Monday, March 08, 2021
Spending more time with my parents as I have done recently, I have become familiar with the drone of television in the background. It haunts me on an almost daily basis, to the point that it has become "white noise." I have the weekday schedule of my father's favorite channel nearly memorized: Perry Mason, then Matlock, then In the Heat of the Night, then The Waltons... you get the idea. The afternoon is a parade of Westerns, one after the other: Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman.
In a desperate grab to maintain my sanity I have started deconstructing these shows - at least, some of them. "Perry Mason" is still the king as far as I'm concerned. Yes, the general plot is the same episode after episode, but it has a great noir feel and the cast is just excellent. I can't get enough of Hamilton Burger and Paul Drake, not to mention Della Street - the perfect secretary and co-sleuth. But "Matlock"... ugh. The show was Andy Griffith's late-in-life meal ticket, and I can empathize with that, but it just isn't that good; from the Eighties hairstyles and power suits to the awful overacting, it is nothing short of cringeworthy.
"In the Heat of the Night" was a favorite of mine back when I was a medical resident. Set in a small Southern town, the show featured location shooting which added lots of atmosphere and overall did a good job portraying the daily life of law enforcement. Plus, Carroll O'Connor anchored the whole production as the police chief struggling with the effects of racism on the town and trying to shake his personal racist past. Sadly, on re-viewing the show it is marred by overacting among the weekly characters/suspects and more bad Southern accents than you could shake a stick at.
"The Waltons" was a favorite of mine back in elementary school and junior high. A low-key drama, it showcased the trials and tribulations of a rural family growing up during the Depression and WWII. It was narrated at the beginning and end of each episode by the oldest son, the first in his family to go to college and who would go on to become a writer; it gave the show a retrospective and nostalgic feeling, sort of the "I remember the time Mama had to go off to the tuberculosis sanitarium" sort of thing. (Yes, that was an actual plot.) It's a comforting sort of show, but after a while it just became tiresome plus the child actors started aging out of the cast after a few years. Sometimes I like to imagine it's set in a postapocalyptic future, where Walton's Mountain is salted with booby traps and the family is living on squirrels and coffee... but it's hard to see that there would be much difference.
On to the Westerns. Not much to say here, they're all alike really. I have realized over time that Westerns are just soap operas with the addition of gunfire. "Bonanza" seems to have more variety than the others, but it all comes down to Hoss being clueless, Little Joe getting framed for murder or Adam lecturing the townsfolk about the importance of being more openminded. "Big Valley" has it all over Bonanza as far as I'm concerned.
And then there's Adam-12. This was a Jack Webb production, similar to "Dragnet" in that it was a salute to police and their service to the public. The difference here was that the cast was younger and better looking, two earnest whiter-than-white guys in a patrol car driving around Los Angeles all day dealing with all sorts of stuff during their shift. The show is so dated that trying to imagine the patrolmen thrust into the reality of present day Los Angeles is impossible; the poor guys would get cut down by gunfire five minutes into their shift.
After "Adam-12" it's time for the evening news, returning to the 21st century once again. Not much to be said here, except that when compared to today's news these dated old shows are much more tempting.
Labels: Pop Culture