June 22nd, 2009
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| posted by david
By popular request, this list was supposed to be just British TV programs, but I’ll limit that restriction to myself since I grew up there and also since I actually think UK TV is overrated. These days the US does drama much better – e.g. The Wire.
The principal criterion for my choices is not necessarily which things I think are actually good, but those that provoke existential longing. This comprises a combination of homesickness and nostalgia, brought on from the dislocation in both time and space experienced by mid-life crisis prone, aging expats.
1. Janet Street Porter profiles punk for the London Weekend Show.
Picking this may seem so unbelievably obscure that it’s self indulgent. But it’s a specific and personal memory that I had assumed would be lost in some tape archive in the bowels of London Weekend Television. That someone has found it and put it on Youtube demonstrates perfectly the almighty power of the web. Punk blew a vast hole in the flank of tawdry, laurel resting, UK culture, like nothing else before or since. It still seems modern, yet its older than the Second World War was when it was filmed.
2. Brideshead Revisited.
As in the 1981 version. Despite the campiness which I had to explain away in detail to my wife who is French, Brideshead is a serious project, the only TV program that Halliwell ever gave 5 stars to. It is quintessentially English and has all the posh stuff that I rebelled against as anachronistic, stuffy crap and now see the attraction of. For BBC zealots, note that this was a Granada production.
“We were eating the Lobster Thermidor when the last guest arrived…”.
3. Nuts in May
I wasn’t sure which Mike Leigh item to pick, but eventually settled on this. It’s a perfect slice of where lingering Edwardian sensibilities met 70s New Age. I knew people who had parents like Keith and Candice-Marie.
4. The Sweeney
Hearing the theme tune to this makes me feel very strange. Nothing represents the slightly impoverished but gritty reality of the 70s like The Sweeney. It was nasty and brutish and went on for 3 years. The character development of the main protagonists, Regan and Carter, surpassed US cop shows from the same period and rendered them tough but endearing. Diamonds in the rough.
Sweeney Closing Track with stills:
5. The Shock of the New
Although it has been updated, ironically here I’m referring to the old Shock of the New, broadcast in 1980. A visual feast of a tour through modern art with a tour de force commentary providing an equally stunning audio treat.
Clip: The Shock of the New, Marcel Duchamp:
Horizon these days seems to be dumbed down, but perhaps I am just getting older. It was my introduction to science and what drew me to California, when I heard scientists being interviewed at seductive locations like the Salk Institute. Ever since then, scientists have to have American accents to sound credible and techie.
Clip: Horizon Interview with Richard Feynman:
7. The Good Life
In picking a UK sitcom, both Fawlty Towers and Porridge are perhaps better, but I’ve chosen The Good Life for sentimental reasons. It reminds me of growing up, bits of it were even filmed in the town I grew up, and richard Briers’ character could have been my dad. This is light entertainment, but it profoundly captures the feeling of what suburban London was really like in the 70s better than anything I know.
Clip: First scene from the first episode:
Post your own lists in the comments.