This is a post about television. I spent a huge number of years of my life watching little to no television so if you hate television I completely respect that. And I’d agree that most of it is bullshit. On occasion though a series, when you let it, can really steal you away. It goes from being just TV to being cinematic. Of course the best way to view something like this is all at once, a full season at a time. Anyone who ever watched The Wire or Deadwood in a single sitting can testify to that. These shows have the ability to steal you away. To forcefully pull you into their universe. It’s not terribly different that what you want from a good film, and that’s what good TV is all about.
And you can’t have good shows without good characters. The ones you can relate to, or the ones you wish you could. The fantasy of living in the shoes of a good character can be addictive.
One of my earliest TV memories ever took place when I was 3 or 4 years old, I would watch Welcome Back Kotter and felt a strong connection to the Sweathogs. Even at that early age I was drawn to the outsiders. I used to have a pair of jeans that, while I don’t remember a thing about them, must have somehow been similar to the clothes the guys on the show wore because I had to wear them anytime I was watching it. I was too young to understand that there was really no chance of the actors on my TV screen looking back out into the world of eyes glued on them, spotting me, and being so impressed by my jeans that they’d pull me into the program and I could hang out with them. Part of it was that I didn’t fully understand the technology behind these moving pictures being beamed into my house, but part of it was that I felt comfortable in the universe the writers had created and could see myself being friends with the characters. In a way I’ve judged much of the entertainment I’ve been exposed to sense through a similar lens – could I see myself as a part of this.
Movies, music, everything – the things that I have the strongest connections and attachements too are the ones that I can relate to.
That’s one of the reasons I love Girls so hard. I read a comment about it early on in the first seasons, written by someone I’ve forgotten but have immense respect for because they completely nailed it. They noted that the thing about Girls that will freak people out the most is that the main characters aren’t the pretty people. They aren’t the perfect ones or the ones that have it all figured out. Quite the oposite, they are flawed and ugly and fat and scared and lost. But most importantly – they are comfortable with that. They like themselves. Any other show that had characters like any of the people on Girls would put them in the jester roll, jokes would be made at their expense and there would be some storyline floating around about how these people wanted to “change” and be like everyone else. Lena Dunham has done the world an amazing service with this series by creating these characters who don’t give a fuck about any of that. I feel like these characters are in my circle of friends.
I wish I had role models like this when I was growing up. It would have been so awesome to know that it’s OK to not have all the answers, and it’s OK to make mistakes while trying to figure them out.
Punk rock gave me a great set of tools for not giving a shit what other people thought about me, but it took a long time for me to be OK with the person I actually was. Figuring that shit out and accepting it is no small task. It would have been awesome to know other people had made it through to the other side and survived.
Californication hits a lot of those same notes as well, if exaggerated for amusement. It’s different from Girls because I don’t actually relate to anyone and certainly not to any of the situations – but the personal connections between the people are as real as I’ve ever seen. You can feel the buzz when things are working out and the longing and heartbreaks actually hurt. And again you are given these terribly flawed characters who are aware and comfortable with their own flaws. They have flaws, their friends have flaws. The people they love have flaws. And yet they are still friends, and they are still in love. Flaws and all. I feel a similar longing that I think I used to feel watching Welcome Back Kotter when I watch Californication. Not that I want to hang out with any of those people, but that I want to be surrounded by people that know me, know my flaws, have seen me at my best and my worst and still want to be my friend. I have a very few friends like this, but not enough. Most of us are much better at throwing flawed people away. And that’s what makes it good TV.