Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hey Mama, Welcome to the 60s

I love my mother.  I really do.  But her taste in television is, well, sometimes really great and sometimes...not so much.  If a show involves the supernatural or takes place in the sixties, the details don't matter.  She is so there. I'm waiting for the day they develop a show about zombies working on the Kennedy campaign.  She'll flip.

Her blind love of the swinging decade led us to get into a bit of a tiff this morning as she declared her devotion to Pan Am.  Ok.  Different strokes, I guess.  But then she started comparing it to the far superior American Dreams and I almost lost it.  They are so NOT THE SAME THING.  It's like comparing Private Benjamin to Saving Private Ryan because the both involve privates.  Of the military variety.  Apples, meet oranges.

The truth is, there have been quite a few sixties shows in the past few years, ranging in quality.  Some should never be seen again and some should be rewatched often (If only all the damn DVDs will come out!).  Here are my popinions on the best and worst of these pastiche shows:


The Playboy Club
Okay, so I never watched this one.  But it only had three episodes, had an unclear premise (Murder Mystery in Hefner-ville = disaster) and even though the awseomesauce Laura Benanti was in it, so was the douchetastic Eddie Cibrian.  I'm not sure why NBC ever picked this one up but they did the right thing by putting the nail in the coffin early.


Pan Am

Pan Am is to television today what television was to the people in the actual sixties: simple, fun and pretty mindless.  It's a fine show to help you waste away a Sunday evening or to have on in the background while you're preparing dinner.  There are distinct characters, but only a few are actually interesting and none are all that complex.  They too are struggling for an identity outside of being a sixties show, so in addition to the whole airline thing there is this strange spy storyline that just doesn't work.  We are a post-Alias generation, people.  Flight attendant espionage just doesn't do it for us.

That being said, if you want some sixties on your tube (like my mother) then this is the only actual option airing at the moment.  So it does have that going for it.  Still, I wouldn't hold my breath for a long shelf life so it may not have the chance to get better even if it could.  Tune in to watch Wednesday Addams be spunky but for sixties viewing, there are far better options.


State Of Grace
State of Grace was an adorable Wonder Years-esque show on the pre ABC owned Fox-Family about two very different girls who became best friends in the 1960s.  It starred Alia Shawkat and Mae Whitman pre-Arrested Development as the pals, who were super cute and yet occasionally heartbreaking.  The sixties is often a setting for coming of age tales, not only because it is when a lot of writers actually came of age, but also because it was the decade when innocent facade started to fade and people started to get real.  This show also captured religious and economic differences in the decade without beating you over the head with it.  It was meaningful, but mostly it was cute.  And as an added bonus The Lovin Spoonful's "Do You Believe in Magic" was the theme song, which was kind of awesomely perfect  Unfortunately, State Of Grace only ran for two seasons and is not yet on DVD.  But once it is, you sixties lovers should snatch it up and enjoy the ride.

Mad Men

The most popular of the sixties shows, Mad Men is the thing that made it cool to put period pieces back on television. It has all all star cast lead by the amazing John Hamm and shows the sixties and it sleekest and sexiest.  Mad Men has been great about showcasing the most difficult part of the decade; that it in fact was all about appearances.  The characters are often forced to keep their feelings hidden beneath, which provides a good challenge to both the writers and the actors to help us learn about these people without them telling us a great deal about them.  In addition, while it may be a retro show, it uses the very modern trend of the anti-hero, giving it quite a different feel from other sixties based shows.  Sometimes, it is hard to like these characters.  I'm not even sure that I do most of the time.  But we are interested in them, and that keeps us coming back for more.

It should be said that Man Men started out incredibly heavy handed and had a pretty flawed season four.  The show has been far from perfect.  It also may not help provide any warm and funny feelings of nostalgia, since it often portrays the icky parts of the era.  And then there is that awful ongoing debate between Mary and I about January Jones' acting abilities (I tend to be in the camp that she can, although recent reports about her may make me rethink my stance).  But when it is good, it is really good.  And next season?  I am so there.


American Dreams
American Dreams was a great show.  It just was.  It also happened to be set in the sixties.  Sure, it was a big part of the series.  Eldest daughter Meg danced on American Bandstand.  Son J.J. fought in the Vietnam war.  Season one ended with the Philadelphia riots.  But that was just what happened in the show, it wasn't what it was about.  American Dreams dealt with the best and worst of a family, and you didn't just get taken back to the time of the Pryor Clan, you became a part of their brood.  It's the superior sixties show because it is the superior SHOW show.  I still miss the American Bandstand recreations, the talk family dinners, the amazing montages.  It was moving and fun and important and it was gone far too soon.

If you're looking to dive back into the sixties, don't listen to my mother.  Ditch the network fluff in favor of the Season one American Dreams DVDs (and pray that the following seasons will some day be released).  Or even catch up on a little Mad Men.  All sixties shows are not created equal and the good ones are of a high enough quality to represent the entire decade.  At least until that zombie staffer show gets made.

No comments:

Post a Comment