Sunday, March 22, 2009

in memoriam

So ER only has a few more episodes left before it goes to rest forever in television heaven, and I thought I would take a moment to wax nostalgic over this soon to be late, great show. Now this isn't one of those heart wrenching, soul eviscerating cancellations like Freaks and Geeks or Once and Again or Arrested Development (ouch-that one still hurts). I'm pretty sure ER is in its 29th season or something. It's gone through more cast changes than SNL. And honestly, I haven't watched this show with any kind of consistency since high school. Yet despite all these things, the fact that it's about to end makes me, well, a little wistful.

If you haven't already picked up on it, I'm a TV person. I love TV. I love all kinds of TV, from traditional laugh track sitcoms to pitch black dramas to reality to well whatever the hell kind of zany, awesomely bonkers show Lost is. I love TV not just for the medium or the stories it tells, but the experience of it, the physical act of watching, the waiting all week for a new episode, the shows you watch with friends or family, the big season finales or premieres, and that first second when a show starts and a theme song kicks in and right in the privacy of your own home you're drawn into another world. It's always been this way. Interwoven with my childhood memories are images of Donna Martin trying to graduate, Kevin Arnold pining away for Winnie Cooper, Stephanie Tanner repeating "how rude" for the umpteenth time. I remember Friday nights from when I was five years old, sitting in the sun room of our old house with my brother and sister, allowed to stay up with them and watch Step by Step and Perfect Strangers. There are probably a thousand seconds and minutes from when I was that age that have long since faded into the recesses of my thoughts, but wild and crazy Cousin Balkie going around and around in that revolving elevator still stands out vibrantly in my mind. I could not tell you what I did on my eighth birthday, but I can tell you that around that time Dylan and Kelly were having a torrid affair while Brenda was away in Paris in the fictional world of Beverly Hills 90210. I remember watching Friends when I was far too young to understand half of it, and I remember my outrage when for a couple of years my mom tried to ban it from our house (the result of some newspaper article she read about how morally loose the show was-you know the kind of article, the ones that sprung up from time to time about certain toys or videogames or movies and inevitably resulted in a mass parent movement outlawing said object and mass mutinies amongst the oppressed children).

I remember when the WB suddenly appeared on the television landscape and changed my life and the lives of so many other preteens forever, because finally we had angst and teenagers (or at least twenty something actors playing teenagers) to look up to. Suddenly we had shows that were nothing short of cool, and yes, like Friends, the WB was supposedly a network of loose values, the hussie of network television, but didn't that make it all the better? Wasn't part of the appeal the fact that we would never in a million years watch these shows with our parents anywhere near the room and would watch them with the volume low and have to wait until school the next day to discuss all of the agonizing drama that went on in Sunnydale or Capeside. I remember nights when dinner was late and having to beg my mother to let me bring my dinner in to the TV room so that I would not miss a second of Dawson's Creek. I wanted to be Joey Potter. I thought Pacey was just the dreamiest (he still is). And of course, like all misguided preteens I thought that was exactly how high school would one day be, full of attractive people with clear skin and glamorous problems and of course in high school I would find my soul mate and have an epic romance and somehow never actually be in a classroom or do homework, because again, Dawson's Creek and Buffy were pretty much exactly how high school would be (naturally minus the vampires).

To summarize, television, from an early age, has been a part of my life, but the first television show, years before all of those WB strumpets (which really in retrospect they were, my poor parents had no idea what to do with their third child and were most likely exhausted by then and so they let me run rampant and watch scandalous things and even though Dawson and co. are nowhere near the likes of Serena Van derWoodsen and Blair Waldorf, they were still hardly ideal role models for a thirteen year old, and yes I am now a stuffy old person who blushes at the thought of morally questionable television characters and will probably doom my own children one day to being the only kids in school who don't know what happened on last night's episode of such and such). Okay I digress. What I was going to say was that the first television show that was really event television for me, the kind of show that I waited all week for and talked about excitedly the next day with anyone who would listen, was ER. Now for those of you not schooled in television history, ER was the Grey's Anatomy of it's day. No scratch that, because ER in its prime would leave Greys in its prime in its dust. It was the show that everyone watched. It was where you would be on Thursdays at 10pm. To put it in perspective I was reading a retrospective in the NYTimes today about the show which said that at its peak it got 40 million viewers and that even the most popular shows today rarely reach 20 million.

When ER started there was no Itunes. There was no DVR or Hulu. You couldn't watch a show on your computer because you probably didn't have a computer, and if you did it took about ten minutes to load a page, and even then the second someone in your house picked up the land-line your connection died and you had to sit through that whole tedious beeping and dialing routine to get back online. Back then, you sat yourself down in a damn chair, turned on a real live television and watched. And if you missed it you couldn't just wait for the DVDs to come out because it was a VHS world and who would ever think people would one day line their shelves with entire seasons of old television shows. When you watched TV then, you really watched it. And looking back now, I get downright sentimental. Because the truth is, that kind of experience is sort of extinct now. And I've adapted. I watch half of my television online, but no matter how good the picture is and how nice it is not to have commercials, when you really think about it, nothing can really match the old, traditional way of watching TV, when you actually watched it on a TV.

Maybe that's what makes me sad about the end of ER, despite the fact that I honestly wasn't sure it was even still on the air until a few weeks ago. It hasn't been a part of my life for a while, but when it was a part of my life, it was appointment television in a way no show today, except for possibly American Idol (because of the sheer fact that it's live) is. I was a pretty little kid when it started but I remember all of those early episodes. I remember being allowed to stay up late on Thursdays to watch, waiting in the dark in my pajamas for it to start and for that theme music to kick in. And from that first second I was hooked, caught up in the lives of doctors and nurses at County General. I rooted for poor, awkward Dr. Carter who hero worshiped Dr. Benton despite the fact that Dr. Benton showed him nothing but annoyance or disdain (kind of a dramatic precursor to JD on Scrubs). I of course, even from an early age, recognized the absolute god on Earth that is George Clooney whose Doug Ross was charming and dashing but who also capital C cared (Dr. McDreamy is in the same vein but even the thoroughly charming Patrick Dempsey can't hold a candle to Dr. Ross). Come to think of it, how many other shows have been influenced by ER, how many other dramas with interwoven storylines and realistic tones can attribute their presence to the drama that was the centerpiece of primetime television in the mid to late nineties. And there were just these episodes that everyone watched and talked about. They were events. I bet you remember the episode when Dr. Ross saved the kid from drowning in that sewer pipe, and all of the promos had the shot of him in his wet tuxedo, standing under the spotlight of a helicopter, the lifeless kid in his arms. Or the heart breaking episode when the apparently normal and healthy couple comes in to have a baby with Dr. Green and things go horribly wrong horribly fast and the mom ends up dying and everyone just cries and cries and cries. What about when Nurse Carol was taken hostage (by Ewan McGregor incidentally)?

And if you don't remember, if you didn't watch, then I bet you at least remember the presence of the show, the way other people watched it and talked about it on Friday mornings. And it makes me a little sad to know that a show like this will probably never again exist. There will be huge shows that a ton of people watch and talk about and which get tons of buzz. But half the people who watch won't sit down in front of a TV with family or friends. Half the people will catch it a few days later online or the next night on their DVR or on the tiny screen of their Ipods or Iphones or I-whatevers (so, so silly). TV now is at the mercy of people's schedules and busy lives. It's a shapeless, boundary-less thing that exists when and where you want it. It's become efficient and fast and slick and high-tech. And in some ways it makes it easier for more people to watch more of the shows they love. I know it has for me. So then why can't I help but be a little sad? Why is it that I can't fully commit to the idea that television has changed for the better?

Maybe it's because I for one loved every second of my stone age TV days, back before it was literally forced out of the box. I loved having to wait for a summer rerun if I missed an episode. I loved checking the television part of the newspaper instead of just clicking on an onscreen guide. I loved racing through my homework so that I could watch a show free of distractions, knowing that a show was on at this time for this long. This wasn't all easy or super convenient, but it was just what you did. It was part of the whole experience, and back then it didn't seem to matter as much that everything be easy and convenient. When ER was still in its halcyon, Clooney days, TV was immovable. No one had yet figured out how to bend it to their will, to force it into new and progressively more disjointed shapes and pieces. It had a rigid kind of dignity. And all of this is terribly sentimental for a medium that is basically designed to showcase ads and that has seen the likes of a show like Rock of Love, but well, endings always make me sentimental. And this truly is an ending, not just for ER, but for an era. Tomorrow I'll probably watch an episode of a show online and then maybe pull out some TV on DVD seasons and slide seamlessly back into this new digital age. But for tonight, I'm going to salute ER and mourn the passing of not just a television show, but of the way we watched it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

something wonderful

Chad Lindsay, the "Subway Hero" after he rescued a man from the tracks

So first of all sorry to whoever reads these blogs (all three of you :) ) that I haven't written any new posts recently. I was away last weekend in Charleston (which was awesome for my poor homesick heart but which also made my poor homesick heart miss it all the more, if that's even possible), and I've been utterly exhausted by my full time nanny job (although the cute, little fourteen month is basically my new favorite person on the planet), and blah di blah, lots of excuses and justifications. And unfortunately this is not even going to be a real post, more of just a mini-post, a post-it if you will (wow I found that way too funny when I wrote it-again I contribute this to nanny related exhaustion). I promise to write more soon. I have lots of things and thoughts and randoms floating around in my busy, neurotic little head which are just begging to get out. But right now I just thought I'd share something,

Something wonderful and something beautiful and something heart warming and something faith affirming and something cheerful and something kind and unexpected and hopeful and decent and human.

And right now isn't that just what we need? I for one can't really handle too much more of this. I need a break from doom and gloom and corrupt CEOs and infuritating bonuses and homeless Americans in tent cities and Mexican death tolls and North Korean missiles and Chinese submarines and that terrible, octo-mom who just won't go away.

I needed this. I needed to hear the simple, straightforward and unassumingly heroic story of Chad Lindsey who no hesitation, jumped onto subway tracks in NYC to save a man's life. And I needed to see him and hear him talk and be just so utterly humble and decent. I found this clip from the Rachel Maddow show on and this (hot!) and goofy and normal and brave New York subway hero just reminds me that headlines and news stories only tell a tiny fraction of our human story. Please watch this because I guarantee you it will make you feel better about life.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I had given up on snow. I reluctantly and very painfully came to the conclusion that snow, real piling up on roads and trees and roofs snow, in Richmond had gone the way of the dinosaur or the poor, sad dodo bird. It was just gone, extinct, poof, only a memory.

But tonight my faith was reaffirmed. On this day, March 1st, out of the blue, snow decided to return to my life. And I can't stop staring at it. I could stand at a window and watch snow for hours. I can't get enough of it. I want to gorge myself on the image of white upon white upon white, the soft, twirling flakes dancing their way to the ground. I want to fill myself up with the look of the night sky when it snows, how it somehow makes it light out, how the white of the sky and the white of the ground soak up all the darkness and turn it into a new version of night. I could watch forever the branches of the trees bending under the weight of the snow or the cars on the street made irrationally beautiful.

Fear of frostbite, hypothermia and possibly arrest are the only things keeping me from plopping down on the sidewalk outside my house and just staying there all night, staring up at that swirling, gray sky. I couldn't resist walking around the neighborhood earlier, despite the fact that I have absolutely zero cold weather gear and ended up wearing tennis shoes with holes in their soles (this is on purpose, they're designed for being in hot, wet places-just not cold, wet places) and a coat that was too thin and a scarf that got soaked. But I couldn't make myself go inside. It's always been like this. You see, snow and me, we have a connection. Snow, even little nothing flurries, does something to the very inside of my soul. It makes me feel like a joyful child with nothing in the world to worry about, but it also makes me feel at peace. It gives me a calm and serenity that my age has not yet earned.

When I was little I used to wake up before everyone else in the house on days that it snowed. I would go downstairs in my pajamas, throw a coat and some boots on, and walk outside. And then I'd just stand. I'd stand there and watch the world around my house, the world that I'd seen for days and months and years but which was somehow so new in that moment. I hated to think that later in the day everyone would walk around (myself included) and ruin the perfect image in front of me. Because it really was perfect, in a way that nothing else in life really is. And trust me, perfection is overrated. Flaws and bumps and bruises are really what makes up a life. But maybe we just need that one thing that is actually perfect, that one thing that can't be changed or broken or taken away, and for me that has always been snow. And it made everything else perfect too, if only for those few hours or days before it melted. It made things like playing a videogame with a mug of hot chocolate perfect. It made a simple walk up the driveway to get the mail perfect. It made life beautiful in a way it rarely is, an I can offer no better reason for why I've always loved it, why the lack of snow in my life these last five years hasn't just been an irritation, but a major loss.

And then tonight, there it was, this thing my soul has been aching for. And it was everything I remembered and more. It's not going to be the blizzard of the century. It may melt by Tuesday. But right now I can walk onto my front porch and just stand, the way I did when I was little. And it's exactly the same. The world in front of me may be urban instead of rural now. My grandparents are no longer in the little red guest house just across the yard. There isn't a hill to sled down or a pond to ice skate on or the wonder that is an unexpected day off from school. But it's still perfect. I can still feast on that distinct, gorgeous silence that is the sound of snow falling. I can still watch it for hours and never get bored. It's snow. It makes my heart sing. It makes me the kind of person who can say things like "it makes my heart sing" without embarassment or irony.

It's snow. And for tonight, wonderously, it's in my life again.
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