It’s one of the eternal questions isn’t it?
Can you ever truly go back? I am not talking about time travel; about revving up a DeLorean and gunning it was back to 1985 or wherever you might choose to go.
No, I am not talking about returning to a long-left hometown, or to a group of friends you haven’t seen in years … or to an old TV show or album of music. Sure you buy a plan ticket, or arrange to meet the friends at a pub one Saturday night … and with the prevalence of older TV shows on DVDs and albums on iTunes or Spotify, revisiting a fondly remembered piece of pop culture doesn’t even require a revved car of any description.
But when you find the town, or the friends, or watch the TV show, do you find that your rose-coloured glass remembrance of that time in your life, takes a distinctly less pleasing hue? Or is it as good as you remember? The reality is most of the time it isn’t the same at all; sometimes that’s a good thing and it allows us to discover the thing we left far behind us in life afresh, and see it, or the friends, through the prism of adulthood, and enjoy it anew.
But other times the thing we thought was so innovative, clever or funny pales in the steely glare of an adult’s critical eyes. The show, for instance, is still the same, but after years of watching more sophisticated TV shows, it wilts in comparison. That doesn’t necessarily render it a pointless waste of time; sometimes we have just grown too jaded to tap into that unquestioning generosity of spirit, that willingness to suspend all belief and take things as they are that children have in abundance. All it takes is our willingness to see the show the way we did as a child, and it comes back alive, as good as we remember it.
Or like Lost in Space for me, it is ruined forever as you realise the sets were cardboard, the acting was wooden (with the exception of Dr Smith who remains as archly camp and gloriously bad as ever), and the plot lines promising but limited. No amount of watching can restore the joy with which I greeted each and every viewing of that show as a child, try as I might to conjure it up again.
Even so, that doesn’t mean I don’t try and go back. It doesn’t stop me putting that DVD into the player, picking up that copy of Agaton Sax, or listening to “Born to be Alive” and hoping it is as good as I remember it.
So that’s the premise of this new series. Road test TV shows (mostly), music, books and movies once seen but long ignored, and see if they glow as brightly as they ever did, or fade away like Norma Desmond, railing that they are still as good as they once were, even as it becomes tragically apparent they are not.
First up is a show I adored as a child: Hart to Hart.
THE SHOW: Staring Robert Wagner as Jonathan Hart, a self-made billionaire and head of electronics conglomerate Hart Industries, and Stephanie Powers as Jennifer Hart, his glamorous, more-than-capable journalist wife, who also dabbled as amateur detectives, Hart to Hart ran from 1979 to 1984.
Produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, it began life as a film script called Double Twist, but languished on the shelf until Spelling and Goldberg asked Tom Mankiewicz (who also directed the first episode), then a much in demand screenwriter who had penned three Bond films among other things, to retool the premise for a TV show.
Thus the show that came to be known as Hart to Hart was born. It centred on Jonathan and Jennifer’s jet set lifestyle, much of which wouldn’t have happened as smoothly as it did without the assistance of Max (Lionel Stander) their gravelly-voiced cook/chauffeur/butler, who also aided them in solving their “cases” from time to time. Of course none of their solving of cases which usually involved murder, but also theft and even international espionage, would have been as much fun without their adorable Lowchen, Freeway, so named because that’s exactly where they found him.
MY TAKE ON IT NOW: Honestly … as good as ever.
Of course visually in some ways it’s dated but how can it not? It was very much a child of the late 70s and early 80s and reflected the social mores, and look of the time. But as far as it being the fun, escapist show of my youth (it was one of the shows that allowed me to pretend all the horrible teasing of my youth wasn’t so bad), it is as perfectly wonderful as it was the day I laid eyes on it.
From the moment the intro music kicked in again and I saw the Harts’ private jet taking them on another exotic grand adventure, I was hooked all over again. That was what captured me from episode one. The glitz, the glamour were fun yes, and I am now as ever a sucker for romance and the allure of two people who life each other (and the Harts do in the most lovely and mock me if you will, believable way; yes they actually look like real lovers who like as much as they love each other), but what sold me then as now was the captivating opening sequence.
The music has that certain something that kicks the adrenaline into high gear, stirs the emotions, and has you ready on the edge of your seat before a moment of the actual episode has rolled. I love the way Lionel Sanders, who sadly died of lung cancer midway through the comeback episodes of the mid-1990s described the Harts, the pace of the title sequences, and the selection of choice moments from the 83 episodes filmed. It effects me in the same way it did then.
Of course a little adult cynicism has crept in. How does crime always find them? How do they always come out unscathed? And how do they always manage to avoid being arrested or censured? But truth be told, it’s a gentle cynicism and doesn’t for a second take away any of my love and affection for a show that is as charming, gripping and exciting, and yes escapist, as ever.
Granted I don’t have bullies to hide from anymore, but life can still get pretty brutal no matter how much you enjoy it, and you always need shows that allow you, if only for 42 minutes to escape into someone else’s impossibly glamorous, perfectly constructed world, and Hart to Hart does that as beautifully as it did back in the 1980s.
And best of all, I have discovered a whole slew of new episodes to watch from the 1990s which will mean I can escape with all new adventures with a couple I came to love as deeply as I have loved anyone from a TV show.
So can you go back to Hart to Hart? I think we all know the answer but with Jonathan and Jennifer, I don’t think that was ever in doubt.