Hi there, active viewers! Today is a very special day for me because, well, it’s my birthday. So, today’s blog is a little more personal, as I’m sure the title has already clued you in. The topic of the week will be… (cue fanfare)… the five shows that most impacted my life. These aren’t merely “favorites”—they’re my inspiration. The shows I was born for! So what better day to honor them than my birthday?
5. I Love Lucy
Ahh, the show that began my love affair with the sitcom. Yes, I do love Lucy. Who doesn’t? I was introduced to her by Nick at Nite in the early ‘90s, and her series promptly became my favorite TV show.
Something I’ve always liked about I Love Lucy is how the plot twists and turns in surprising ways before hitting the big, climactic scene. All the classic Lucy moments come from the big payoff, but the buildup is usually just as funny and almost never gives the climax away. Remember the one where Lucy is getting knives thrown at her? Being in a circus act is hardly the “plot” of that episode. It starts off—as many Lucy episodes do—with a bet: Ricky, Fred, and Ethel bet Lucy she can’t tell the truth for a full 24 hours. After a few scenes of side-splitting honesty, Lucy ends up at an audition, where she won’t be hired unless she lies about her experience. And in a turn of events you have to see to believe, she becomes the target in a knife-throwing act. That climax comes out of nowhere! But it’s well worth the wait.
On that same note, since most Lucy episodes are best recognized by their climax, I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve sat through half an episode before it finally hit me which one I was watching. “Oh! This is the one with the giant loaf of bread!” I might exclaim to myself. “But that part comes later.”
True, it comes later. But everything before it is just as funny.
4. Gilmore Girls
Stars Hollow is a magical little world—an unexpected mixture of “real” and “ideal” where even though the characters have their flaws, and personalities often clash, you somehow get the feeling that everything is going to be okay in the end.
But I didn’t always feel this way about Gilmore Girls. Though I loved it in the early years, I stopped watching when Rory went to college and lost her good judgment, as I saw it. It wasn’t until the series had been over for three years that I went back and finally finished it. And I found myself marveling at the writing. The realism behind the characters’ relationships is impeccable, particularly Lorelai and Emily’s strained mother-daughter ties. And the community of the small town, where everybody bickers but deep down would do anything for each other, is quite endearing and hard to dislike. After my viewing hiatus, I still didn’t agree with every little choice Lorelai and Rory made, but I realized that was the point. And that it made the series seem an awful lot like real life.
So why do I see the Gilmore Girls world as hopeful in the end? Because all relationships go through drama. And the most valuable ones survive it.
3. Zoobilee Zoo
Everyone’s entitled to their guilty pleasures. Mine is a Hallmark-sponsored kiddie show from the ‘80s starring adults dressed up in animal costumes. Uh… did I mention this is my guilty pleasure?
I’ve had to explain this series so many times, it’s become old-hat. (Isn’t it strange how no one understands an adult enjoying a children’s program? I mean, really!) Basically it’s a show about art and creativity. Zoobilee Zoo is a fictional little town inhabited by seven Zoobles, each of whom has a special talent—music, writing, acting, inventing, and so on. And with all that talent running around, you can be sure somebody’s going to do something creative in every episode.
The seven performers who played the Zoobles were simply awe-inspiring. In any given show, you might see them juggle, sing opera, do ballet, play the trumpet, tap dance, puppeteer, or lie on a bed of nails. But the characters they played were capable of even more than that. The Zoobles could do anything from writing a newspaper to inventing a time machine. And let me tell you, their world was full of fun adventures.
While I’ve mostly outgrown Lamb Chop, Sesame Street, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this one still entertains me. The scripts read like a traditional sitcom, only better because there’s singing, dancing, and wholesome lesson-learning going on all throughout.
Good clean fun never goes out of style.
2. The Facts of Life
Back in middle school, Jo, Blair, Natalie, and Tootie were some of my best friends. Together we laughed, together we learned, and together we faced the hardships of growing up.
The series’ message is summed up nicely in its theme song: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both, and there you have the facts of life.” That about says it all. Unlike many shows, which take a hodgepodge of one-liners and combine them with an irrelevant plot, this series dared to tackle some of life’s most difficult, relevant subjects before getting to the happy ending—drugs, sex, alcoholism, teen marriage, shoplifting, gossip, etc., etc., etc.
Of course, being a sitcom, the emphasis was always on the good, and they always tried to end on a happy note. But some episodes don’t even have a happy ending. They can’t. When you’re dealing with heavy issues like cancer or having an affair, lasting damage is done to the people involved. The pain doesn’t go away in 30 minutes. As I’m sure the Facts of Life writers realized, when creating a show that’s true to life, certain conflicts can only be addressed, not resolved.
You gotta wonder, how does such an edgy show come off as a comedy for young girls? It had heart. The main characters were like your closest friends—optimistic, pessimistic, naïve, experienced, ready to laugh, ready to cry, and everything in between. This show was brilliant.
1. The Dick Van Dyke Show
I’ve wanted to be a comedy writer ever since I could work the video camera, but that’s not why I love The Dick Van Dyke Show. I love it because it’s hilarious. It’s the life of a comedy writer… as written by comedy writers. Do premises get any more perfect than that? Nope, they don’t.
As usual, part of what I think makes this show great is that it’s realistic. I know I’ve been harping on that idea for a while now, but in this show’s case it’s especially true. Creator Carl Reiner specifically stated when the series began that he wanted these characters and situations to ring true for the audience, even if they were a little exaggerated for added humor. As a result, many episodes were based on real-life situations that had happened to the show’s writers and cast, and they have a certain homey feeling to them.
Honestly, I’m at a loss for further words, so I’ll simply let the show speak for itself. In this scene, Rob and Laura have overheard Jerry and Millie saying unkind things about them, and now, even though they’re both raging mad, they’ve still decided to attend the Helpers’ dinner party.
At the end of the day, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that Rob and Laura Petrie are real suburbanites living in
somewhere, that Rob works downtown with fellow writers Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers, and that on weekends they all enjoy card games with neighbors Jerry and Millie Helper. New Rochelle
I kind of wish I could go visit them all.