I watch a lot of television. I mean, a LOT of television.
If you’ve glanced at this site for longer than five nano-seconds, that much will be obvious.
The downside to watching so much television is negligible really, but it can make remembering much of what you’ve seen, in detail anyway, or being emotionally-impacted a challenge.
Still, good episodes, I mean the really good ones, will always cut through and make an impression and so it was with these five episodes which made quite the impact on me, such that all these years (or weeks in the case of one) I can still recall them in vivid, heartstoppingly-lovely detail.
(1) TORCHWOOD: “Captain Jack Harkness”
This is the most romantic episode of any TV show I’ve ever seen. A bold claim perhaps given that depictions of love, even the queer kind, are reasonably thick on the ground in television-land. But when I saw “Captain Jack Harkness”, which aired in 2007, I was reasonably freshly out of the closet (after a lifetime in the church) and seeing two men finding themselves attracted to each other in that gorgeously impossible way that only new love can manage, was a joyous revelation. Both John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness and Matt Rippy as the Captain (he’s the man whose identity Barrowman’s character assumed after his death in 1941) brought real poignancy, passion and tenderness to their roles, heightened by the fact that the real Captain was fated to die the next day and Barrowman, and Torchwood colleague Tosh (Naoko Mori) had to return to the present through the Cardiff Rift. This is life in all its glory and dreadful melancholy in one beautiful, heartwarmingly bleak episode and it cuts right through to the heart every single damn time.
(2) FEAR THE WALKING DEAD: “Laura”
Finding love at the best of times is a challenge. Even with the seeming boundless riches of the interwebs at our digitally-inclined fingertips, finding that one special person can feel like mission impossible. Consider then how much more of a challenge finding love in a zombie apocalypse would be; not, I’d wager, that it’s major priority next to, oh I don’t know, staying alive. Still, love has a found of breaking through in even the most dire of circumstances, a truism that “Laura”, from the fourth, and current, season of Fear the Walking Dead, which is fond of wearing its humanity on its sleeve, explores in all its unexpected agonisingly sweet beauty.
On the edge of a river, in a hut which zombies collect in front of driven by ceaseless currents, John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) finds a badly-injured person he christens Laura (Jenna Elfman) who he selflessly back to health and equips with survival tips in complete contravention of the usually dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest that governs most human interactions in this blighted age. Laura aka Naomi (her real name) has walls aplenty up but so unrelenting is John’s basic, heartwarming decency that they both end falling for each other. As for a fairytale ending? This is the apocalypse so don’t hold your breath; suffice to say though that their relationship, and it’s slow, realistic growth in contravention of all the odds, is a remarkable thing, a rare point in a world much more accustomed to the darker parts of the human condition.
(3) DHARMA AND GREG: Pilot episode
I love quirky characters with substance. People who are emotionally in touch and intelligent but have an appealing theatrical whimsicality about them that doesn’t pay much heed to mainstream expectations. Dharma (Jenna Elfman, a suitable name if there was one for an actor playing such a free spirit), a flower power child born to hippy parents, was just such a character and I fell in love withing about two minutes of the start of the pilot episode of Dharma and Greg. She might have been fey and a little airy at times, but she was also passionate, intelligent, very much her own person and more than able to stand toe-to-toe with sudden husband Greg (Thomas Gibson) and was everything I was wish I could be, right down to telling the orthodoxy that threatened to swallow her up at each and every moment that she was having none of it.
As someone who’d grown up a tightly-regulated environment, specifically the Baptist church where my dad was a pastor, and who chafed at the endless limits placed upon me, the idea that you could be wild, riotous and free and yet grounded, emotionally-authentic and clever confirmed to me that who I was just fine, Christian conservatives be (figuratively) damned. Once again, a fictional character helped me to work through some decidedly non-fictional issues, namely that I was OK as I was and shouldn’t change simply because the naysayers around me, the conformity police if you will, wanted me to.
(4) THE GOODIES: “BUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. TEA ROOMS”
I know that Monty Python are the face of madcap ’70s British comedy for most people, and lord knows they deserve all the accolades that come their way. But the bright comedic spot for me, the people who played a pivotal role in the growth and development of my sense of the silly and the absurd are Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, and Bill Oddie, collectively known as The Goodies. Their episodes always contained an important message of some kind, some profound, others small and in passing, but mostly they just had riotously silly fun, taking us on adventures with giant kittens, plagues of Rolf Harrises (that episode, alas, has not stood the test of time although it magnificently captures his innate creepiness), South African jockeys, and in this seminal episode, Westerns where a murderous showdown erupts between those who pronounce a peculiarly British baked good as a “SKON” and those who pronounce it “SKONE”. It’s off the wall ridiculous but brilliantly clever and endlessly hilarious, the very epitome of everything I love and adore about these purveyors of British silliness.
(5) GRIMM: Pilot episode
I have long had a love of postmodern mash-ups; in fact, I loved the idea of playing around with characters or ideas or ostensibly unrelated stories long before it was even labelled as postmodern. Grimm, for me, was the perfect distillation of this concept – mix a police procedural with richly-wrought, likable characters, and all the mythos from around the world you can muster and hey presto, you have a wholly unique show that had a lot of fun with the idea that “monsters” walk among us and that much of the folklore and urban myth that informs our view of the world is sourced directly from their habit of hiding in plain sight among us. I still mourn its inevitable end, by which time it had become far less episodic and more arc-driven to generally impressive effect, but watching this pilot episode, which did a devastatingly good job of worldbuilding and character set-up, it seemed like a whole universe of brilliantly-imaginative storytelling awaited me … and so it came to be.