Tag Archives: television

Tube Families

Situation comedies on television have often relied on the family as a source for humor, and, having lived in a family my whole life, I can say with certainty that there is much to laugh at in the day-to-day operation of a family. Or, at least in our case it has been so.

Television families aren’t real, and they are expected to provide hilarity at a rapid clip, filling a half-hour with mirth, leaving just enough time for 8 minutes or so of commercials. Mostly the father is an idiot in modern sitcoms, the mother is way more attractive than that husband would expect to have married, and the kids are smart-mouthed to the extent that they wouldn’t have survived life under my parents’ roof.

Thinking back, with the help of the TV channels that offer very old re-runs, the family comedy has changed a lot since 1960. Robert Young starred in “Father Knows Best,” and despite the title, his best efforts aside, he didn’t always know best. But, he was wise, and understanding, and trusted his children to do what was right when faced with obstacles.

That father had the ability to lead by example, to encourage, and to learn from his children. Despite all that substance, the show was still funny. It was never dirty, or even suggestive.

Another show from that era was “Bachelor Father,” starring John Forsythe, later to be heard as the voice of Charlie on “Charlie’s Angels,” and on the prime time soap opera “Dynasty.” “Bachelor Father” is about a ladies’ man lawyer who adopts a niece who, apparently, has been orphaned. She is a high school girl, and much of the humor comes from his lack of experience with adolescents.

He has a Chinese butler/cook who helps him try to solve parenting problems as the come up. The “father” in this show is often dressed to the nines and going on dates with beautiful women. That was a time when un-married men weren’t necessarily considered to be gay. It was also a time when “gay” meant cheerful.

The bumbling of the two men in “Bachelor Father” brought the laughs we seek from sitcoms, but there were also touching moments and as in “Father Knows Best,” the father figures learned as much as the child. To my knowledge is was the first show about a family that wasn’t traditional. It was the first of many.

Some new situation comedies about family are really very good, though much different in the areas of suggestive, or overtly sexual humor. Some comedies are, in my opinion, horrible, and poorly written for cheap laughs. And maybe worst of all, they have nothing positive to offer. I like to laugh, but I also like to feel that perhaps my sense of humanity has grown a bit after watching TV.

“The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” get a pass from me, since they are clearly caricatured cartoons of absurdity. I understand people who find them offensive, and can’t deny it, but as an adult – mostly – I get a kick out of them. Interestingly, a number of years ago “The Simpsons” was identified by a group which rates such thing as being the highest in family values of all TV comedies, partly because every show really does have a moral of the story.

So, that’s what I have to say about TV comedy families. I’m glad to have the really old shows to remind me of a simpler, more respectful time. But, I’m not planning to wear a sports coat to do work around the house anytime soon.

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Olde Tyme TV

When I was a kid, my family got cable TV. Thinking back, it’s kind of hard to believe. We weren’t poor, but we sure weren’t rich, and it seems like the kind of frivolous expense my parents wouldn’t have allowed. It seems odd that we would watch cable TV on a black and white TV, but that’s just what we did.

Cable back then was not what it is now. Living in Oshkosh we gained the Milwaukee channels, WGN out of Chicago and a few other channels. No Weather Channel or CNN or C-Span were available then.

One channel I watched a lot was channel 18 from Milwaukee. They played a lot of old situation comedies like “I Love Lucy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and “Dragnet.” Even better, they played really old sitcoms like “Our Miss Brooks” with Eve Arden and the teen-aged Richard Crenna, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” and “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.”

Those old programs were great, partly because most of them originated on radio, where writing and character development were essential qualities of a good show. “Our Miss Brooks” was very funny, very dry, and sometimes very sexy, in a subtle way. Miss Brooks was an underpaid high school teacher who tried very hard to become romantic with a fellow teacher named Mr. Boynton, who was too thick-headed to comprehend her desires. Along with them, the squeaky-voiced student played by Richard Crenna, Walter, and principal Gale Gordon, who later starred with Lucille Ball, were also thorns in her side.

Many of those old programs had this in common: a person could really relax and enjoy the travails of the characters, knowing that nothing offensive would happen, including overt references to genitals, and that at the end of each show, everything would turn out okay. Whatever impending disaster the episode had in store was averted, and life went on.

Another odd thing about those programs is that many of them had traditional nuclear families. While there’s surely nothing wrong with non-traditional families, the mother/father/son/daughter families have been an endangered species on television for many years.

We don’t have cable at our house, or satellite. Thanks to digital TV, we have more channels than before, including a few that play old programs. Many evenings I choose to watch “M.A.S.H.,” or “Bob Newhart,” or “Taxi” instead of “Dancing With The Surviving Idol Losers,” or “Miami CSI, NCIS, SVU.” That way, I don’t have to watch anybody get killed or autopsied, and the only people who get humiliated are actors playing characters.

I don’t think modern television is bad. Some of it is pretty well written, and many of the characters portrayed are very entertaining. I guess there’s enough worrisome and offensive news these days that I like to enjoy some shows that are neither worrisome nor offensive.

I guess my process of turning into an old geezer is well under way.

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Filed under 2011

Quirky, but Brilliant

I’ve been watching more television than usual lately.  As I recovered from surgery, I still had plenty of energy to operate the remote.  And, mostly the weather has been either too wet or too cold to do much yard work. 

I’m a fan of good situation comedy shows, of which there are not many.  I also don’t mind a good drama, though it seems that a third of the evening television schedule is comprised of shows where we’re likely to see a corpse being sliced and diced with the objective of solving its murder.  

I’m not a reality show fan, which puts me in the minority of TV viewers.  And, without cable, there are not many sports shows or cable news networks to watch.  So, I’ll sometimes sit with cats on my lap and the remote in my hand, scanning the free TV channels for something good.

I’ve noticed a trend lately, and I guess it’s not really new.  I call it the “Quirky but brilliant” TV hero.  Chief among them these days is Dr. House.  The tormented genius thing wears pretty thin on me.  It almost feels like each week’s “House” episode is verging on a parody of itself, even though the show wins awards every year.  So, I guess it’s just me.

Kathy Bates is starring in a new program about a rebel lawyer who doesn’t play by the rules. It’s called “Harry’s Law.”  She is Harry.  I think she’s a great actress, but I wonder how she can speak her lines without snickering.  I find the writing to be preachy and unlike anything anyone would say in real life.  And yet, it’s a big hit.

Dana Delaney is in a new program called “Body of Proof.”  She plays a female “House” – type character who is so disagreeable and annoying that she no longer deals with living patients.  She’s a forensic pathologist.  Actually, she has several deep dark secrets as to why she is so horrible to everyone, and why she’s no longer a brain surgeon.  Of course, she’s brilliant and keeps from being fired because she solves everything. 

Jimmy Smits plays a fellow who retires from the Supreme Court so he can work for the “little guy.”  He maybe isn’t brilliant and quirky on “Outlaw,” but the thought of someone quitting the Supreme Court is a pretty big stretch.

I guess it’s important in television for the audience to have some idea what to expect when they tune in a program.  The caricatured characters in the programs above need to be true to who they are, I guess, just as Horatio does on CSI Miami when he puts on his sunglasses and says something comically serious at least once per episode.

Quirky and brilliant characters have been around before.  My favorite: Mr. Peabody, the brilliant and quirky dog who, with his boy, “Sherman,” traveled by means of the way-back machine to visit historical places and times.  Of course, that was a cartoon – part of Jay Ward’s brilliant and quirky “Rocky and Bullwinkle” show.  Even though he was animated, Mr. Peabody was as plausible a character as House, in my book.

I should just face the fact that I’m turning into a cranky old man who is irritable and overly critical of everyone and everything, but who can solve virtually any problem with the sparsest of information.  Hmmm… I sound quirky and brilliant.  I need a TV show.  Call it, “Recliner Guy.”

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Television Choices

We don’t have access to cable TV where we live.  And, while we could get satellite TV, we’ve chosen not to.  Thanks to the digital conversion, we now have a lot more channels of free television to watch, but nothing like cable and satellite offer.

As a consequence of not having so many choices at home, when I travel for work I find myself mesmerized by the array of lights and colors that confront me on the hotel room television sets.

There is truly something for everyone, as long as by “everyone” you mean people with various personality flaws or psychological disorders.

Just the other day I was scanning through the offerings available, and I saw what appeared to be a sweet love story.  A couple was kissing passionately, that is until the gentleman (a term I use quite loosely) decided to squeeze the life out of his romantic partner by wringing her neck.  I clicked a few channels further to find a show called “Obese and Pregnant.”  Now, I’m not saying there could be some educational value to such a show, but why would I want to watch it?  After all, I’m not pregnant.

A few more clicks and there was a thriller movie with music so sinister that I knew someone was going to be killing someone any second, so I kept clicking.

The worst time to find something to watch is early in the morning.  The array of infomercials and Home Shopping Network type channels is amazing.  Fortunately, I’m able to return most of the stuff.

To be fair, there are channels available on cable and satellite that I wish we could see at home.  The news channels, History, Discovery, and even TV Land would be nice to have.  C-Span is almost as terrifying as some of the psycho movies sometimes, depending on who is talking, but one can learn a lot about politics by watching it.  And, there are some sporting events unavailable to us common folk on free TV that it would be fun to watch, but then again, if NASCAR or the NFL or the University of Wisconsin decide that making more money from limiting broadcast of their games to pay TV is more important than keeping me as a fan, so be it.

The sad thing is that while television sometimes does a good job of depicting real life, it isn’t real life.  Reality shows are a sham, in that they are as produced as any scripted show.  So, any time I spend scanning the dial looking for entertainment is time I’m not spending engaged in real life with real people.  While it’s true that some TV during down time isn’t a bad thing, being transfixed by the pixels on the screen is really the definition of a waste of time.

So, maybe having only a few channels to choose from at home is a good thing.  And, maybe when I’m traveling I should just shut off the idiot box and open up a book.  And I will.  Right after “I Dream of Jeanie.”

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Filed under 2011