Monday, July 23, 2012

The Discerning Eyes of an Adult

A couple weeks ago, my sis and I were watching a Saturday Night Live re-run featuring One Direction as the musical guest.  I'm not overly familiar with their work, but having spent two weeks teaching theatre at College for Kids, I know that they are considered pretty dreamy amongst the tween set.  As I watched these boys do their thing, I was kind of struck by how rather unspectacular they were.  I turned to my sis and said, "Is it just me, or are these guys not all that cute?

My sis sagely replied, "Go back and look at the New Kids on the Block ... with the discerning eyes of an adult."  (When I pointed out that I was in college during NKOTB mania and therefore never fell victim to their alleged allure, she amended her comment to Duran Duran.)

This summer has actually been a bit surreal in terms of my kid passions colliding with my adult sensibilities.  I've discovered several "retro" channels lurking in the midst of my digital cable packages that have allowed me to take jaunts down memory row with some shows that have held special places in my memory.  And filtered through the "discerning eyes of an adult," these shows are entirely new experiences -- for better and for worse.

Batman:  I can remember giddily sitting down weekday afternoons to watch Batman on WFLD-Chicago.  It was bright, colorful fun to six-year-old me.  Now?  Well, first of all, I can't help but be distracted by the sort of pervy undertones of the Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson relationship.  (I mean, to become Robin, the kid has to slide down a pole labelled "Dick."  Think about that for a second and tell me there isn't something sort of weird about that.)   The writing is stilted, the acting painful, the design work shoddy, the plots formulaic.  I still watch it, but I watch it in more of a Mystery Science Theatre kind of way rather than with that love I felt as a kid.

Family Affair:  Unwatchable when you know the fate of Buffy.

That Girl: Ann Marie seems a bit dim.  How did she ever survive living on her own in New York City when she barely seems capable of dressing herself in the morning?  And I suspect Donald is using her as a beard.

The Brady Bunch: Um, the Brady kids are douches.  Seriously!  Marcia is a snotty bitch.  For all her insecurity, Jan isn't much better.  Cindy....well, Cindy is sweet but I think Mike and Carol might want to get her tested for some learning disabilities.  Greg is an arrogant jerk.  Bobby is a total weasel.  The only decent one is Peter who seems resigned to being the lone nice guy surrounded by these narcissistic jags  he calls "family."

Mork and Mindy:  Robin Williams's mugging makes this unbearable.  What seemed hilarious when I was eight seems self-indulgent to a 40-year-old who spends a fair portion of her career working with comic actors and helping them learn to straddle the line between funny and over the top.  Clearly, Robin never had such a teacher -- or he was a really poor student.

Facts of Life:  After watching an episode where Natalie and Tootie are vying to play Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (at an all girl's school.....did Jo play Emil?) following auditions that would have left my music director and I struggling not to either laugh or cry, I decided it was time to turn the channel.

Of course, some things hold up better than you might expect.  There are the classics that have stood the test of time -- I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore are deserving of their legendary status.  The first episode of Three's Company is pretty beautifully constructed (although the "smear the queer" kind of humor that is employed -- particularly by Mr. Roper -- throughout the rest of the series can be a bit offensive to more enlightened 21st century audiences).  Get Smart, too, remains hilarious and, while campy, not nearly as mired down by datedness as you might think.  Laverne and Shirley may render watching 2 Broke Girls impossible this fall because Max and Caroline have NOTHING on those two brewery workers.  WKRP is even better than I remembered, although the layout of the station's offices makes absolutely zero architectural sense.  (Seriously, there are windows everywhere!)

There is something sad, of course, for seeing behind the curtain of these shows that held such treasured spots in my pop culture memory, but there is also something sort of comforting.  I've grown up, and I owe a lot to those shows that led me to seek better and smarter entertainment.  These shows taught me things that I didn't necessarily realize when I was a kid -- how to be independent, how to get along with others, how to be kind and generous.  They also filled my childhood with a lot of laughter.  With many of these shows, I make a conscious decision when I sit down to watch.  I turn off my adult filter and spend a half hour giggling at the lunacy and ignoring the inner eye rolls that inevitably come when Adam West says something dripping (now) with double entendre or when Jan Brady shows up with that hideous wig at Lucy Winters's party.  And then I click into my DVR and appease my more sophisticated tastes with the latest episode of The Newsroom.  Don't let your adult tastes kill the childlike joy of these old shows.  Surrender to the silly and ignore the logical flaws that riddle the shows....and maybe forget you read this post.

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