Happy Birthday in a million pretty pixels

It’s my birthday tomorrow. (Thank you, thank you, your warm wishes are greatly appreciated… and not at all solicited)

So it got me thinking. Not just about cake, and how far I have to run (Ecuador? Burkina Faso? The moon?) to burn off enough calories in preparation for the all weekend celebrations that are planned. No, besides thoughts of me ballooning up several hundred extra clothes sizes, I wondered which of my favourite TV characters (or even those for whom I wouldn’t even go shopping at Wal-Mart for a gift) had celebrated a birthday on the show they’re on, and how they’d done it. Which is of course what anyone would do prior to their birthday, and so I am. It’s my birthday and I will blog about random self-serving topics if I want to…

Now it turns out that birthdays, are a reasonably popular topic for an episode of a TV show because it allows writers to bring the cast together in way that doesn’t look forced – I mean we spend our lives at birthday celebrations, eating and drinking… and then running to celestial bodies to wear it all off – and explore an issue that wouldn’t otherwise be examined if the characters weren’t together, or may take much longer to play out. Or it allows a character to confront any number of issues that pop up when a birthday, any birthday, occurs (popular with characters celebrating milestone birthdays or the death of another characters who was integral to their celebrations.) Or in the case of sitcoms it’s a chance to unleash the hounds of chaotic mirth as a relatively simply event spirals out of control, and one or more characters don’t quite get what they bargained for, and perhaps, learnt a lesson of some sort.

Yes, birthdays are a great hook on which to hang all manner of great plot devices and here’s some shows I love it that have done it well…

FRIENDS

Episode : The One With Phoebe’s Birthday (first aired 31 October 2002 in USA)

The gang gets together to celebrate Phoebe’s birthday, much to Phoebe’s excitement since recent change in each of their lives means get togethers are an increasingly rare event. Ross and Rachel now have their daughter Emma, and Monica and Chandler are trying to have a baby, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room to sit around and talk like they used to. But naturally things do not go according to plan, with Ross and Rachel locked outside their apartment while Emma is inside (cue panic on an epic scale), and Monica and Chandler decide to try to make a baby despite arguing and being late for the birthday dinner. All these events leave Phoebe and Joey alone at a restaurant, and though everyone does inevitably turn up, Phoebe isn’t impressed and makes other plans for her big night.

This was one episode that really did what Friends did so well – it showed these characters as fallible people who don’t get everything right (but we can relate since we often fail to live up to our own glorious expectations) which gets us laughing in recognition. But while we are laughing we also realise the poignant truth – life is moving on for these Friends as it does for everyone, and things won’t ever be the same again.

THAT 70s SHOW


Episode : Hyde’s Birthday (first aired 23 April 2002 in USA)


When Kitty discovers that Hyde has never had a proper birthday party (being an orphan will do that to you), she decides to throw him one, and orders Fez and Jackie to to the decorating while she gets busy making cupcakes by the truckload. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang brainstorm the perfect 18th birthday present for Hyde and decide that the obvious choice is a street sign, which leads to all sorts of (mostly illegal) fun as they tried to obtain one. Hyde resists having any sort of party since his stock-in-trade is emotional aloofness, but a stern talking to by Red persuades him to go, and everyone seems to have a good time.

Hyde was always the bad boy of the group, the one who kept everyone safely at an emotional arm’s length and didn’t give too much away. The fact that people knows his birthday unsettles him; even more so that they are planning a party for him (it’s supposed to be a secret but Kitty inadvertently gives the game away in the midst of her cupcake-making frenzy). But once he’s persuaded to go by Red, he possibly, maybe, kind of enjoys it. Truth be told, you never really know since he doesn’t break into a crying ball of gratefulness but he does grow a little, even if it is at the end of a tongue-lashing from Red, and then only grudgingly. But he does grow a little and once again it’s a milestone birthday that’s the catalyst for it.

BROTHERS AND SISTERS



Episode : Home Front (first aired September 2007)

No gathering of the Walkers, the clan that alternates between suffocating closeness, and icy distance, is ever without drama, and their attempt to draw together and celebrate Kitty’s birthday is no different. Sarah’s marriage is imploding despite her best efforts, Justin is in Iraq inn possible mortal danger, Tommy struggles to support his wife after the death of their new born son, and Rebecca, and Saul struggle with major issues of their own. In short there is a lot going on!

This show always worked well when everyone was together. Now granted they usually gathered as one at the drop of a hat since Nora had a great and ongoing love of dinner parties held in honour of any occasion, but it was the milestone event gatherings that usually worked well since the stakes were usually higher. Now no one really walks away from this birthday celebration with everything resolved, and they are still hurting from the death of the family patriarch a year earlier, but the birthday, as always, is a great excuse to bring them all together a year after a traumatic event, and reflect on how that has affected them, and how they can move forward burdened though they are with present troubles. In short, it shows them coping with life much like any other family would – well with probably a tad more wine consumed than most! – and that’s by being together, for better or worse.

EUREKA


Episode : Unpredictable (first aired 24 July 2007)
It is never a dull day in the town of Eureka, home to the beyond brilliant scientific community that works at Global Dynamics nearby, the world’s most advanced scientific research facility, and this day is no different. Zoe, the daughter of Sheriff Jack Carter is turning 16 but what should be a normal birthday celebration is naturally anything but. Carter’s ex-wife Abby turns up, and after the Sheriff is done saving Eureka from a rogue weatherman who’s created a localised ice age, she informs him that she’s taking Zoe back to Los Angeles.
Admittedly the birthday is almost incidental to the main plot which involves Sheriff Carter once again saving the town from the misguided actions of one of its best and brightest. But it provide an important forum for Jack to express how much he has come to love being a hands-on dad, and having Zoe close by after years of estrangement. Similarly Zoe has gone from being an out-of-control wild child to a mostly dutiful, if occasionally rebellious teen, and has found a home and a wider family in the town, and that’s why Abby’s announcement shocks both Jack and Zoe since it threatens to rob them of the very thing they have both come to value, to I think their pleasant surprise, so much.


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