television

Exit 249. I like consistency.

The TV show The Goldbergs is one of the most relatable shows to me in the history of television.  The show is about growing up in the 1980s with a crazy family.  That was my life (except that we’re not an East Coast Jewish family).  The show’s creator, Adam F. Goldberg, is the same age as me, and he basically just wrote a sitcom based on his actual family and childhood friends.  Many of the episodes’ stories themselves are based on true stories.  (“Adam” and all other names in this writing related to The Goldbergs will refer to the characters, not the actual persons on whom they are based, since this distinction may be relevant at times.)

By now, I’ve seen almost every episode from all six seasons (so far) of the show.  Every now and then, though, I’ll turn on Goldbergs reruns and see one that I haven’t seen before.  That happened a few weeks ago, with an episode from season 3.  One of the recurring story lines throughout season 1 involves the preteen Adam’s interest in a girl named Dana, who becomes his first girlfriend.  At the end of season 2, Dana tells Adam that she and her family are moving across the country because her dad got a job out of the area.  The beginning of season 3 finds Adam and Dana in eighth grade and attempting a long distance relationship (which in the 1980s could only be done with expensive long distance telephone calls).

Dana comes to visit a few times that year.  In this episode, the one which I saw for the first time recently, Adam is excited for Dana’s impending visit; he prepares to do all the things that they loved to do together before she moved, including going to a Weird Al Yankovic concert.  (Yankovic himself guest stars, wearing his hair as he did in the 80s.)  But Dana is unenthusiastic about doing all of those things.  Adam and Dana realize that they have grown apart as they have grown up, and they break up at the end of the episode.

As I’ve said before, I’ve had a hard time dealing with this kind of thing happening in my own life.  I like consistency.  I didn’t really have a group of friends in childhood, and when I finally got one late in high school, we all dispersed and moved away soon after, and I lost touch with most of them.  And I’m going through it again.  The group of friends I’ve spent the most time with over the last several years is shrinking.  Many of the others have grown up, gotten married, had children, and in various other ways taken on new adult lives, leaving them less time for game nights with friends or staying up ridiculously late.  Some have jobs that limit their social time.  (I have a job, but I manage to make socializing happen anyway, to some extent.  That’s probably why I’m tired all the time.)  Others have drifted out of my social circle for numerous other reasons.  And some people have moved away; I have had an unusually large number of friends move away in 2019, or plan to do so soon.

Why is all of this happening?  Some of it is just a natural part of life.  People grow and change, and their friendships and relationships change as a result of this, much like the story of Adam Goldberg and Dana.  This might not be what I want, but sometimes there’s just no way to stop it.

Or maybe, just maybe, God is clearing out my life to prepare me for something new.  Maybe I myself will be moving out of the area as well.  (God answered a prayer about that in the negative a few months ago, and I have no plans to move at this point, but who knows what will happen in the long term.)  Maybe I will become involved in a time-consuming way at my little 10-person church, as we find ways to grow.  Maybe there will be a new activity or a new relationship or a new hobby of some sort, or something I can’t even imagine right now.  Or maybe I’ll just make new friends, or for some reason shift my priorities to one of the other social circles of which I am on the periphery.  Not much I can do about it.  I just have to figure out which parts of my life to hold on to and which to let go of, and not stay stuck in the grieving phase when parts of my life are ripped from me through no fault of my own.

Exit 242. The unrelatable becoming relatable.

The television sitcom The Big Bang Theory came to an end this week after being on for 12 seasons.  The show has an ensemble cast of nerdy and geeky young scientists and their ditzy aspiring actress neighbor.  They all come from such different worlds, and often they don’t understand each other’s little quirks.  As the series went on, new characters were introduced, mostly to bring in love interests for the main characters.  (Leonard didn’t need a new character; he ends up married to Penny, the aspiring actress).

I started watching that show in the middle of season 3, on the recommendation of nerdy and geeky friends.  I stopped watching somewhere around season 8 or 9, I think.  I don’t usually stop watching TV shows at all.  I’m still watching Survivor after 19 years, and The Simpsons after 30 (although I’m not as excited about it anymore as I used to be, for a variety of reasons).  I stuck with X-Files even during the mostly Mulder-free season 9.

Part of the reason I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory was that I was really busy for a while, and I just never caught up and never got back in the habit of watching it again.  But part of it was that it just wasn’t as funny as the older seasons were.  The show changed in a way that made it less relatable to me.  As the show became more popular in the mainstream, they placed the characters in more mainstream situations, by which I mostly mean they all found significant others.  Also, the characters felt more like Hollywood trendy elite’s stereotypes of what scientists and sci-fi aficionados are like, rather than what those people are actually like. (To some extent, though, this was true about the show from the beginning).

So, a year ago or so, they announced that this season would be the last, and I’ve been seeing commercials during Survivor and The Amazing Race that the last episode of The Big Bang Theory would be coming soon.  I decided that the show deserved enough respect for me to tune in one last time.  Apparently I had missed a lot in the last few years.  Sheldon and Amy got married.  Howard and Bernadette had kids.

The final episode was a good one.  It still wasn’t the same kind of funny as the early seasons, but I think they did a good job of wrapping up the story.  It was relatable to the mainstream, yes, but also enjoyable to someone like me.  And that was sort of a theme addressed in the show… the unrelatable becoming surprisingly relatable.  But I won’t give anything away.

Maybe I’ll have to go back and watch the seasons I missed someday… someday when I have time.  Then I’ll feel like I know the complete story… because, you know, not having the complete story totally sounds like something Sheldon would freak out about.

That’s all for this week.  I’m exhausted, and I can’t think of anything more profound to write about.

Exit 196. Maybe “reality television” isn’t such a misnomer after all.

A few days ago, I was watching this week’s episode of Survivor, and that got me wondering about things.  Specifically, it got me thinking about the fact that I’m still watching Survivor 18 years after the show’s premiere.  It seems that many of the show’s early fans have long since turned away, saying that it has become boring and repetitive, not offering anything new.

Survivor debuted in the USA in the summer of 2000.  It was an adaptation of a similar show from Europe.  Each game of Survivor lasts for around 13 episodes.  A group of 16 to 20 contestants go to some remote location and compete in games and challenges, win prizes, and gradually vote players out of the game until only one remains to win the grand prize of a million dollars.  I wasn’t hooked right away.  At the time of the first season, I was just finishing my first year as a full time teacher, and I lived in Davis.  (Now that I think about it, Survivor has been on so long that I have watched new episodes of Survivor from seven of the eleven different places where I’ve lived in my life.  I believe the only show that can surpass that is The Simpsons, which I have watched from every house, apartment, or dorm room where I’ve ever lived.)  Anyway, I watched it maybe five times during that initial season, but a couple months later, CBS replayed the entire season over the course of two weeks, to compete with NBC’s prime-time footage of the Sydney Olympics, and I watched every episode but one.  The next season started the following spring, and ever since then CBS has broadcast two seasons of Survivor per calendar year, one in the fall and one in the spring (so the current game of Survivor is the 36th).

In 2012, the year that I lived with the non-delusional roommate, one time he came home while I was watching Survivor.  He made a disapproving comment; I was having a bad day, and I told him I didn’t want to hear it.  A few days later, I came home and caught him watching WWE wrestling… I said, “How about this. I don’t give you a hard time for watching WWE, and you don’t give me a hard time for watching Survivor.”  He replied with a counter-proposal: “I can give you a hard time for Survivor, but you can give me a hard time for WWE too.”  I said I could live with that.

A few weeks later, he was watching WWE again.  He said something like, “I think what I like so much about wrestling is the way there are some guys that you just love to hate, and you can’t wait to watch them lose.”  I thought about this, and I said, “Now that you mention it, that’s one of the things I like about Survivor too.”

The show has evolved quite a bit since its beginnings.  Most of the more recent seasons have included additional twists, such as players changing teams before they merge into one tribe, hidden immunity idols (i.e., a player can use it to make them immune from being voted out) or other advantages waiting for players to find, and exile, in which one player gets removed from the game for a day (but usually with a chance to win some other sort of advantage while exiled).  Some seasons have included players who have played before getting second (or third or fourth) chances to play under different circumstances.  Some contestants have already been minor celebrities in their own right before competing on Survivor.  I have mixed feelings about contestants who aren’t just ordinary people, although if such contestants are familiar to me, it sometimes gives me someone to root for, or against, before the season even starts.

The trend in broadcasting at the time was toward unscripted shows, dubbed “reality telivision” by the media and culture.  Many people criticized the genre of “reality shows,” justifiably, for not being reality at all, usually putting people in contrived situations and editing footage to play up caricatures and stereotypes.  My problem with the label of “reality show” is that the concept of a show being unscripted is way too broad to make a statement about whether you like or dislike a genre of television, so when people say they do or don’t like reality shows, that doesn’t really mean much.  It’s as empty of a label as “alternative rock” was in the 90s.  Just because I like Survivor doesn’t mean I’m going to like every unscripted show.  When you really look at it, Survivor is basically a game show.  It doesn’t center around trivia, guessing words with letters missing, or knowing how much things cost, but you have contestants competing for prizes, and that makes it a game show.

And even though it isn’t exactly reality, in the sense that the situations are contrived and we only see what the producers want us to see, there’s a lot more reality happening on Survivor than on most game shows.  The contestants never know what is going to happen.  Sometimes the players will switch tribes, leaving someone without allies, or bringing a new opportunity to someone who had no allies before.  Sometimes your allies will turn on you because it is advantageous to their game.  Sometimes the particular competition might play well to certain players’ strengths.  Sometimes someone will just get a break out of nowhere, by discovering a hidden clue or advantage.  Players need to make the most of what they have right now in order to get as far in the game as they can, but without pissing off too many people, because some of the players voted out are the ones who decide the winner in the end.

And all of this happens in real life too.  Sometimes the people you are closest with leave you because of circumstances beyond any of your control, such as when your friends move away because of a family member’s new job.  Sometimes new friends suddenly appear.  Sometimes your so-called friends are jerks and they turn on you when they think they don’t need you anymore.  Sometimes certain challenges in life are just easier for some people than others, just because of the way we all have different strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes you just get lucky.  But no matter what happens in life, you always need to make the most of what you have right now in order to make the best life you can, without pissing off too many people.

Sure sounds like real life to me.  Maybe “reality television” isn’t such a misnomer after all.  But either way, I’m still going to call Survivor what it is to me: one of the best game shows ever.

Exit 126. But ask me again tomorrow.

Yesterday, I stayed home and had a nice relaxing day.  The day ended with me on the couch binge-watching five episodes of Castle on DVD.  (If you’re wondering why I’m still binge-watching on DVD rather than using Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime, I only have to pay for DVDs once, and I don’t have to worry about the network being down or my show getting pulled from my service provider.  But that’s another topic for another time.)

Castle is a crime drama set in New York City, about novelist Richard Castle and homicide detective Kate Beckett.  Castle consults with Beckett and her precinct, an arrangement that began when a serial killer was copying murders that happened in Castle’s novels.  Castle uses Beckett as the inspiration for the main character of his new series of novels.  At first, Castle and Beckett have these awkward do-they-have-feelings-for-each-other-or-not overtones, and their relationship gets explored later in the series.  The show recently concluded its run of eight seasons.

I have currently been watching season 4, which aired in 2011-12; this was the first season that I actually watched when it was on TV.  Season 4 is the creepiest to me… but not because of any of the murders depicted on the show.  No, season 4 is creepy because of how it predicted my life.

A side plot running through the first half of season 4 involved Castle’s red-haired daughter, Alexis, and her long distance boyfriend.  Alexis was in her final year of high school, and her boyfriend had just graduated and moved three thousand miles away to California, to attend that snooty university that I don’t name in this blog.  Alexis was rearranging her life around their long distance relationship, making plans herself to move to California and attend school with her boyfriend.  In the meantime, the guy was blowing off their Skype dates, taking his sweet time in calling and texting her back, and just generally not making her a priority.  Eventually, Alexis gets tired of being treated like that, and they break up.

I first started watching Castle in the fall of 2011 on the recommendation of my red-haired girlfriend at the time, the one I call Acrux.  She had just moved five hundred miles away to the other end of California.  I was rearranging my life around this long-distance relationship, assuming that once the school year was over, I would move to Acrux’s part of California.  In the meantime, Acrux was blowing off our Skype dates, taking her sweet time in calling and texting me back, and just generally not making me a priority.  Eventually, I got tired of being treated like that, and we broke up, about a month after the episode with Alexis’ breakup aired.

(There was another episode at the end of season 4 that also predicted something big that happened to me a couple weeks later, but that is also another story for another time.)

Alexis’ breakup happened over the phone, and Castle walked in on the last part of the conversation.  He asked her if she was okay, and she replied, “No.  But ask me again tomorrow.”  I wasn’t okay when Acrux and I broke up.  And it takes me a while to feel okay, mostly because I’m not in high school, I’m pretty picky, and opportunities to meet significant others are few and far between in my life.  But, almost five years later, I am okay with this breakup.  Acrux wasn’t right for me, I’m better off without her, and I’m okay with that.  It took some time to get to that point, and there are other things and people I haven’t completely dealt with right now.  But ask me again tomorrow.  Ask me again in a week, in a month, in a year, and I’ll be ok.

Everything will be ok.

Someday.

Exit 69. Why did I stop watching?

Full House, a popular television sitcom from my preteen and teen years, has been in the news again.  It was one of the great campy family sitcoms of that era (1987-95), but the family it featured was very atypical.  Danny Tanner was a local TV personality and the widowed father of three little girls, DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle.  At the beginning of the series, Danny’s brother-in-law Jesse and best friend Joey moved in with him to help take care of the girls.  As the series continued, more and more people ended up living under the same roof: Rebecca, Danny’s television co-star, became a love interest for Uncle Jesse, and when they got married, she moved in with them.  They ended up having twin boys in the later seasons.  DJ’s best friend Kimmy, the requisite annoying neighbor that every sitcom of that era had, was also a regular character throughout the series, and DJ had a boyfriend in some of the later seasons as well.

As I said, the show has been getting attention again lately for two reasons.  First was the announcement that Netflix is working on developing a sequel of sorts with many of the original actors.  This show will follow a similar premise to the original, but starring the next generation.  DJ is now an adult whose husband has recently passed away, and Stephanie and Kimmy move in to help her take care of her kids.

The other, more hilarious reason, is because of a video the San Francisco Giants baseball team released last week.  Full House was set in San Francisco, and the Giants have a Full House tribute night coming up in September.  The team made a video where they reenacted the opening sequence of Full House, featuring Giants players.  They reenacted scenes from the opening sequence perfectly.  (As an added bonus, Dave Coulier, the actor who played Joey, appears in character at the end.)  (If you don’t remember the show, you’ll appreciate the video below if you click here and watch this one first.  The opening sequence changed several times over the show’s run as the characters aged, but this one seems to have all of the scenes that were referenced in the Giants video.)

(Note: the video I originally linked had been removed by early 2016.  Here’s a link to a bootleg copy on YouTube: https://youtu.be/tiqQEbEf4PY)

So all this renewed attention on one of my regular childhood TV shows got me thinking: Why did I stop watching it?

The show ran for eight seasons, and I’m pretty sure I stopped watching somewhere around season 6.  In researching this post, I’ve read about some of the major plot developments in seasons 7 and 8, and I don’t remember them at all.  The final season would have been my freshman year at UC Davis, and I didn’t watch much TV at all that year.  I vaguely remember being in my dorm room in the spring of 1995 and getting a phone call from Mom in which she mentioned that she had just watched the series finale of Full House, and it was kind of sad.

This is very unlike me.  I’m the type that once I get into a TV show, I stay loyal to it until the end, even when most of its fans have decided that the show has jumped the shark and it’s time to move on.  I watched all 13 seasons of King of the Hill.  I watched all nine seasons of X-Files, even the final season where Mulder and Scully weren’t even in in much.  I’m still watching new episodes of The Simpsons and Survivor.  I had always assumed that I stopped watching Full House because I outgrew it.  It was a very kid-friendly show, and as the show went on, it seemed like there were more and more episodes where so much of the plot revolved around Michelle doing something cute.  The producers seemed to be trying to capitalize on that too much.  Combine that with the fact that I took five AP classes during season 7 and went away to college during season 8, and it seems perfectly understandable that Full House would fall to the bottom of my list of priorities.  But then I remembered something else, something I had forgotten for 22 years, that I think affected my Full House watching as well.

At some point during high school, I remember overhearing one of my friends say that Full House was lame.  I’m not going to mention any names, and this is not someone I’ve stayed in touch with, although if he were ever to, say, send me a Facebook friend request, I would gladly accept.  Some of my high school friends reading this will probably know who I’m talking about.  This guy was in a lot of the same classes as me, and I must admit I admired him for all the time I saw him stand up to extremely liberal history teachers with his opposing views.  But sometimes he kind of bugged me too, although it certainly wasn’t intentional on his part and I hold no grudges today.  Anyway, this guy had a disproportionate influence on me for a couple years.  For example, I started listening more closely to one of his favorite bands during that time, after my reactions to their earlier work had ranged from neutral to what-the-crap-is-this.  I still today love much of that band’s work from that time period, even the song that originally made me say what-the-crap-is-this, although I’m not as fond of their newer stuff.  I don’t know that he is the only reason I stopped watching Full House, but now that I think about it, hearing him say that Full House was lame certainly got me thinking about the fact that maybe I had outgrown the show.

What makes me sad about all this is that this is exactly the kind of behavior pattern that I have spoken against.  It seems that now as an adult, the idea of being yourself, not caring what others think, has become so ingrained in me as the right way to live, but here I was as a teenager, letting my equivalent of Kimmy dictate what I watch and listen to, doing exactly what I’ve told so many people not to.  Everyone has their moments of weakness.  I used to be influenced a lot by what the people around me think, and I don’t think that this is anything that can ever be shaken completely.  It’s hard to find that balance of living your own life while surrounded by others.  And, of course, there are moments when other people’s opinions of you really do matter.  I’m not going to decide one day to show up to work naked on the grounds that I feel like living my own life my way, for example.  I’ve had such a history of being too self-conscious about what other people think.  I don’t want to live life that way as an adult.  But it’s hard when people, and culture in general, can be so judgmental.  And this is why it is so important that I keep encouraging people to be themselves.

And maybe someday, I’ll have to go back and find a way to watch seasons 7 and 8 of Full House.