A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
They say that the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, here goes! My name is WD, and I’m an addict. Hard to believe, but it’s true. Despite what you see, I’m stuck in a secret cycle of abuse. Oh, I’m good at hiding it, denying it. I only use it to relax – unwind. I can quit anytime I want to. But no, I can’t. I’ve tried. I’m an addict. For me, one is one too many and even a whole series is never enough.
I guess my story’s the usual one. It all started innocently enough; just a few school boys having a bit of a vicarious adventure. I don’t remember who tried it first, but by the end of the summer, all my friends and I were doing it every weekend. For a while, it was all we could talk about. Fortunately, the habits of the young are fickle, and when school started, most of my friends drifted away to homework and hockey practice. However, I remained, every weekend, watching black and white back-to-back reruns of Richard Greene’s Robin Hood and Roger Moore in Ivanhoe. Soon, an hour a week simply wasn’t enough, and I began experimenting on my own – searching for a bigger thrill. It was then that I discovered … Doctor Who. I remember thinking, I’ll just try it and if I don’t like it, I can always change the channel. But I didn’t. I watched it all, even the credits, in the gathering twilight of an autumn afternoon. It was a wonderful excitement, exhilarating and confused. I was too young to truly understand what Time Lords were or the symbiotic relationship Who had with the Companion, but I wanted to know. I wanted to open my perceptions to the sophisticated storylines, explore the language, and fill my senses with the ideas that I never found on regular TV. I didn’t know it then, but I think I was already addicted — to British Television.
From Doctor Who, it was easy to graduate to watching The Saint. After all, Roger Moore was just Ivanhoe in a tuxedo – wasn’t he? No, he was more than that — stronger, with deeper plots and worldly situations. Then it was The Avengers. Just as my pubescent friends were discovering the hidden fantasies of Barbara Eden’s belly button, I had Diana Rigg all to myself. For a teenage boy, Emma Peel had a dizzying depth of character, compared to Anthony Nelson’s do-as-you’re-told Jeannie or the submissive Samantha Stevens. She was my fee verte and I was a slave to her. Sated with suggested sex, mystery and espionage, when The Prisoner was broadcast in the early 70s, I was unable to resist. I wallowed in its nonlinear drama, letting it wash over me, week after week, until — hauntingly unresolved — it ended, and left me empty and cold.
I should have stopped then – gone cold turkey — but I was ready for the hard stuff: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Speedball comedy with a walloping high so potent that even today I find myself laughing outrageously in its ethereallic flashbacks. The Pythons opened my mind to non sequitur, the absurd, the tilted storyline, bizarre characterization and oh, so much more. I don’t know how many traditional motifs I abandoned that winter. It’s all a blur to me now. But at the end of it, I knew I was never going back to American sitcoms. I was hooked.
Since those heady days, I’ve spent the last forty years trying to recapture the roll-off-the-sofa/pee-your-pants-funny the Pythons delivered. Through Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, Yes, Minister, Red Dwarf, Ab Fab, The Office and so many others, I’ve spent my life seeking bygone high. And it’s not just comedy; it’s drama, too. I eat British mysteries like a starving man at a barbeque. The only thing that saves me from utter degradation is I have always had a violent allergic reaction to Jane Austen. Without that I’d be up to my eyes in costume dramas and Downton Abbey.
Today, British television is easy to find — if you know where to look. My dealers have always been PBS and The Knowledge Network, but I’ve recently found other ways to feed my habit. Last fall, I watched all ten seasons of MI5, in less than three weeks, on Netflix. These nights, when the world is asleep, I turn on YouTube and watch full episodes of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Cracker, The Inbetweeners and even grainy bits of Jimmy Nail’s Spender.