Married to the Box
Life after the season finale
My romance with TV started as all good shows must – with a hook. Growing up in a strict Christian household, certain programmes were off limits: Top Of The Pops (for the raunchy dancers), Dr Who (for the demonic daleks), and Monty Python (for the blatant blasphemy) to name but three. I don’t recall a desperate desire to seek out these particular shows; but I do remember the thrill of transgression upon discovering The Comic Strip Presents, Friday Night Live and The Tube. Women could be vulgar and butch and funny, who knew? My first taste of lefty politics came via stand-up routines; an early taste for satire definitely helped shape me ideologically where Dad’s daily rag of choice failed (The Sun until they backed Blaire and then The Express). I recall me and my brother huddled on the single bed of his shoe box room, turning the dial – yes, DIAL – on his twelve inch black and white – yes, BLACK AND WHITE – portable set to get Channel Four. Because 4 stood for everything edgy and risque and alternative.
The main difference between my generation and the digital natives when it comes to viewing habits is choice. Twenty-somethings are incapable of feeling the same attachment for a TV show as us because they’ve never had to sit through interminable hours of formulaic programming in the hope that some rare gem would eventually break up the boredom. Today, there’s no excuse. Even if their parents don’t fork out for the countless streaming services, the freeview channels alone are endless, you can easily spend an hour just flicking through the options and that’s more entertaining than half the shows were back in the day. Anyone who moans about having too much choice in entertainment has never had to exist on just three TV channels. So, no, you will never convince me that a Love Island superfan is as invested in the Insta-famous personality vacuums selected to compete for our attention as I was in Marty Hopkirk’s quest to bring his killer to justice or poor Timothy Lumsden’s quest to escape his battle-axe of a mother or Anneka’s quest to beat the clock and find the hidden treasure. The Adventure Game and its successor Crystal Maze have acquired a cult following of Gen Z sci-fi fans, but they can’t possibly appreciate the original wondrous appeal of the Planet Arg; they can only experience it in an ironic and retrospective way. Nor will they ever understand the magic of the medium itself; walking from the bus stop after a nine hour shift on a winter’s evening, turning the corner onto their street, the greeting of flickering lights illuminating living rooms, being magnetically drawn by that light and its power to transport – even if only for a few hours. Until the test card called time.
So, whether it was radical comedy or quirky science fiction, I was hooked by those rare eighties gems. Then came the honeymoon period. That time in any relationship where you will forgive anything, because, well, you’re in love and love is blind to the bad habits and stinky socks and forgotten birthdays. So I indiscriminately devoured the simple genius of The Royle Family and trite sentimentality of Cold Feet; the ground breaking spunk of Prime Suspect and middle of the road comradery of Minder; the surreal joy of Vic Reeves Big Night Out and inoffensive appeal of Noel’s House Party; the gritty slap of Playing The Field and Our Friends In The North and domestic tickle of Birds Of A Feather.
By the noughties we began to drift apart; we wanted different things. I returned to education, seeking the self-actualisation I had come to realise could not be found among the detritus of the factory floor. TV still wanted my undivided attention, but I had reading lists that demanded my time and thought. So I became more discerning. I shunned its attempts to smother me with the affection of old Friends; had no time for repeats of golden oldies or revamped, rebooted, rehashed versions; washed my hands of soaps in all their guises. We stayed together for the children because what hope did the Gallagher clan have with Frank as their responsible adult? But I Shamelessly carried on sleeping with classics and the TV stayed up all night, baring its soul to the sofa.
As with all long term relationships, before we eventually fizzled out and admitted to ourselves and the world that it was over, we had a short lived renaissance. TV finally agreed to take me to Scandinavia (we engaged in a little cosplay of our favourite noir characters – I donned an Icelandic wool jumper and you kept your overcoat on indoors). In return, I gave horror a try. For a whole year, while we binged like zombie cannibals on Walking Dead, I thought we might make it. But when it killed Glen – for real – it crossed a line. It knew I was grieving, but it just moved onto the next episode. That’s when I left. Went travelling. Did six whole weeks cold turkey – just books, swimming in the rain, and the scenery.
Ever since that we’ve been on again, off again more times than Ross and Rachel. I keep it in the background and, I’m not gonna lie, use it as an emotional crutch sometimes. Its hard to imagine meal times without it, but really, we’re living separate lives. It wants me to go for the full package: Sky, Disney+, Now and the rest, but I’ve told it I can’t commit to all that. All I want is a no strings, Freeview arrangement.
Recently I get the feeling it’s out for revenge. So, what it does is this: waits for me to get into something, watches an episode with me, then plays hard to get. Starts spooling with my affections. Or worse still, gives me the old ‘programme not available, try again later’ routine. And for a while, I let it get to me. Flew into rages, threw the remote at the wall, sobbed to my books about the unfairness of it all. But not any more. No TV, I will not be ruled by your bad connection and broadband shortfalls; I see through all those character dimensions and cliffhanger endings. You do not complete me – a TV dinner without you is still all the food for thought I need. I don’t need to escape, I need to face life head on and write my own narrative. And I don’t need to see it projected back at me through your screen. Down with TV dependency. Vive La Revolution!
[In the words of Gil Scott-Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.]