The Idiot Box Retrospection

College is a momentous experience for anyone. From making life-long friendships to trying out new things, college is a highlight phase of most people's lives. It was no different for me.

A major addiction that most of us get during college is the love for TV shows. From age-old classics such as Fawlty Towers and Friends to avant-garde shows such as Fringe and The Wire, we all get hooked onto our fair share of shows. In fact, I would say that I would have spent more time watching TV shows during college than attending classes!
Despite this near-universal love for TV shows, what each show means to each person is starkly different. Just like a 'sleep-in tee shirt' or a 'i am depressed - pants', some TV shows become more than just a passing interest in one's life. They come to occupy a certain role, often critically important one, for most people.

I think all of us would have experienced this common incident. We have just finished watching a marathon TV season of The Wire or Six Feet Under, and just when we realize that there is nothing good left to watch, we start playing a random episode of Friends. We will then end up watching the rest of the season in record time! The grip that this show has on most people's lives is utterly incomprehensible. Even when we can quote each and every dialogue backwards, the show always manages to get a few laughs out of us each time. I think that beyond a certain point, we no longer watch Friends because it is funny. We watch it because it reminds us of a much simpler time when we were in school and were taking our baby-steps into the world of TV shows and life. It reminds us of an America that was before the devastation of 9/11 and the War on Terror. It reminds us of a time when mobile phones were scarce and the internet was scarcer, of a time when hanging out with friends in a coffee shop was the staple fun quotient of the day. Personally, I never found Friends as funny as other shows such as Seinfeld or Arrested Development(AD), but I found myself yearning to live in that time none the less.

Speaking of AD, if I had a pick one TV show that must be made compulsory viewing for each human on Earth, it would hands-down be AD. A show that is ridiculously funny and yet disconcertingly insightful, AD consumed me to such an extent that I ended up watching one whole season of it, one day before my semester examination! Even when I was writing my examination, my mind kept going in an infinite loop of the many funny dialogues and I found myself laughing like an idiot in the middle of the exam! On the face of it, AD may seem like a mediocre show, its humor is very subtle and fast-paced. So one lapse of concentration and you will not get the joke, but it grows on you. You tend to grow and mature with each character and every time they delight you with their unpredictable yet oddly consistent antics, you will love them just a little bit more!

The Wire. Need I say more? A TV show par excellence, a work of sheer genius and a masterpiece in every way, The Wire in many ways is the greatest TV show ever made. Back in second year, when I started watching it, I watched the first four seasons in one go within a few weeks and then got thoroughly depressed as I had just one more season left. I decided to savor that last season of brilliance. My resolve lasted till 3 months after college ended, when I finally saw the fifth season.

Each TV show has a USP. It could be a light comedy or a serious criminal thriller. But a few TV shows achieve greatness by recreating a period long gone. There are so many shows which are set in the past and they show great dedication in recreating the settings and dialogues to suit that period of time and they become very accurate portrayals of that period. But very very few TV shows not just portray but transport you to that phase. Mad Men is one such show. A frustratingly slow paced show in which pretty much nothing happens, but you end up living an alternate life in 1960s New York. Initially I did not get the brilliance of this show. In fact, my first 3 attempts at watching Mad Men, ended within the first ten minutes of the first episode. It just did not seem right. But finally, the show started speaking to me and I have never looked back since. Mad Men affected me to such an extent that once I even dreamed about being in the 1960s!

There are a few shows which have acquired legendary status and following, despite having been very unsuccessful during their original runs. Shows such as Firefly and Freaks and Geeks ran for just one season but achieved a lifelong-loyal fan following. These shows affect you and even before you understand what it is that has affected you so much, they end. I remember royally bad-mouthing Fox Network for ending Firefly, but then I wonder, if Firefly had lasted for 4-5 seasons, would it have affected me just as much as it did in its brief existence? Or did the fact that there was just one season, make the experience more special? I will never know, but Firefly is one TV show that I will never watch again but I will always remember with alarming clarity. Wish I could say the same about my studies.

I have left out so many other unbelievable TV shows in this post that it is almost embarrassing! But I guess I just wanted to share a few shows which have come to mean a lot to me over the years. I strongly believe that TV shows represent the next phase of creativity. Branding them as crass and commercial will do injustice to the growing number of shows which are more works of art than just  fodder for the idiot box.


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