Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Starring In My Own Miniseries

I suppose you could say I'm anti-trendy - if everyone is doing it, I'm much too busy.  If everyone eats there, I've never tried it.  If everyone plays that game, I'm sidelined with injuries.  And most of all, if everyone is watching it, I'm doing something, anything else.  I'm not much of a series TV watcher.  If I watch at all, I come to popular shows a few years after they start. I never saw "Cheers" until Diane left, the first time I watched "The Simpsons" was when I saw the theatrical movie, and Scully was an already an abductee by the time I watched my first "X-Files."  Being "in-the-know" about popular shows has never been a priority for me.

I don't think the rest of the TV generation is like me.  Raised on series TV of the 1970s, my family watched very few interesting shows.  Carol Burnett was the highlight of my week.  My parents didn't allow "All in the Family," "Soap" or "One Day at a Time," because characters on those shows espoused subversive, non-traditional views that could be damaging to the values of growing children.  Bah! It just made those shows seem more attractive to the loser who had to go to school not knowing if Barbara took "The Pill" or Archie  invited Mr. Jefferson into the house.

In my teens, the American mini-series was very popular. "Roots" is some people's idea of the definitive mini-series, and I know it is a classic on many levels, but it didn't typify the popular mini-series because it was so good, so worthwhile, so educational.  Most of the minis that I remember had more superficial values - good-looking leads, exotic locales, tried-and-true storylines.

I'm not sure about the evolution of the mini, whether it was an outgrowth of the TV-movie or a genre of its own. I only know that when they began to appear in my house, family life was scheduled around these ground-breaking events.

The first mini I remember well is "Rich Man, Poor Man," based on the Irwin Shaw novel of the same name. Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte played brothers who take vastly different paths on their route to happiness and success. Who ends up rich, who ends up poor? That's about the only nuanced message of the opus, but I won't spoil it for you. It celebrated many things Americans love to observe - hard work, education, sex, greed, running away from your problems and revenge. My family ate it up.

Others I recall from that era are "The Thorn Birds," "North and South,"  and "Holocaust." Somehow, the phenomenon of extended storytelling was re-invented for the TV generation.

There have been many more worthy titles in the miniseries category, but as I reached adulthood, I lost interest in TV for many years, and cannot comment sensibly on anything from the middle 80s to the late 90s.  It wasn't until the BBC/A&E production of "Pride and Prejudice" was on its second or third running in the US that I finally heard that my favorite novel had been made into a miniseries worth watching.

My devotion to all things P&P is a source of embarrassment to my family, so I won't dwell on it at this time (I have something planned for later, though). Suffice to say that the beautifully-produced and essentially true-to-the-book adaptation simultaneously revived the miniseries, the American love of the miniseries, American interest in all things upper-crust British, the book and movie career of Jane Austen, and spillover rediscoveries of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Bronte sisters and, of course, the Bard.

I love everything to do with English history.  No era is too bloody, to excessive, too full of plague, or conquest or intolerance to make it uninteresting to me.  Kings and commoners, queens and scullerymaids, they all make for great storytelling.  I've indoctrinated one of my two daughters into my love affair with castles, costumes and  courtship. The whole family thoroughly enjoyed the miniseries "Pillars of the Earth," a wonderful story of the individual and collective  fifty-year effort to build a cathedral in 12th-century England. (Based on the almost 1,000 page book by Ken Follett, I highly recommend the DVD for those not inclined to stout reading assignments.)

Any time I want to treat myself to a full day (6 hours) of watching P&P, I just go around collecting clothes that need ironing, so as to have a convenient excuse to stand in front of the TV all day.  Sometimes I run out of clothes before I run out of episodes, but I can usually find a button to sew or pants to hem so that I can at least get to the awkward scene at Pemberly, after Mr. Darcy's gratuitous yet satisfying splash in the pond.

I started to hear the buzz about a new miniseries that sounded a bit like "Upstairs, Downstairs" sometime last summer.  With other matters on my mind, I never considered checking it out.  Meanwhile, friends who know my fondness for Brit-lit and the BBC incarnations of those stories were untiring in their pestering that I should be watching this new drama.  Well, nothing assures my disinterest like people telling me I should be interested, particularly where TV is concerned.  I'm proud to say I never watched "Survivor" in any of its locales, or even one episode of "American Idol." I'm clueless about many shows that are part of the cultural fabric, hence my frequent cluelessness about culture.  I missed "The Sopranos," "24," "Lost," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Friends," and, alas, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." (I was forced to watch "Dancing with the Stars," because Camille was a fan, but I never inhaled.)

Clearly, without ties to continuing weekly TV sagas, I could be a much more productive member of society than all the zombies watching the idiot box, right?  And here on the pages of this blog you have learned just how productive I can be - if by productive I mean "producer of excuses." Anyway, after the second season debut of "Downton Abbey," I could no longer ignore the "must-see TV" talk about the show.  A quick peek at the homepage on whetted my appetite, but again, other priorities got my attention and I never got around to watching.

Until yesterday.  Or should I say last night into the wee hours of the morning.

I'm hooked.  I'm so hooked I want to scrap the chores, skip the kids awards ceremony and band concert tonight and just watch it again, from start to finish. It is a feast for my eyes, a caress of my ears, food to nurture my romantic soul. I want to move into Downton and set things right for all my new best friends...especially Mr. Bates. I want to be there when the telegram about the Titanic arrives, and when the rally for women's suffrage gets violent, and when Lord Grantham attempts to explain why the death of a Turkish attache under his roof could have international consequences.

I've only got the DVD until Friday, then it goes back to the library for the next person on the very long hold list. I hope my wait for a copy of season two isn't unbearably long. I also want the girls to see it, and maybe Eric will even give it another try.  He dismissed it as a soap opera after one hour last night.  But he, the productive breadwinner, had to go to bed and just needed an excuse. I'll bet he's been daydreaming about the love/hate relationship between Lady Mary and Mr. Crawley, unable to engineer for wondering.

Ahem. Begging your pardon, I think I just remembered some ironing that needs attending to.

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