THERE’S NOTHING BETTER THAN TAKING THE CLASSIC ROUTE- PART 2.

I had promised  to return with part two of my article on classic television series that I had been extremely fortunate to discover via a cable channel devoted to airing them exclusively.

Yes, I had heard and read about them over the years. However, watching them entails a different kind of joy and engagement. So without hitting the bush, we go right along with the bonafide hits whose influence continues to go around in perpetuity. Only this time, we focus on the dramas.

***

CHARMED

The fantasy genre has been elevated to staggering heights, thanks to the advent of the previous decade with a touchstone like GAME OF THRONES. Then there are hits which took advantage of our obsession with the supernatural and mythic entities but clearly overstayed their welcome ( not that I have seen them or hold any interest towards them)



CHARMED, however, is an exception although it took a teeny bit for me to gravitate towards it. Once I began watching from its first season airing on the channel, I was hooked. The primary reason why it works is because true to most 1990s- 2000s era dramas, it is sincere in its delineation of relationships; it presents us a composite picture of three sisters PRUE, PIPER and PHOEBE whose magical antecedents never overtake the innate humanity in them or their zeal to defend the ‘innocents’ of this fractured, crooked moral world.

It is thus heartening to witness the performative unity and individual arcs centred on Shannen Doherty as Prue, Holly Marie Combs as Piper and Alyssa Milano as Phoebe, all different in temperament and clearly reeling from their duty. In the process finding it hard to maintain a personal life of their own and often battling the spectre of mortal danger. I know this sounds like another preposterous idea but the execution is anything but. You are invested in the sisters’ realistic and multi-hued bonding, their love life and what I appreciate is that nothing wavers them in their mission to uncover the presence of an unholy underworld existing within our normal spaces.

To me, the presence of mythic demons, warlocks and other personae invite manifestations of living in a big, bad world where the pull of evil is ever so prominent and the choice to stay mum or look the other way is easy. Every fantastical adventure hence is a metaphor, symbol and personification as the best works have us believe and commit to. 

I also love the simple use of special effects, its own brand of situational humour and conversational wit while the males comprising of Brian Krause,
Dorian Gregory and Julian McMahon are wonderfully attuned to sustaining the narrative’s subtle momentum.

I have now watched CHARMED till the fourth season and Rose McGowan as Paige is an admirable, whip smart addition to the sisterly canon.  Avoiding trappings of sexism and refusing to present these individuals as easily cornered despite the odds or stakes involved, this is an emotional rollercoaster ride. I need to reiterate that the emotional quotient is the real winner here as also the effortless camaraderie between principal cast members.



Last but not the least, a word of appreciation must be allotted to the musical score that is subtle and never intrusive. The opening credits theme and the closing credits employing guitars  have captured my listening experience. So everything works in its favour. It just proves why this series continues to be a touchstone till today. A must watch.

*****

BAYWATCH

This all-time popular Guinness World record holder and cultural juggernaut has a personal appeal to me. My grandmother used to zealously watch it on telly and I clearly recall that aspect of the 1990s when I was a tiny tot. You see, BAYWATCH was just as popular in urban India as in the rest of the world.

So I was blessed to watch it in pristine high definition and restored sound quality on the channel, to truly understand why it has such a loyal fan-base. I know, some sections of people dismiss it as a ‘show where pretty people run around beaches in blood red gear and do precious little’; as a regular viewer now, I deem these critics inconsequential.

***


Created by an individual who served as a lifeguard, BAYWATCH is a love letter and sensual tribute to these often unsung professionals who preserve the sanctity of life on beaches where the very act of recreation and rejuvenation can come in conflict with the sea and its unpredictable contours. I love how the sea is shown in all its beauty, its expansive dimensions and the manner in which each individual member here commits, surrenders to its motions. The beaches in Malibu and Southern California become sanctuaries then holding a personal investment for its stars. And stars, bonafide superstars they are.

What’s striking is the way David Hasselhoff and Jeremy Jackson beautifully design a bond between a single father and his teenage son to bring much heart to the show while Yasmine Bleeth and Alexandra Paul commit to their collective and individual beats as sisters Caroline and Stephanie respectively. The latter two are also its best performers. Then there is the iconic Pamela Anderson as C.J., a sensitive soul who is always ready to conserve the ocean and rise up to protect the natural world all the while excelling as a lifeguard of genuine calibre. So the sheer physical embodiment of their roles does the trick which demonstrates practice and acumen of all dedicated lifeguards everywhere. Rescuing people, confronting drug carriers on the waterways, receiving and imparting training to new batches or just ensuring that the beach is safe from anti-social elements in general, this assorted crew shows us the daily grind and responsibility of the job at hand.

The makers, on their part, maintain a healthy vibe regarding the professional and personal storylines and employ an even-tempered tone. According to me, there is hardly a dull moment in almost any episode. So entertainment is served to the best registers. In high definition, the panoramic cinematography gets its due. Then there is the iconic theme track.

***



Some of the individual tracks really resonated with me such as when Stephanie’s cancer diagnosis helped enlighten us about the harmful effects of being exposed to the sun for long and taking appropriate skincare while on the beach or Mitch’s( Hasselhoff) mother struggling with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis as also when David Charvet’s spurning of a manipulative new female bodyguard leads to a false harrasment charge on him, giving him much heartbreak and mental toll based on skewed gender politics of the issue. Branching out to other professional fields occupies some of the lifeguards’ concerns too.

That said, the teamwork is established by dint of the ethics of being lifeguards and an interpersonal dynamic beautifully. So chuck the sceptics and relive the splendour of BAYWATCH, a series which is about being thorough professionals and decent human beings than a bunch of exceptionally ‘pretty faces’

****

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT



I cannot comment if stretching this iconic series about law enforcement personnel based in New York City to twenty plus seasons, as in the present date, is any good. But since I have seen some of the latter day episodes along with the first three seasons on the cable channel broadcasting it, I know it employs an unusually restrained tone and tact to present these officers as embodiments of how to deal with a world run amuck with crimes galore, especially those centred on sexual offences.

It’s a challenging position to be in and more so when recent years have shown a graphic rise in police brutality. Some of the cases shown here also will definitely make us extremely uneasy and cringe in disgust at the details.

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, in its initial seasons, boldly goes on to portray human endeavours at their basest without exploiting the severity of the issues. All classes, races and backgrounds come into play to authentically let us grasp a metropolitan demographic composed of equal number of perpetrators and victims, whether they are athletes, reporters, young children, immigrants or corrupt cops and amoral judges.

The psychological unraveling for the officers concerned is perhaps what makes it revelatory and groundbreaking. Though they keep their cool and go with their responsibilities and protocol, they are affected in multiple ways, realising that the pursuit of justice is hampered by gender inequality and the law itself.

Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Ice T and others have us hooked with their earnest commitment to the cause. The show earns its badge by dint of their merit. So immersed are they in their on-screen portrayals.

LAW AND ORDER ultimately sears owing to its base in real cases torn from the headlines .

****

MURDER, SHE WROTE

Jessica Fletcher is such an engrossing on-screen creation that she always manages to pop up on our radars in terms of culture fixtures of all time. Sure enough, I had heard rave reviews about her wit, personality and on-screen magnetism for a long time.



Thanks to this particular year and the slate of programming offered by the cable channel discussed ( TATA SKY HITS HD), I was entranced by multiple episodes spread across seasons in which Angela Lansbury embodied her perfectly in MURDER, SHE WROTE. What’s novel about this long-running series is that it’s not based on any literary source but springs from original scripts, with multiple arcs centring Fletcher as a crime solving mastermind. Here in this aspect as well, she is unlike the usual Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes tropes. She is an observer, a keen listener and given her own knack as a crime/ mystery novelist knows workings of the human mind like no other.

The episodes give her cast members to match her sense of magnetism while rooted in the humility of her everyday chores. Ensconced within community life in Cabot Cove, Maine, a predominant retirement sanctuary, she somehow stumbles upon layers of misdemeanors, sometimes involving her friends and acquaintances. Thus, she is instrumental in clearing crosses and knots around each case, using her mind and practical skills to help law enforcement.

I love the show’s pace, structure, old-world simplicity and the fact it relies on Fletcher’s instincts first rather than unusual derring- do that a male protagonist would have been saddled with out of impractical necessity.

MURDER, SHE WROTE is finally a trendsetter since it gives a 60 plus protagonist and mostly middle aged players a spotlight. I highly recommend this intelligent, dramatic presentation from the 1980s and ’90s for your viewing pleasure.

***

THE X FILES



Again, I was anticipating this series to become a part of the classics arsenal and it made its respectable entry in no time. I have watched the first two seasons and have to commend the team for imbuing a sense of viewers’ disbelief with authentic payoffs rather than cheap gimmicks.

Yes, this is fantasy of a cerebral, thought-provoking variety, giving science fiction on television a noirish mood and languid pace to probe into the darkest entrails of psychology and the very basis of human foundation in general.

Given that impossible nature of the conceit/ premise, THE X FILES benefits gloriously from the egoless, distinctively earnest work by iconic lead stars GILLIAN ANDERSON and DAVID DUCHOVNY as Dana Mulder and Fox Scully respectively, two names or should I say pop culture titles that have always been on everybody’s lips. The show is strong in not pitting one’s rational course with the other’s belief in other-worldly phenomena. It conflates their mindsets and united work ethic to make them equals on the job, erasing any sign of gender disparity. Which is its biggest contribution to the canon.

As per its tagline, THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE. Classified information on extra terrestrial life and supernatural events seem to come back into the picture, questioning our established beliefs. THE X FILES has a lot of credit to take for upending conventions on loosely defined ends of belief systems alone. After all, truth is always stranger than fiction. The series recognises that, utilising its cold, cloudy locations in and around British Columbia, Canada to extract an ominous aura throughout.

***

CHARLIE’S ANGELS



Suave, sophisticated and utterly engrossing, the original ABC series of CHARLIE’S ANGELS is miles away from the frenetic, snazzy modern interpretations in the post 2000s era. Times change and cultural benchmarks undergo reinvention which relates to the popularity of the original entity in the first place. But what perhaps the new versions have corrected is the action practiced by the principal female protagonists, something which is sorely lacking in the original series. A product of its times and it doesn’t help that not all episodes grip.

But that aside, the series is really good at building a central mystery with each episode cycle, extracting the requisite mood with cinematographic finesse and employing able actors. Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and Farah Fawcett are all wonderful in the composed manner with which they approach the cases. They also have a genuine warmth with and towards each other. Of course, Charlie, the voice behind the man running this unique detective agency, is still faceless and enigmatic. David Doyle as Bosley is, to me, a priceless aspect of this show.

My favourite episodes are the ones centring around the race course and involving a chequered jockey’s  murder mystery, a ski resort and its attendant terrorist plot, the return to one of the angel’s small town which suddenly gets hostile towards them and reveals a sinister abduction plot as also where Cheryl Ladd suffers from amnesia and wanders the California beaches. Also look out for guest appearances by now certified legends TOMMY LEE JONES and JAMIE LEE CURTIS in their early parts here.

***

RICH MAN, POOR MAN(BOOK 1)



It often happens that siblings growing up in a similar home environment branch out into completely different courses as adults. Their life trajectories are defined by the past, present and circumstances often shaped by a crooked world around them. RICH MAN, POOR MAN goes in that realistic direction with not only the two titular brothers’ familial antecedents of a hard immigrant life and coming of age as second generation Americans in a post War era but their differences in temperaments and outlooks.

It is about priorities, the definitions of right and wrong and how a capitalist culture stifles seemingly healthy relationships. Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte are excellent here and look out for supporting arcs from Fionnula Flanagan and Talia Shire. This is a must-watch miniseries.

****

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