Larger than Life Viewing Comforts
by Kristin Battestella
In times of trouble, let's turn to opulent decades of our twentieth century past for glamour, bikinis, and a cup of comforting soup.
Baywatch – I'll be ready...You know half the time you tuned in to this 1989-2001 beachfest just to watch the opening sequence, and you can tell exactly what season it is thanks to the red bathing suit clad stars, jet skis, surfing, and slow motion running. With an inexplicable 242 episodes, one can skip the First NBC season's killer sharks, ditch the terrible Hawaii makeovers, and forget the superfluous Nights spin off as well as forgo the more preposterous vacation disasters, jewel thieves, hostage situations, and repeated heavies. Thanks to riptides, earthquakes, mutant alligators, and sea monsters, however, we hang tight to the syndicated, buoyant Playmates saving the day against UFOs, an octopus, and evil eels. Garner's horse Kojak may poop on the beach, but the Gilligan's Island homage isn't actually as bad as it sounds. Giant tape recorders, cameras, mobile phones, and switchboards join product placements, AOL (lol), The Beach Boys, Geraldo, and more famous cameos as everybody who was anybody jogged on David Hasselhoff's shore – even The President. Although I dread the nineties music video style montages – seemingly as unnecessary as the belts on the thong leotards – they are time capsules of strobe film making and pristine American glory, the peak of our late twentieth century indulgence just like The Matrix said. It might have been easier to believe the earnest drama had this been a half hour show ditching the music moments for real talk on the abusive boyfriends, bulimia, and trailer park dreams, yet it's quite shrewd to use flashbacks and visuals as narrative, thus reducing conversational scenes for the weakest, sun kissed actors. A, B, and C plots are often disjointed with romance and assaults intercut together before coastal la di da jarring with off shore drilling and saving the day in as little clothing as possible. If you've seen one episode, you've seen them all – so it's more entertaining when there are no hip interludes, mermaids, or monster jellyfish in completely dramatic, tearful episodes and intense disaster two-parters. Underwater filming, boating perils, and turbulent rescues balance the sunsets, silhouettes, and windswept tendrils. It's not all pretty people, however, as gang youths have little options save for gun violence, departmental cutbacks bind first responders' hands, and going to the beach becomes one of the few vacations families having tough times can afford. Self-referential quips and Rescue Bay spoof within a spoof winks in the Middle Seasons peak before cut corners, repetitive action, increasingly bloated casting, and a believing one's own sexy hype in later years. Parental stories and family bonding tales wouldn't be so bad for young and old to enjoy watching together if it weren't for the spot the implants opportunities. Then again, the life guarding dangers and rescue action aren't meant to be taken too seriously thanks to eye candy, crop tops, and ever present nipples. Don't forget, you've got to reach out when you caught in the current of love...
Dynasty – The quintessential Bill Conti (North and South) opening score takes its splendorful time as do the whopping 220 episodes of this 1981-89 ABC benchmark. After a shorter, more straightforward dramatic and seventies breezy debut, the dead lovers and families on trial get juicy in Year Two with Joan Collins (The Devil within Her) joining John Forsythe (Bachelor Father) and Linda Evans (The Big Valley) for the luxury rides, giant phones, and ruffles galore. All the ladies wear lacy nightgowns and satin negligees showing ample decolletage – when not wearing those shoulder pads that make them look twice as wide. The hair, however, never moves. Strong statures and solid deliveries anchor the bitch slaps and scandals as not even plastic surgery recasts, car accidents, kidnappings, murder, and spin-offs can keep down these Denver tycoons. From quotes borrowed from “The Vote” in Big Business to cat fights in “The Threat” and the superbly shocking Moldavian Massacre, oil double crosses and women both catty and badass in the boardroom would soon define the eighties with excess and over the top opulence. Longer episodes have room for tense zooms and up close shots – letting the audience hold our breath in suspense instead of rushing to tweet after the fact. When binging now, however, it's tough to fathom the prime time breaks thanks to rapid soap opera timelines where one or two shows are months of pregnancy or weeks of temporary blindness. Somehow, it also never snows in this Colorado. While we can applaud the early gay plots, they are sadly terribly, terribly wrong. Outing homosexuals in the courtroom, literally straightening them out by marrying women, and instigating custody battles over gay love triangles never consider a guy could just be a fine bisexual parent. Here pregnant women marry their rapists alongside casual brushes with incest, toxic paint, and deathbed weddings. However it's the then talk of oil shortages, new energy technology, and politicians versus billionaires playing hardball for the future of our country that remain surprising. Onscreen they say it's naive to think the world is black and white, yet potential storylines, intriguing relationships, and villains made friendly are run into the ground while plots no one cares about linger. At times it's frustrating to rewatch while royalty and international intrigue amount to pedestrian aftermath. Seemingly important people unceremoniously disappear as characters are not allowed to be realistically multi faceted thanks to saccharin kids in peril and plots repeating themselves with the same couples, illegitimate questions, kidnapped babies, and evil congressmen. After peak storytelling in its early years, it's apparent the series goes on twice as long as it should have – left with a great ensemble and no idea what to do with them beyond terrible soap tropes. Fortunately, despite the increasingly annoying latter seasons, the final over the balcony railing cliffhanger fittingly completes the deliciously decadent nostalgia, and the best of the best catty remains infinitely scrumptious.
Seinfeld – From “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” to “No soup for you!” this quintessential, ahead of its time New York in the nineties time capsule has seeped into the cultural lexicon. Many have already praised this show about nothing that really says everything with its circumventing commentary on then taboo talk of sex, relationships, “The Sponge,” and homophobia, not that there's anything wrong with that. It's impossible to discuss every detail or little kick here – although some would agree that the stand up comedy book ends found in the early seasons are ironically flat. Our eponymous funny guy is the straight man who often can't keep a straight face thanks to puffy shirts, quirky neighbors, kissing hello, and more roundabout preposterous like wanting the dry cleaner to admit he made a mistake and wondering why Keith Hernandez didn't call. Extreme circumstances like the fake marine biologist saving a beached whale with a golf ball in its blow hole nonetheless leave room for Superman references, Bizarro World switches, old men in traction, latex selling Vandelay Industries, virgins, John John, and “The Contest.” Deserving comeuppance ruins “The Summer of George” but the simple genius of “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Parking Garage” remain. While younger audiences may be tired of hearing about the timeless twists or find the quips old hat, every episode provides something relevant, balancing laugh at loud slapstick with winks, red dots, and The English Patient. In many ways, we've regressed from this between the lines analysis on prejudice and racism, but here the shrewd layers and character goofiness are intertwined in almost Dickensian happenstance thanks to everything from BBO and a fishy bed that smells like the East River to “The Pez Dispenser” on the knee at a piano recital and Festivus. Although many may argue the finale falters under the show's weight, the self-referential characters writing an internal show about nothing remains meta before meta was meta. Rather than getting full of itself, the neurotic scenarios are now nostalgic, long gone bemusements – video stores, waiting in line at the bank, the rolodex, who's first on the speed dial, answering machines, pay phones, difficulty in making copies, pocket organizers that won't stop beeping. Bleeped expletives are also ingeniously used, a bonus wink on censorship taken for granted amid today's ample crass opportunities. Now ironic Guiliani jokes and Neo Nazi rallies address who we really are but don't care to admit as our selfish and unable to handle the basics of living quartet are completely unaware of how snobbish and loathsome they really are. Mugging old ladies for the marble rye, skimping on a cheap wheelchair for a handicapped friend – it's not you, it's me, and yada, yada, yada. Like the healing power of “The Junior Mint,” there are numerous nuggets here to revisit and discover anew with every rewatch.
For more soothing entertainment and viewing lists from decades of yore, revisit Comfort Food Shows and Comfort Shows – 60s Edition!