Comfort Food Shows to Binge Marathon
by Kristin Battestella
Every now and again – and more so these days – audiences need escapist television. Although I've not reviewed the following series in season by season long form detail, I find myself often turning to such classic comfort food programs any time I need a little feel good, some pleasing white noise, or calorie free smiles.
The Rifleman – This black and white western about the titular but anachronistic toting widower Chuck Connors (The Big Country) and his son ex-mouseketeer Johnny Crawford debuted in 1958, running five years and 168 episodes. These days, that's a lot of half hours, and this series can get tiring fast when almost every single episode is about a crook or bitter enemy seeing either father or son injured, ill, or kidnapped while the other must use his frontier ingenuity for the rescue. Despite the then progressive dilemmas and serious, complex storytelling, many plots are trite, cliché, and predictable yarns. Nonetheless, there's a certain innocence between father and son, a homestead safety because whatever their peril, The McCain boys always make sure the good guys win. When you need to flick away from any turbulent news, these cowboys provide a sentimental, reassuring calmness.
Are You Being Served? – Racism, sexism, ageism, and just about every other of its time phobia and cultural faux pas you can imagine litter this 1972-1985 British comedy brimming with double entendres, cheeky innuendo, saucy puns, fourth wall winks, and “I'm free!” catch phrases. Although the series embraces its preposterous department store technicalities on who stands where, which positions permit wearing a bowler hat, who can't call whom by their first names, and which staff members are dead common status or not; other plots against classism, low wages, no upward mobility, and union strikes remain relatable. Lovable characters such as Mollie Sugden's Mrs. Slocombe and John Inman's Mr. Humphries make it easy to get behind the misadventures despite some disastrous fashions, zany hair colors, faulty store gadgets, advertising errors, ridiculous song and dances, and ne'er do well store productions. The storylines can repeat themselves when marathoning all seventy episodes in a row, however the shorter seasons are easily digestible portions – “And my pussy is unanimous in that!” For more gone country comforts, continue on with the spin-off Grace & Favour.
Magnum P.I. – “Zeus, Apollo, kill!” The theme tune alone from this quintessential eighties Hawaiian based detective drama starring Tom Selleck always puts me in a happy place. Granted, the quality dips in Seasons Six and Seven, the perms on the ladies are bad, and the shorts, are well, short. However, superb characters, fourth wall touchés, taut storytelling, and great capers create enough delightful charm for whimsical episodes such as “The Case of the Red-Faced Thespian” as well as lingering Vietnam heavies like the must watch “Did You See the Sunrise?” From male bonding sports, good guys versus bad guys intrigue, and bemusing mystery adventures to Island Hoppers helicopter action, sweet Ferrari chases, and of course, those lovely Oahu panoramas, this series has all the infinitely watchable nostalgia one needs. The camaraderie at Robin's Nest isn't always paradise, yet you know Magnum, Higgins, T.C., and Rick always have your back – rubber chickens and all. “Oh, my God!”
Melrose Place – Skip the First Year and a half of this 1992-97 Aaron Spelling yarn starring Heather Locklear, Jack Wagner, Josie Bissett, Courtney Thorne-Smith, and many, many more. Don't feel obligated to plod along for the Last Year and a half, either. The middle seasons of this Fox nighttime soap opera, however, are peak melodrama complete with all the scandals you can imagine. Be it your basic murder, blackmail, stolen babies, and multiple personalities or kidnappings, assaults, car accidents, medical disasters, and cults – I don't know how we watched back then in prime time without a web chart showing who has slept with whom. Despite some shaky attempts addressing abuse, workplace sexism, and homophobia, this lengthy 226 episode binge remains the bomb – no pun intended – thanks to the juicy clichés, nineties fashions, and love to hate characters worthy of a Seinfeld subplot, “Oh, that Michael, I hate him. He's just so smug.”
Frasier – Kelsey Grammar's eponymous doctor is an insufferable pretentious snob in this massive 264 episode eleven year spin-off of the likewise lengthy but comforting Cheers. Fortunately, it's delightful to see Dr. Crane get his due largely thanks to the tug and pull of his laid back retired cop dad John Mahoney and his equally uptight, delicate brother, David Hyde Pierce's fellow psychiatrist Dr. Niles Crane. Memorable guest stars likewise help tackle religion, homosexual stereotypes, divorce, dating, sex, professional ethics, and more in classic episodes such as “The Ski Lodge,” “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz,” and “The Doctor is Out.” Sure, the Freudian jokes, witty gags, and intellectual dilemmas are high brow comedy with sophisticated writing and cultural references embracing the pompous self-awareness. However, the turnabouts and heaps of irony remain binge worthy chuckles alongside those nineties hairstyles, millennial fashions, and radio station blunders.
Don't forget to read up on some of the lovable shows I have reviewed at length including The Munsters, The Addams Family, Dark Shadows, The Bob Newhart Show, Highlander, and Buffy or revisit my Top Ten Favorite Shows for yet more comforting delights such as The Golden Girls, The Joy of Painting, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.