I make a point to include a HALL OF FAME section in almost each of my writings on music, bringing into focus songs from eras past and even from a decade ago which had an indelible impact on popular culture or artistic/aesthetic inheritances.
I have the same, equal regard for cinema and television. They are purveyors of culture and so I am here with a long gestating article on some truly timeless classic series that I was ever so lucky to find this year. This event commenced as a channel on my cable provider exclusively launched, showcasing the best of television content from across eras and decades, comprising shows set in USA and UK. But the universality and engaging style of presentation are qualities that make them instantly loveable.
I am a reader, writer and consumer, afficianado of all great things that have made their place in the modern world. This channel came as a true blessing because in the early months of 2021, like almost every second home, my own familial unit was grappling with a changed, post-Covid unraveling. The reality was bitter and unwavering. Hope was still sought out and practiced at the lowest points.
So amidst a global melee, this writer and viewer found joy and may I say mortal satisfaction in watching shows he had known, read so much about over the years as also about their creators and performers. To watch them from the comforts of my television set hence was an engrossing affair.
I start with the batch of comedies that keep me engaged almost daily owing to the rotating cycle of seasons being broadcast and repeated for maximum viewing pleasure.
FRIENDS is still the ultimate benchmark for millennials but these shows covering the 60s, 70s and 80s prove why they are indeed classics. They need to be rediscovered by a whole new generation. I hope this article becomes a positive diving point for many of my readers.
Here they are, in random order.
THE LUCY SHOW
On the top of this list is a series that is toplined by the inimitable Lucille Ball.
It’s so heartening to see a resurgence of interest in her legacy especially with the release of BEING THE RICARDOS recently. Yes, I’ve seen it and absolutely adored it for the behind the scenes tensile nerves, interpersonal dynamics and creative jostling for authenticity that it so succinctly captures. The movie, on its part, focuses on I LOVE LUCY. The series that I watched and came to instantly love was its follow-up THE LUCY SHOW which reunited her with her on-screen best friend and scene stealer Vivian Vance.
There is just such an agile sense of comedy here that gets celebrated on top of a storyline that looks at these two middle-aged women never give up to manage their finances, gain meaningful employment and be self- sufficient, with fierceness to spare. That along with the pratfalls and chaos that centers them with neighbour and bank manager Mr. Mooney( Gale Gordon). He’s such a memorably etched character, with his exasperation laid bare. I also must appreciate the childlike glee and innocence these stories were delineated with. That is why they continue to rule our hearts sixty years after they premiered to resounding success and cult status.
Whether she’s flying away with a whole bunch of helium balloons, imitating duck calls, conducting an orchestra, playing an army candidate or attending a college reunion and even playing a meter maid, Lucille Ball is profound and unforgettable. So are her co-stars.
Of course, I’m also discovering several episodes and clips of I LOVE LUCY so I will keep you updated on this classic spread.
An acronym for MOBILE ARMY SURGICAL HOSPITAL, this witty and quotable series is set at the height of the Korean War in the 1950s and uses an expert cast as army medical personnel stationed in a war zone far, far away from home.
With memorable characterisations galore (and their code names like HAWKEYE, TRAPPER, KLINGER, HOT LIPS), it deals with the politics of war, medical arcs, personal shenanigans, PTSD and cultural legacies like no other show can. I love every minute of its half hour runtime and how skilfully it balances scales between fact and satire, even shedding light on the cross-cultural legacies that were borne out of those four years. MASH is an ensemble piece with grit, humanity and bottomless humour.
WHO’S THE BOSS?
Judith Light and Tony Danza are the bonafide stars of this wonderful, heartwarming series where class differences are bridged with a genuine care for human interaction and value of hard work. It is also naturally attuned to the cultural adjustments that former sportsperson turned housekeeper Tony makes when leaving his native Brooklyn for the leafy suburbs of Connecticut, to work for advertising head Angela. The financial aspects of this station definitely come into play. But it’s done with a genial spirit and warmth.
I love the fact that both Tony and Angela are single, loving parents to their two kids ( excellent Alyssa Milano and Danny Pintauro) while Katherine Helmond is the senior prefect who livens up the proceedings with her ageless presence. It’s a blended family unit where both the protagonists paint a healthy bond without trappings of romance or undue binaries.
WHO’S THE BOSS? is full of heart and laughs. A must for the whole family.
This show also experienced a full-circle moment when ABC staged a live ‘in front of a studio audience’ special and employed names like ANN DOWD, KEVIN HART among others to play the original iconic characters.
Let’s start with the title track that begins with the refrain, ‘now the world don’t move with the beat of a drum’ and Gary Coleman, the eternally beloved child star whose name reaches anyone who digs deep into pop culture archives.
DIFFERENT STROKES is a revolutionary series that showed a family unit that embraced a biracial identity way back in the 1970s. It paved the way for future representation and I can see why. Mr. Drummond’s largesse isn’t an off-shoot of a white man’s burden. His sensitivity is to accord Willis and Arnold, two orphaned brothers whose mother served the man as housekeeper for years, with the cocoon of love, education and joy they deserve. He and daughter Kimberly hence bring equalised voices of two generations to welcome the scene-stealing brothers into the fold.
Their chemistry is priceless and gives us moments to cherish, delivering on the promise of a just society and moral lessons without sentimentality. Gary as Arnold is just an angel with his whip-smart dialogues and screen command. He and the show are one for the ages.
To watch Samantha swoop on the mortal world with her powers of magic is a real treat. She’s no ordinary witch either. In Elizabeth Montgomery’s stylish avatar and performative aptitude, she becomes a woman attempting to make her own way beyond the sophisticated veneer of a middle class, suburban 1960s housewife. Through this world of fantasy, she throws conventions to the wind and fills up the screen with gleeful mischief. Also in the service of truth and goodwill.
Her characterisation and wonderful moments shared with better half Darrin( Dick York) are full of the usual pulls and pushes, banter that couples share together. But the other standout here is Agnes Moorehead as her mother Endora. She’s the true naughty livewire who revels in the whole premise and lets loose her bag of tricks and motormouth. I also love the track with Samantha’s two neighbours.
Truly, BEWITCHED is a classic show with the look and feel of an era where everything spelled innocence and a wholesome familial appeal.
This show about a robotics engineer and his A.I. invention VICKI is another addition to the canon of all-time classics that I’ve already written about last year. It’s a childhood benchmark for me and as I started to re-watch it last year on YouTube, it again appeared on the channel hosting these hits.
The family dynamic, reserves of humour and great storylines make the Lawsons and their nosy but magnetically funny neighbours Brindles unforgettable. Thank God that these channels help us relive our glory years with nostalgia and ‘wonder’ to boot, quite literally in this case. This one is personally invested in the minds and hearts of millions of Indian kids who watched it on TV every evening. So this revival is a miracle.
Michael J. Fox reached star status with this iconic series, much before BACK TO THE FUTURE sent his career soaring higher. But the whole cast truly, collectively contributes to its charm.
To me, this series about two liberal parents and their four kids drew in from all life- forces invested in the intermingling of two generations. J. Fox particularly is a counterpoint here as a conservative young man with a purely capitalistic bent of mind, reflecting peak 80s social consciousness cutting across nationalities.
However, this show is heartful as it delves into past friendships and love for the parents, the difficult topic of divorce regarding beloved relatives is broached as also mental health vis a vis Alzheimer’s for an aunt with a knack for sharing her family history; while growing up for the kids and the very real pressures of managing successful careers along with raising kids for the parents come to the forefront. All these strands are dealt with delicacy and tact, performed ably. How can I forget the episodes where the youngest kid stands up for his non- speaking classmate? You see, this show was dealing with issues that weren’t commonly portrayed back in the day.
I also adore the fact that the college going kids continue to live with their parents; it’s such a binding thread with us Indians.
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
Now on with the British side. Let me just announce by saying this classic offering is a sheer delight. Period. Without this show, there wouldn’t be diverse representation on screens or the very real and ripe conceit of culture clashes being mined for social commentary.
The laughs and the bonding among this cast of immigrant students learning the ropes of an universal language from their dedicated teacher covers a whole gamut of emotions, all springing forth from the multiplicity of interpreting language. I love it and the cast is golden.
The art of nervous implosion and exasperation can never be as urgent or loud and physical in its interpretation as on FAWLTY TOWERS as a group of people running a hotel have glorious mishaps galore, all for the cause of skilful administration.
The class consciousness and mechanics of running the hospitality enterprise on a supposed arc of elite clientele as opposed to serving people of all hues for the cause of their comfort is also an oppositional clash of mindsets dividing the central Fawlty couple.
Lastly, from the British side, we have the punch, accuracy and timeless appeal of YES MINISTER. I believe its concerns are universal. Governments may come and go but the truth in the execution here will always ring true. The performers are peerless.
I have seen THREE’S COMPANY from the 6th to 8th seasons as it aired on the channel. I loved every moment of it.
Once again painting a wholesome portrait of friends becoming family at a crucial juncture of life when careers and personal commitments are still sought after, this one broke taboos by having two girls and a boy occupy a rented flat as platonic partners sharing life journeys, laughs and shenanigans without that ‘boy-girl thing’ interjecting.
They soon become unbreakable best friends and I completely love this journey between Janet, Jack and Terri. I actually cried as Janet got married, Terri took up a job in Hawaii and Jack moved into a new house, leaving their sanctuary, their flat of many years empty, in the final episode. It reminded me a lot of FRIENDS’ series finale, that final switching off of the lights on the iconic set.
Also, a shout out to Mr. Furley, their landlord who is indispensable to the show for his timing, expressions and emotional transparency at all times. Lastly, the peppy title track, with the credits showing the whole principal cast enjoying its day at the L.A. Zoo.
THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW
I watched this iconic sketch series in 2019 on YouTube, with many of its unforgettable skits giving me joy of the highest order. The cast members are so tuned in to each others’ energies and the storylines are so relatable that one cannot help but fall for it. I can clearly see how it paved the way for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE/ SNL in the late 1970s.
Ms. Carol as the British Queen, as Norma Desmond, as one half of a dysfunctional, bickering family, as Scarlet O’ Hara, a lady advertising products, paired with the Dame Maggie Smith and so many truly are one for the ages. Once again, I reiterate that THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW is a team effort and no one is lesser than the other. They are all equals in terms of talent and delivery. So watch it.
In the next post, I will write about the dramas that I have watched on the channel. So keep waiting for it before New Year strikes.