Sunday, February 11, 2007

Karen Sisco and The James Evans Syndrome.

While I can’t prove it I suspect that classic television has done more to shape my life than say 20 plus years of education. The classic shows of my youth have given me so many ideals that I still carry with me. My ideal walk is an odd hybrid of George Jefferson and Juan Epstein. A good fashion sense to me comes directly from Greg Brady’s wardrobe. Want my ideal woman, mix Mary AND Rhoda with some Samantha and Jamie Buchman thrown in. I still think of role models as Mr. Kotter and Lou Grant and I still deep down expect all of the problem’s life continually throws at me to finally wrap up with a valuable moral lesson like in Andy Griffith.
This all of course would make me completely insane if so many people from my generation didn’t suffer from it. Intellectuals and the snobbish can deny it but television shows played as important a role in the 20th century as any major political event. My generation of broken home kids needed a James Evans or Mike Brady in their homes and a lot of us wouldn’t be the same without them.
I have come to realize that things have changed for me this decade; the last few years have been the first time in my life that I don’t watch TV anymore. It’s on all the time but inevitably I am using it just to watch DVDs. It’s been almost ten years since I religiously followed certain shows; the last group consisted of Mad About You, Seinfeld, E.R. and The X-Files. Tv on DVD has changed a lot, Arrested Development is my favorite recent show but I caught it on disc. No longer is there a moment to mark each week for me to sit down and watch a favorite show. That’s an odd phenomenon not to have in my life anymore, and it represents a real breaking point from my past.
Being born in the year of Watergate I had to catch up with a lot of shows in re-runs after school and some of my best memories are rushing home to watch The Brady Bunch, Welcome Back Kotter and Good Times. The summer’s were even better, I would get my chores done in the morning to have the afternoon’s free to tune into Chicago’s WGN which would run episodes of Kotter and Good Times after the Cub’s baseball games.
Television handed me one of my earliest traumatic events with the death of James Evans on Good Times. After a particularly long Cubs game that ran over WGN broadcast a rerun of the episode where it was announced that James died. I couldn’t believe my surrogate father was gone; it was bad enough I had to accept the absence of my real father but this was too much.
After the James Evans incident television would continue to hand me disappointments. The cold harsh reality of getting to Junior High and realizing that kids no longer dressed and looked like Greg and Marcia Brady, or realizing that I was never going to look like Vinnie Barbarino or have a girlfriend like Nancy Drew. I continued to love and watch it though and each year would bring new shows and characters to get involved with.
The late 90’s handed me and my shows a series of knockout punches. Mulder left the X-Files to Scully, Dr. Delamico left E.R’s unit, Seinfeld fell apart and the Buchman’s had that damn baby. Hadn’t Johnny Carson retiring and Gene Siskel dying been enough? By the turn of the decade I was left without any new shows and suddenly television as I knew it belonged strictly to my memories.
The fall of 2003 brought my last love affair with a television series. I began to see ads that summer for a spin-off of one of my favorite films and book, Out Of Sight, that would feature one of my favorite actresses, Carla Gugino. Karen Sisco was made for me, the idea of getting to watch one of Elmore Leonard’s best characters come to life each week got me excited about television again. I eagerly awaited the premiere and wasn’t disappointed. The show felt like it was from another planet in comparison to all of the horrendous reality programs that had overtaken us after 9/11. The show was cool personified from the great opening credits featuring The Isley Bros. always smoking It’s Your Thing, to the brilliant stroke of casting Robert Forster as Marshall Sisco to just the sheer privilege of getting to watch Carla Gugino each week.
So for several weeks in the fall of 2003 I felt good again, I had something to look forward to each week again. Work didn’t seem quite so draining and while Karen Sisco wasn’t perfect it got better with each episode. My rekindled romance with television was short lived though. After just 7 episodes Karen Sisco was put on ‘temporary hiatus’, have two words ever put more fear into the heart of a television viewer? The week that hiatus was announced I was involved in a horrendous car accident that would mentally scar me as much as any event in my life. As I was attempting to recover from my accident Karen Sisco was cancelled and my love affair with television came to an end. The final three episodes would run on USA and then it was over.
It was James Evans dying all over again and for months I couldn’t accept that the show was gone. My friend Casey told me I really couldn’t let go of anything and she was right, and I blame it all on that episode of Good Times.
Television is like a much-missed girlfriend to me now. Watching the dvds of Good Times and Mad About You, or old tapes of Welcome Back Kotter and Karen Sisco are like pulling out a box of old love letters and photographs. It’s all memory now, and with the recent onslaught of Tivo and DVR technology that makes it possible to watch any show whenever you want to, I wonder if anyone in a few years will have that important once a week extended family that so many from my generation needed and got. I would have been a lot more lost in my childhood without the stability that television and my favorite shows offered, I would hate to think about a generation that wouldn’t have that sort of weekly re-assurance. I hope the new broken home kids find their own extended families, and for me I hope my memories and dreams are still that ‘ticket out’.

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