TV Old

The pleasures of American TV are not confined to seeing new episodes of great shows as they air. They are also to be found in the re-discovery of some of the best TV from years gone by. This is aided considerably by a host of cable channels that do nothing but re-circulate old TV. Given that such stations are generally found in the undiscovered country of niche cable, these shows don’t exactly float to the surface. Their scheduling is hardly conducive to life as a functioning member of society either. With a little sifting, there’s gold in them there hills:

The Fugitive (MeTV Mondays 12.00am)

Though you might be more familiar with the 1993 movie re-make with Harrison Ford (which unusually for a Hollywood revival of a classic TV show doesn’t disgrace its predecessor), this long-running series from the mid-1960s is a classic in its own right. Falsely accused of his wife’s murder, Dr. Richard Kimble (played by a perpetually constipated-looking David Janssen) escapes from custody and drifts from town to town doing a variety of blue-collar jobs until his identity is discovered by the locals-who somehow don’t spot him by his iconic tweed jacket and jet-black hair-at which point he moves on. Kimble is occasionally pursued, when he can be bothered, by Lieutenant Gerard (the coathanger-jawed Barry Morse) and his wife’s murderer, a one-armed man played by a fat Worzel Gummidge. Each episode is an impeccably crafted chamber drama and the weekly guest stars are amongst the best character actors of their era. It’s also a scathing indictment of American society. Those in the justice system are invariably the villains of the piece and Kimble wanders an America full of corrupt institutions where the scum of society has risen to the top. It would be the highlight of anyone’s career, if it weren’t the creation of Roy Huggins, the man behind Maverick and The Rockford Files.

The Golden Girls (TVLand, whenever you turn on the channel)

It’s easy to be put off by the dated production values, air of tackiness and cloying music of this 80s sitcom but it would be a shame to let cosmetics get in the way of a show that otherwise is pure joy. Four senior ladies, sour divorcee Dorothy (Bea Arthur), her old school insult comic mother Sophia (Estelle Getty), southern belle-in-waiting Blanche (Rue McClanahan) and naïve farm girl Rose (Betty White), share a house in Miami looking for love and late-life fulfilment. It’s sharply written with an underlying sarcastic wit that counteracts the mandatory sentimentality beautifully. The show was utterly fearless about confronting issues facing people in later life, like dementia and disability, as well as those that matter specifically to women-one memorable episode has Dorothy facing down a male doctor who misdiagnosed her based on her age and gender in a restaurant. In this sense it harks back to the socially responsible American sitcoms of the 1970s but it has a streak of misanthropic humour we more readily associate with sitcoms today. It’s impossible to underestimate how important the central performances are to the success of the show. I’m particularly enamoured of Getty’s pinpointed quick-fire delivery and White’s knowingly played bravado turns of bumpkin innocence.

Star Trek (MeTV, Saturdays 9.00pm)

After countless sequels and movie versions, it’s good to get back to the ground floor of this franchise and see exactly why people think it so worthy of resurrection. Enduring iconography aside, I was struck by how captivating the storylines of each episode were, and the perfect pace at which the mysteries unravelled while still leaving space for that surreal and colourfully psychedelic camp that people treasure about the show. One episode I caught, ‘The Corbomite Manoeuvre’, is structured like a poker game and ends with Captain Kirk having cocktails with a grown-man baby alien played by Ron Howard’s brother. It’s also quite remarkable how the character flaws of the main cast are highlighted as much as, if not more than, their heroic qualities. I always had it in my head that Kirk’s chronic womanising was a fan fiction add-on that got recouped as canon after nudie-freak JJ Abrams got his pervy little hands on the franchise. But here Kirk is cruelly lascivious without apology or remittance. If like me you grew up with the relatively co-operative crew of The Next Generation, you’d be shocked at the amount these guys argue with each other. Dr. Bones in particular is more insulting to his fellow crew members than a drill sergeant with piles.

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