The Pilot

All my life I’ve been watching TV with Americans. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are flashes of late 80s American sitcoms on Channel 4 at 6 and 9; Cosby’s sex smirk and Roseanne’s sarcy liberal mum laugh. Floating through my mind are still images of Doogie Howser M.D. swallowing raw eggs (hopefully part of an episode and not an indicator of psychosis!). Saturday and Sunday mornings were fit to burst with the great American action-adventure series from the 60s, the best of these was The Time Tunnel. I spent weekends trying to work out why whatever historical garb they travelled in, Tony and Doug would always come out of the tunnel in a grey flannel suit and green polo-neck. These series were what today we would call ‘cult’ but back then they were just fun.

Doug and Tony's belligerently ahistorical clothing

As I grew, American TV seemed to grow with me. American TV drama was becoming the greatest art form in the world, and for an over-serious teenager it was perfect. You could catch masterpieces like Oz and The Larry Sanders Show on freely available channels, not like in the states-hence the genius of watching American TV in Britain at the time. You had to try harder to catch them; stations were tucking them away in increasingly later and more punishing slots. When The Sopranos turned up in 1999, I felt like the medium I’d wasted my little life on had reached its glorious peak. There was nothing funnier, smarter, more engaging, stimulating or utterly moving and convincing on TV, and there probably never will be (though someone devote their lives to proving me wrong, please). Then came 24. Now I’m be slightly embarrassed to have been so besotted with a programme that turned out as torture propaganda, but back at the beginning it was fresh as a daisy, the violence cooler and realer than the distressing and stupid machine porn of late. I will never forget Jack Bauer tranquilising his boss with a gun concealed in a ring-binder in the first episode, a great thriller moment but somehow lame with a sense of its own limitations, unlike in the end.

"The Sopranos" in 1999. Television at its best.

After all this, it seems inevitable that when I had to start getting a specialism as a postgraduate in media studies, I turned to American TV as my muse. I seemed to have adjusted all the pre-conditions of my life to allow me to watch American TV all day and night long, and all the greats; The Twilight Zone, The Rockford Files, NYPD Blue. This was so ridiculously enjoyable I had to add in a few unbearable duds to look like I was trying. Hence why I’ve written so much on CSI, a programme I enjoy talking about more than I have ever enjoyed watching. It is beyond review and parody; it’s its own satirist. Then I spent my time imparting (or more usually destroying) the wisdom and wonder of TV to grown-up kiddywinkles, and never was this more evident than in Pilot episode of Sesame Street, which made a group of undergraduate first-years break into spontaneous applause at its end.

"CSI", good for writing about not watching

And then, as fate or the God of Television (I call him ‘Televor’!) had it, I started seeing someone in the States. It was beautiful and brilliant, and so was she, and she is G. Now I was able to watch TV with Americans on the couch not just the screen. Sometimes they weren’t even on the screen, which was full of people I wouldn’t watch in my own country, like the animal/human cloning experiments gone wrong Clarkson, May and Hammond, the most dysfunctional legal firm since the one in Ally McBeal with the stinky toilets. The point is, I was now watching the watchers, enjoying nights of socialising based around TV programmes (when everyone tells us this doesn’t happen anymore) and seeing totally different ways of watching TV than I was used to, even if it was the TV I was used to. I even got a glimpse into what Americans think of British TV, or British people through TV. So now I’m at a point in my life where I want to start broadcasting all these memories, these loves, these observations. And this is what the blog’s all about. I’m going to write about my experiences of watching American TV, whether here or in the States, as a child or the unusually smooth kidult I have now become, and whether with or starring Americans. And now we interrupt this programme…

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4 Responses to “The Pilot”

  1. […] Watching TV with Americans Whether they're on the screen or on the couch « The Pilot […]

  2. Simon Harper Says:

    Nice post! I have fond memories of the ‘Seinfeld’/’Larry Sanders’ double-headers late on BBC2 – at the time I was an impressionable teen wowed by the virtuoso swearing of ‘LS’, though later came to love those shows more for the character work (mostly Hank and George respectively) and also the brilliant tying together of plots, especially on ‘Seinfeld’.

    It might not be cool to admit it, but this is probably the only place safe enough for me to come out as someone who stuck with ’24’ until the end of Season 6. Please don’t judge me too harshly… 😉

    • Yes, Hank and George are truly exemplary characters in any medium! And both based on real-life showbiz celebs (Ed McNamara and Larry David). I won’t judge you at all. I did the same-but just hated myself a little bit for doing it. Think the rot really sinks in on that godawful Season 6.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Simon Harper Says:

        Thankfully I can’t recall the plot of any seasons of 24 besides the first one (maybe because it was the only one which had a proper plot? And even then it has so many plot holes it’s best not to think about it…).

        Long been familiar enough with Seinfeld to know about the Costanza/David parallel, but wasn’t aware of the inspiration for Hank Kingsley – despite watching it religiously on those BBC2 runs I’ve only recently delved back into Sanders at all, thanks to…well…the internet *taps nose*

        Speaking of which, potentially interesting topic for debate – and something you probably already have in mind for a future blog post – is whether we (and future generations especially) will be able to enjoy the same process of discovering quality American TV on free-to-air channels in the UK in years to come, thanks to Sky Atlantic. Though I guess this is where DVDs and future online streaming models may come in.

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