Small-screen stories

As I mentioned in my earlier posting (Screen pleasures), I did not have TV when I was growing up, as my parents found it second-rate and a waste of time, compared to films. That didn’t stop us children from being quite ‘au fait’ with a lot of TV programmes, mostly because we’d see them at friends’ houses–just enough to pick up on main themes and characters and so on, enough certainly to bluff everyone into thinking we did have a TV! (Not having a TV in your house seemed as incomprehensible to most people as say living in a cave would. ) That was how we got to see things like Dr Who (a favourite), Bonanza, Gilligan’s Island, Happy Days and so on. When we visited our grandparents in France, we also got to watch TV–they thought my parents were indeed troglodytes for not having one!

I remember an amazing time when my dad’s father (the same one who’d been in films before the war) turned up at our house in the south of France with a TV he’d bought ‘for the children, so they don’t have to be different to everyone else!’ Dad simply picked it up and heaved it out of the first-floor window (he and his father had what might politely be called a fiery relationship); it hit the ground and exploded in a shower of sparks! Shouts and curses all round; but the house stayed resolutely TV-less.
I didn’t really mind life without a TV as a kid. It was fun watching it when I could–but we did plenty of other things, reading, travelling, listening to music, going to films, making up dreadful plays with my siblings which we’d then force my parents to watch–I was never bored. (Some of my siblings say they were, though!)
For a few years after I left home, I lived in a house with a TV. This was the late seventies and early eighties, and there were some cracker BBC shows around–Minder, Fawlty Towers, I, Claudius, The Secret Army(a wonderful series set in a French Resistance group–‘Allo, ‘Allo was a parody of it); Dad’s Army were some of my favourites. (Did you know by the way that our great poet Les Murray cites ‘Minder’ as an influence, in terms of its use of language)? These are still wonderful–we’re watching them on DVD now, and they are still very fresh, zingy, inventive, funny and gripping. Other shows I quite enjoyed back then but which seem rather dated now are Are You Being Served? and Robin’s Nest, and The Good Life..
After my first marriage broke up, I left the TV behind again. David and I haven’t had a TV in the house since we’ve been together(20 years now!). He grew up in a family without a TV too–his parents were into self-sufficiency and radical politics and stuff on their smallholding in Worcestershire, and had the TV disappeared too. So he was used to being without it too. I had found anyway that apart from those high spots on TV,. there was indeed an awful lot of time-wasting tedious stuff, in fact the majority of it was. So we just forgot about TV, and our kids have grown up without it yet still very much au fait with it, because of seeing it at friends’ places etc. I also watch Tv when I’m away on tour and so on–have grown quite attached to shows such as Dalziel and Pascoe, Jonathan Creek, CSI, Midsomer Murders, The Royle Family, The Office, Frontline, The Simpsons, Without a Trace, Buffy, and so on. We also watch quite a lot of TV in terms of watching whole season episodes of favourite shows or tele-movies on DVD, mostly old ones but also recent ones. It’s so much nicer getting the whole story in one hit, and there’s no ads! Recent ones I’ve watched and enjoyed include Perfect Strangers (a gorgeous BBC family-reunion film), Shooting the Past(BBC, about changes in a funny little museum). I also love Blue Murder–the most accomplished Australian screen product of any time, as far as I’m concerned, a truly great piece of work; The Shiralee–the tele-movie with Bryan Brown; and My Brother Jack. A good case can be made, I think, that Australian TV products are actually better than films now–more focussed on story and character, they somehow work better, much less clunkily, than so-called ‘high-concept’ films which somehow miss the mark nearly every time.
I don’t miss all the other stuff on TV at all, except for at election time! TV comes into its own then, it seems to me. We’ve had many convivial election evenings with friends, sitting around the TV, commenting on the commentators as much as the pollies!
But not watching the news on TV gives you a different feel for what happens than when you see those images. We actually heard about the attacks on New York and Washington on the radio—we heard about it on radio on the morning of September 12. It had a huge impact on us; threw us off our moorings, like a declaration of war. We sat around the radio all day as normal programmes were suspended and all kinds of people were interviewed. Though we got on the internet at once too, we did not see the motion images of the planes hitting the towers until nearly two days later, when everyone else had seen those images many, many times over on TV.
TV can dilute the impact of all major happenings, it seems to me; those images repeated so many times over can simply fade away, become less important in the memory, or worse, become a kind of ‘iconised’ symbol. Because Tv’s so voracious too–you need stuff to fill in slots all the time–there’s little space for reflection. Or maybe that’s not true. I’m not sure. It’s just a thought. Anyone who wants to can have a go at debating it!

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Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Well Sophie, what an interesting life you lead…
I have a tendency to leave the tele on for many hours, hittin’ the remote if there’s too much repitition or a fave show is on…occas. i turn off the sound & play music…& while its on I/We scuttle about doin’ domestic duties, gardening & computer work incl. completing surveys, researching (mostly read on the internet these days), internet banking, subscription music downloads & recording”

TimT
2022 years ago

Many shows work well with advertising: The Simpsons and Futurama (full of jokes about our commercial culture), even Buffy (with the plot surprises constructed around 4 ad-breaks). Mostly these shows are American, but it’s an interesting development which shows that ads don’t necessarily dominate commercial television, they can be part of the package.

Link
2022 years ago

My parents also ditched the tele when I was about 16, the idea being that they were sick of it and that I should concentrate on my HSC. My dad was also known to drop televisions from great heights. He and I used to watch afternoon tele between his doing house-calls and the evening surgery. We would quietly commune, giggling at Max, in Get Smart and he would also sit long-sufferingly through Gilligans’ Island. I dont have a tele now either, but when I see one I am glued, not failing to notice how old the reporters and presenters are looking/getting. I thought Tony Eastley was a brilliant and compassionate news reader, and it was obvious to me, when the ABC tried the two heads are better than one idea, that Juanita was out to shaft him, which she of course did.

My favourite show is (of course) The Simpsons, and I would watch hours and hours of nature docos in rapturous bliss if I could.

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

I have to agree that many TV shows are better than the movies these days (or, at least, in the recent past). Shows like Buffy and West Wing, for example, have taken their 22 eps per season and run storylines that last 10 or more episodes (Buffy often over several years). I can’t remember many shows (excluding pure soaps) that did this before the 1990s.

This ability allows so much more opportunity to explore characters than the traditional stand alone episodes – in turn, promoting better writing and (just as importantly) acting. You live with these characters. Drama shows, I feel, now have the chance to be very impressive because of this ability. There is no way a movie can compete with its 2-3 hr limitations.

Having said that, commencing your viewing of Buffy with season 5 would be a disaster.

Sit coms, of course, retain their 1/2 ‘never refer to the past’ formats (perhaps with the exception of Friends, here and there). Still, when was the last time you saw a movie that was as funny as some of the recent sit coms?

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

hi Nick..sorry didn’t reply to your comment on my earlier films post, was in Sydney for several days, unable to get to the computer..know what you mean about loving TV, I love it when I find a good TV programme/show, and i know there’s lots of good stuff..it’s just that it seems you don’t miss that much not actually having one in the house, you still seem to see most of the good stuff that most people love..
interesting to see someone else doesn’t have TV around, Link..sometimes it seems like the whole world does except for us!
it’s quite true, ctd, you rarely see really funny movies in the same style as the really good sitcoms–for same reason as it takes time to get good drama, I guess–the humour comes from characterisation, and it’s obviously much easier to build that up over time..a luxury a movie doesn’t have..hadn’t thought about the ad angle, Tim T–it’s certainly an interesting idea, worth exploring..btw, is it my imagination, or does the sound go up a fair bit when ads come on?
what’s the worst Tv anyone’s ever seen? I think the very worst we’ve seen was in Italy–France is bad enough, heaps of shocking, lame variety shows, or else talking-heads stuff..but Italy really takes the cake. The worst program in the world, ‘Il Castello’–has anyone seen this doozy? It’s the worst variety show you’ve ever seen in your life!

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

I was well brought up, believe it or not. In my teens and early twenties I enjoyed a saga. Read all the Henry Esmond novels, Dance To The Music Of Time, Strangers & Brothers. That and the usual Waugh stuff. Watched all the quality BBC costume stuff, Merchant Ivory up to here. Loved Callan – Sophie how did Callan pass you by? You missed The Crow Road and the Le Carre mini series with Alec Guinnes. I worked at Uni of WA and got free tickets to all the Somerville films (open air cinema for Festival Of Perth). Saw Matewan there, still a fave, also saw My Life As A Dog. Work now in performing arts more tickets to everything, rarely taken up.

Something happened somewhere along the line. High brow stuff shits me. I *think* because it has beome so self conscious and polemical. This is particularly true of modern Australian product. I had long given up going to festival films when “Japanese Story” came out and got its rave reviews and it was filmed here in dgood old dubby and I knew some of the actors. Been a long time since I walked out of a film so angry. Dog shit. Dare I go see Somersault? Lantana was brilliant exception btw. So was Bliss.

John Doyle in that tedious bit of fatuous rubbish about the boy who fell in love with the asylum seeker. Groan. John Doyle has an excellent eye and ear and some of that show was really good, the way he wrote the bogans. But like many Australian screenwriters/film-makers they are noty sufficiently disciplined to see which bits they are doing well and which bits they aren’t. Odd.

Anyway, as I say to people who offer me tickets or ask me out to films: “I only do US teen flicks now”. I mean it. Beverley Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, great stuff

Now I watch the OC, love it. Each of these teen shows is better than the one before. Secret Life Of Us was good for one series. Got up itself and died.

Australian writers should all be rounded up and horsewhipped.

Link
2022 years ago

The last Bill I watched with any kind of serious intent was when Chandler shot himself. Even today (apparently) Des is still on the loose! Incredible! What a strange reality to be a part of?

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

James, when I was last in England, many a year & too few a bitter beer back now & working those days for Brit Telecom…snore…Brideshead Revisited was one show that took my interest…full of pompous & frabjous (sorry, my obsession with Billy Bunter novels in the 60s made me do it) arse characters that interestingly/aptly/timely identified the pitfalls of untold wealth or pretension of such with the Green Welly Brigade & their brown nosing aspirants”

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Make that Vanilla Sky…glasses?…where are my glasses?…

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

James, you’re right–should have mentioned Callan–terrific show, and what a haunted face that guy had! (reminded me a bit, in looks, of the guy who plays insp.Rebus in the Ian Rankin crime series on TV).
Couldn’t agree with you more about that John Doyle thing–pathetic agenda-driven stuff, really lame..Actually wrote about it all in the Australian Author of April 2004(about how aussie films and books rarely get the country and country people at all–)Incidentally Ian Rankin’s done the same thing in his latest book, Fleshmarket Close, which is ridiculous– political, but naive too. The thing is that often people like asylum-seekers aren’t seen as people but archetypes in some morality play, as are indeed the other characters..It doesn’t ring true at all.I’ve known quite a few illegal immigrants in my time–mostly from Asia–and their kinds of stories are never told..
In terms of good Aussie films I’ve liked, recently, the under-estimated ‘Mullet’ and ‘Till Human Voices Wake us’..then of course Picnic at Hanging Rock, Newsfront..and other 70’s films..

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

James

Somersault is alright but far too long and lacks dramatic tension. It’s well acted and beatifully filmed – very pretty; makes Jindabyne look much more atmospheric, dreamlike and beautiful than it really is. But it badly needed a ruthless editor. It would have been an excellent 1 hour feature. The fact that it won the AFI best film award just emphasises how shithouse everything else was this year.