whom to take to prom. That 70s show taught me what mooning was, what trenching someone’s yard meant, what a promise ring is, the struggles behind losing your virginity or learning to drive. The differences of the 70s era were striking as well, especially with people not really treating college as mandatory or marrying someone right after high school, they were quite shocking to watch. Even if you don’t find literally any of that interesting, this show is still worth a watch just for Fez’s accent.

Stark reality

Game of thrones logo

We began in 2011 and at this point, it was somewhere around 2014. High school, at least for me was the happiest I’ve been in a long while and it didn’t end so well. I no longer found sitcoms to be so relatable and the initial days of college kept me busy enough from TV shows. Until a meme caught my attention. I need context.

Joffrey villains meme

Not this exact meme but this is the closest one I could find now. So yeah, I got curious and I downloaded the three seasons that were out then and I think I was done with them in about a week. I was living on my own for the first time and was in charge of my own bedtimes and I might have let such limitless power corrupt me a bit. Game of Thrones was a phenomenon, beyond just a story. Of course, I’m familiar with Harry Potter or Lord of the rings with their respective intricately built worlds but I feel they all mostly have one central character(s) whose story is extensively explored with the stories of certain side characters acting as added exposition as long as they affected the main storyline in some major way. But not Game of Thrones. Everyone has a story. There is no main protagonist or antagonist. Any side character could become the main character in an instant, any main character could become dead in an instant. All the ‘villains’ have equally intricate backstories and moments of weaknesses that almost make you pine for them and justify their actions as well. The complexity of the show seems to mirror the overall grey tone of real life the best – there is no absolute good or bad, no black or white, everyone and everything is grey and most importantly, even the mightiest of all slip when there is sex involved. I dig it. We eagerly await the final season soon.

Felicity smoak’in hot

CW DC heroes

… and Vixen, Ray, Constantine, Black Lightning. It began with Arrow, right after I exhausted my stash of GoT. I had no clue that DC had a hero called ‘Arrow’ until then and I really liked the grim, dark tone of the show and really loved the gorgeous Felicity Smoak and the entirety of her awkwardness. Maybe I’m stereotyping but we’ve grown to expect a certain look from highly intelligent people (Yeah, I’m definitely stereotyping, I’m sorry) and usually when these shows have a very smart man, he is shown with hunched shoulders and thick-rimmed spectacles and awkward with the ladies but if it’s a very smart woman, they still cast a supermodel who just speaks in science jargon, Exhibit A: Caitlin Snow. Felicity Smoak in that respect was the best of both worlds. She’s pretty and still has the whole clumsy-awkward nerd vibes going on. But then Arrow got tiresome simply because the only thing he seemed to do was find increasingly convoluted ways to take everyone’s blame onto himself. Diggle gets pooped on by a pigeon, there we have Stephen Amell grovelling how it’s his fault he didn’t kill that pigeon when he had a chance to. That gets boring real soon. Then came Flash, which I found to be simply ridiculous. The amount of made-up science in every episode, the way they keep finding ways to keep Tom Cavanagh employed and how they keep handing over superpowers to everyone in the show is all too much to digest. Nothing I’ve watched fits the word ‘campy’ more than this show. While this would never work as a movie, it seems to do as a TV show. It is a comic book adaptation after all and comic books do have a large amount of made-up science and everyone related to the main hero eventually has an arc where they wield powers themselves. So I guess I can’t complain too much and as ridiculous as I find it, I still watch every episode just ’cause its fun. Talking of absurd but fun, one can’t miss the Legends of tomorrow. That show was heavily promoted using Flash and Arrow and yet they barely made appearances in the show beyond the first season. It felt like a ploy to depopulate the ever-growing cast of Flash and Arrow. They were constantly bringing in new characters to the show – Ray Palmer, Wally West, Sarah Lance – and it disrupts the routine – – Ray Palmer took Felicity off Oliver’s hands, Wally and Joe had a lot of tension, Sarah being alive but evil threw off Laurel and Quentin – and the season follows up until the new characters fit in, but beyond that, they do not have much to offer and need to be written out to make way for new disruptions. These characters were then sorted together, given a fancy plot armour ‘timeship’ and were allowed to do whatever they want. Anything they do that might affect the original shows is covered up with time-travel/ripple effect jargon and they have a free supply of villains that were used up in the original shows because, you guessed it, time travel. All that said, in the current state in 2018, I’d say legends is the best of them all. It’s hilarious and the episodes where they interact with real-life personalities’ pasts instead of piggybacking off of characters from Flash and Arrow make for very fun episodes. Never forget their last season finale was a fight between a giant demon and a giant teddy bear, no kidding.

Supergirl was pretty similar to Flash in the beginning, in terms of tone but it was planned as a direct spin-off to the DCEU’s Man of Steel rather than an addition to the Flarrowverse. The initial seasons having absolutely no mention of the other heroes and Superman appearing in vague silhouettes and an airborne fight sequence extremely similar to Kal-El and Zod’s punch-off in Man of Steel were the direct effects of this possible tie-in. However, they later merged it into the CW shows by bringing in the multiverse and casting Tyler Hoechlin as Superman. I didn’t like it much because I’m a big fan of Henry Cavill’s Superman and this show felt weird. I kept following it because of the possible tie-ins to Arrow and Flash. Also, how cute are Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh? But the show turned out to be rather fun and a bit serious as well. It was nice watching Kara turn grim over the course as she lost Mon-El; it was refreshing to finally see the ‘hero goes dark’ arc done pretty well for once. When Flash has become all about being ‘woke’ in recent times at times dragging Supergirl down with it –there literally was an episode where they had to control a space prison which was orbiting a blue star, whose radiation was toxic to anyone with a Y chromosome, just so that they can justify having an entire episode focus on the ladies being the heroes – Supergirl has grown more and more political. There are constant references of how staying together ‘especially these days’ is very important, there are newsreels running in the background in multiple episodes about the absurd actions of an absurd president who denies climate change, there was an episode with a throwaway line – ‘Make America Aryan Again‘, it portrayed the immigrant crisis with a law that shunned aliens from the country and the final season (of Arrow as well) saw some serious commentary on gun control. I get they are all trying something larger than being just another superhero show and be more relatable to the woke-era we’re living in but just at times, looking at you Iris West-Allen, it feels far too forced like its an obvious gimmick rather than something genuine that organically fits into the storyline.

It was somewhere around late 2015 at this point and the age of sitcoms and gleeful heroes had to come to a temporary halt. Honourable mentions to BBC’s Sherlock, which if you really think about it, is just a series of movies. The runtimes and the general quality of production was well beyond mainstream movies and they released barely three episodes in a year but damn were they good! Things in college took a dramatic shift around this point and so did my taste in TV and how I consumed it. More on that later…

Continue to Part 2

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