I recently started drafting a rather doleful piece about residual guilt and being Brought Up Catholic. However, I’m in an insufficiently gloomy/self-indulgent mood to finish it and post it at the moment, so that’s postponed for now, and the Vatican are just going to have to wait a little longer for my scathing critique. They’ve waited for Jesus to come back for about 2000 years, so I figure they can hold out another week or two for my blog. Although, maybe not. Maybe the Pope sits there in front of his laptop, constantly refreshing WordPress and occasionally updating his Tumblr (‘FuckYeahRedShoes’). Anyway. Instead, I thought I’d treat – yes, treat! – you – yes, you! – to a quick nostalgic run-down of late 1990s/early 2000s TV (And Why It Was Awesome)…
“This cake’s really cold. And hard. You think it’s frozen?”
“A killer whale with a license to practice law?!?! ORCA IN THE COURT – next, on Sick Sad World.”
O, Daria. How do I love thee? I would count the ways, but she’d probably respond by saying ‘Excuse me?’ and going to hide in Lawndale High’s Talking Toilet. Daria was an MTV production, aired in the UK on Channel 5 (and thus providing that channel with its sole justification for existing). Daria Morgendorffer was a bit of an animated heroine of mine, at that ‘difficult age’ of 15-16 when all the world was against me and the only way of expressing my, like, individuality was to, like, write deep and meaningful phrases all over my school satchel (sample quotes: PUNISH THOSE WHO PUNISH TRUTH and BUTTERFLIES AND RAINBOWS IN MY SOUL). Yep, I was that bad. But Daria offered a kind of looking-glass onto the anomie of being a pretentious and precocious teenage girl. Daria was smart, she read poetry and wore glasses and combat boots. She had a dysfunctional family, an unattainable crush object, and big – if vague – ambitions to get the hell out of her small suburb ASAP. Like any grumpily ‘alternative’ teenager worth her eyeliner, I identified with Daria. I felt her pain. I demonstrated the strength of my feelings using italics. And I wished (and still do) that ‘Sick Sad World’ was a TV channel in real life as well as in Lawndale. So, yeah. Daria. Awesome.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
“I may be dead, but I’m still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.”
“Danger? I laugh in the face of danger! And then I hide until it goes away.”
Buffy was also a bit of a heroine, but in a very different way to Daria. Buffy could do things that 15-year-old me couldn’t dream of. I’m not even talking about killing vampires here. She wore clothes that were manifestly not purchased at C&A! She could go out to clubs – well, a club, lest we forget that The Bronze was literally the only nightspot in the whole of Sunnydale. She was allowed to walk home alone! In the dark! I wasn’t allowed to go further than the nearest bus stop after sundown, ‘because you never know who’ll try to prey on young girls at night’ (vampires, maybe?). While Daria was an apathetic outcast, Buffy was an arse-kicker, and represented the kind of physical and social empowerment I longed for. In my daydreams, the bitchcowslag (I REMEMBER YOU AND I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU TRIED TO FRIEND ME ON FACEBOOK) who regularly mocked me at school for 101 stupid reasons could be taken down with a swift Buffy-esque drop kick, then dispatched with a nifty one-line insult. AHAHAHAHA! etc. Of course, Buffy got a bit silly after the first few seasons, once the writers started fannying around with demons and giant snakes instead of just sticking to the ‘consult Giles – visit graveyard – stake the undead’ formula that worked so well. I stopped watching it eventually, but I still maintain a secret desire to learn kickboxing. Just in case.
“This is Dr Frasier Crane… I’m listening.”
Change of tone here. Frasier was definitely not a show aimed at teenagers, or indeed anyone with a limited vocabulary. But then, what would you expect from a sitcom about two psychiatrist brothers who constantly try to out-achieve and out-class the other? Frasier was a spin-off from Cheers, which I didn’t know or care about at the time, but in hindsight I think it’s by far the funnier show. Frasier Crane taught me the meaning of the word ‘egregious’, the difference between Freudian and Jungian philosophy, and what exactly a latte was. Not bad for a 90s sitcom. The show also taught me that Americans do.not.get British accents, as proven by the casting of (Mancunian) Daphne Moon’s brothers – Anthony LaPaglia, Richard E. Grant and Robbie Coltrane – with a mish-mash of Brummie and Cockney voices. Tut, tut. Still, any show that manages to combine references to Wagner with Eddie the Adorable Gazing Dog deserves clemency.
“Don’t even think about leaving the country”… “Don’t worry! I won’t! I, er, can’t afford it.”
I confess my memories of this are a bit hazy (although a recent sneaky online catch-up proved useful). But I do recall Spaced occupying the same 9.30 post-Friends slot on Channel 4 as Frasier, when the latter wasn’t on air. Oh, and I’m not mentioning Friends, or Seinfeld, or The Simpsons, because enough ink has been spilled over their ‘cultural relevance’. This is my list of 90s telleh, and you can go write your own. So, Spaced. The premise was pretty simple – Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson pretend to be an item so that they can rent a London flat advertised to ‘professional couples only’. They have a dog called Colin (often to be seen sporting an Elizabethan ruff) and a collection of slightly addled friends: Mike, who got kicked out of the TA for stealing a tank; Brian, the naked artist in the basement; Twist the airhead; and Tyres O’Flaherty, a Belfast bike messenger so addicted to raving that the beep-beep-beep of pedestrian crossings makes him start throwing shapes. Actually, Tyres and Colin are the main reasons I remembered the show in the first place, but the sneaky catch-up reminded me that it’s well worth a proper revisit.
Walking With Dinosaurs (1999)
This is my list and I can include what I bloody well want on it. WWD was awesome. Bearing in mind that it was basically made by filming a plastic T-Rex stuck to a lolly stick (well, dodgy 90s animatronics anyway), it was still the coolest documentary series EVAR. But I was sad when the baby Diplodocus was accidentally squished by the Stegosaurus. It doesn’t do to get emotionally attached to dinosaurs.
Rex The Runt (1998-2001)
“It’s time for a doggy dialogue!”
Another quick’un. Rex The Runt passed under most people’s radar, as each episode was only ten minutes long and therefore easily missed. It was a quirky offering from Aardman Animations (y’know – Wallace and Gromit), about Rex the plasticine dog and his three flatmates. Who were also plasticine dogs. Right? Right. My personal favourite was Vince, the simpleton whose vocabulary consisted entirely of the words ‘Soup’ and ‘Tuesday’, but whose rare diagnosis of Random Pavarotti Disorder made him break into operatic singing at totally inappropriate moments. In fact… look for yourself!