Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Heart Television

My parents often remind me that as a young boy you couldn't interrupt me during an episode of A Country Practice. In 1987 it was my favourite television show. At the tender age of 4 I couldn't even pronounce the title correctly, instead calling it 'Country Tractors', but that didn't matter. I still sat glued to the box two nights a week and watched the drama of Wandin Valley unfold. Cookie, Bob Hatfield and Esme Watson were like surrogate Uncles and Aunts. We even lived in Woden Valley at the time of my fixation, which added further confusion to my 4 year old perspective, blurring the lines between real-life and televisual fictions. Even today, the piano-heavy theme song has the ability to transport me to a specific time and place; a sensory flooding and nostalgic pang take hold.

Television seems to have this effect on me. Since I can remember TV has managed to infiltrate my world, often against my better judgement. Certain TV shows have the ability to elicit total memory recall; bringing to life actual environments, relationships, ordeals and emotion. In Year 4, along with class-mate Emily Plunkett, I was the Assistant President of the Beverly Hills 90210 Fan Club. We collected memorabilia relating to the show including collector's cards, magazines, posters, unofficial biographies on each of the stars and of course, fashion accessories. My 90210 hoodie was worn at every opportunity throughout 1992. I didn't even like the bottle green top, but because of the circular emblem stamped on the front you couldn't get me out of it. Not until I received an official white tee the following Christmas with the numerals (90210) printed in a tartan font. Our teachers were beside themselves as 90210 fever spread and took hold of our cohort. The fire only dissipated when Melrose Place gained popularity and suddenly we were too mature to watch a teen drama set in a high-school. Tuesday Night's a Bitch! And it was. We were in year 6.

Me with the family circa '92, incase you couldn't tell. Aforementioned hoodie (with matching 90210 socks), happy-pants and Ray-Ban's. You can almost hear the sounds of Sophie B. Hawkins just by looking at this picture.

Throughout High School and College I distanced myself from television, believing all of it to be rubbish and material to rot the brain. It was so not cool to like TV. I did have a brief fling with The X-Files, but I kept it a secret. Instead I spent time professing my love for Art-house cinema. I turned up my nose to Dawson's Creek and Party of Five; pompously sniggering at my classmates who developed crushes on Neve Campbell and James Van Der Beek. Instead I immersed myself in the offbeat energy of films that went straight to VHS; Albino Alligator, Run Lola Run, Killing Zoe and Butterfly Kiss. My television hiatus lasted almost 10 years.

In 2006, whilst living in Byron Bay, an Aussie drama called Love My Way managed to grip the town in its clutches. The shire was abuzz with this beautifully shot, well produced and finely acted gem. I can remember trips to the video store to hire individual episodes, careful not to askew the sequential order. There were times when Late Nite Video didn't have the particular disc I sought and the disappointment and frustration of not getting my fix was quite disturbing; like an addict whose dealer couldn't supply. I remember one night in particular when my boyfriend at the time busied himself in the kitchen preparing dinner while I took the opportunity to catch up on a quick episode. Out of nowhere came a scene so overwhelmingly heart wrenching that I momentarily lost my shit. I sat on the couch hugging my knees, rocking back and forth with tears rolling down my cheeks. I was crying so hard I could no longer see the television; the flat screen softened into a flickering blur of colour and light. By the time I found composure my man was standing beside me with a dinner plate in each hand, looking down at me with an expression on his face that I'll never forget. He stood silently in a state of total bewilderment and worry. "Is everything ok?" he asked gently. Still unable to speak in a measured and controlled manner I simply pointed at the Telly and mumbled through a distorted and strained face, "Little Frankie is dead!" Surprisingly, my boyfriend found the emotional breakdown that I experienced, at the hands of a mini-series, an enormous turn-off. He was horrified that I could invest so much into something that wasn't "real". I was engaging with a group of fictitious and often unlikable characters on a deeply emotional level, something he just couldn't get his head around. Weirdo.*

The relationship lasted a while longer, and therefore my television habit became a solo ritual. In the following years I ravenously devoured seasons of scripted life. My mini breakdown on the couch during Love My Way was nothing in comparison to the convulsive hysterics I experienced during the final sequence of Six Feet Under. I had to make sure my housemate at the time wasn't home as I lay curled on my bed, foetal position, howling like an injured animal for an extended period of time. I used the pillow to muffle my cries in case one of the neighbouring terrace houses thought it wise to contact WIRES. I once turned down an invitation to a New Years Day BBQ, instead staying home and smashing an entire season of True Blood. I became so entrenched in the blood and sweat of that fabulous television trash that I found myself employing a Southern drawl whenever I spoke. I call it a Southern Drawl but others tell me it sounds more like I'm drunk. With a mouthful of food. Which is essentially a Southern drawl as far as I'm concerned. One Winter I hibernated in my flat to revisit Twin Peaks. When it originally aired in the early 90's I was forbidden to watch it due to the supernatural content, and more importantly its late time slot. As an adult I immersed myself in the high melodrama and surreal world created by David Lynch. I followed as best I could trying to unravel the mysterious death of Laura Palmer. As winter melted and spring crept in, the box-set came to an end and I emerged from my room a different man. A changed man. A man who kept repeating the same question, "What the fuck just happened?!" Whilst a student at Art School my fellow classmates busied themselves in the research and subsequent mimicking of their photographic heroes; Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman. I sat and watched them whilst trying to decide which character in Sex and the City I was more alike, Carrie Bradshaw or Samantha Jones. After much deliberation I've eventually come to the conclusion that I'm a bit of both. As an exchange student in Glasgow I would spend my Sundays recovering from my Saturday nights, along with my two housemates, Jamie and Sarah. Together we would bunker down with blankets, cups of tea and bacon sandwiches watching marathons of Will & Grace. In the final episode Jack and Karen, audience favourites, momentarily cease their wisecracks and break into song. With Jack on the piano and Karen perched (martini in hand) beside, they serenade each other with Nat King Cole's Unforgettable. This surprisingly sensitive and heart-felt moment opened the floodgates for me, again. Yes, I cry a lot. I wept for the end of the series and I wept for the realisation that Karen Walker would never be my real life flesh and blood acquaintance. It finally dawned on me that we would never drink booze in the daytime or pop pills together, and that I would never be on the receiving end of one of her high-pitched nasal-squawking insults. It's the same kind of sadness you're overcome with when you realise that Patsy and Eddie won't ever be there to say "Cheers, sweetie!" over a glass of Bolli in the kitchen. Or that Walter White will never get around to cooking you that famous batch of blue crystal.

My name is Samuel Townsend and I am a Television addict.

*Weirdo ex-boyfriend recently admitted to weeping like a baby during Ricky Gervais's latest series, Derek. Television addiction, it seems, is on the up. Watch this space.
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