Acceptable in the 90s

Over the last few days I’ve spent an unusual amount of time bonding with my sofa (so much time that I’m very aware of how many springs are now defunct and am currently pondering whether the purchasing of a new one is viable) and throwing myself into a time-warp – a 1990’s time-warp to be precise.

The DVD boxset is a beautiful addition to life. No longer do we need to reminisce about long-lost TV series – a few minutes online and they can be winging their way towards us. However, it can be a dangerous territory to enter, as it may lead to the shattering of our rose-tinted nostalgic memories with the realisation that more than a decade on, these fondly remembered shows really aren’t quite what we thought they were.

Last week I acquired the first seasons of two classic 90s series: Party of Five (1994-2000) and Ally McBeal (1997-2002) [the latter was a total bargain – £5 in Oxfam]. Whilst I was excited to be reunited with two old friends, there was a niggling concern in the back of my mind that perhaps I was about to be deeply disappointed…

The biggest risk was the post-feminist legal shenanigans of McBeal & Co. Despite controversy over its short skirts and uber-thin cast, it was still a favourite show of me and my friends while in Sixth Form and into university. [I cried so much the night Billy was killed off that my photography student flatmate used me as a model for a series she was creating on addiction – I played an alcoholic.] My theme song on our post-school mix-CD was Ally’s theme song [the still apt Tell Him], and our “we watch far too much TV song” was the Barry White tune the staff of Cage & Fish danced to in their unisex toilets (follow that link, it’s near perfection).

Not only was there the chance that I might not like it so much on second viewing, there was also the issue of its rather surreal moments – the inflating heads, gigantic tongues and dancing baby – amongst others. Any child of the 1980s who’s watched the classic BBC Chronicles of Narnia as an adult knows the pain of magical special effects looking tired and amateur in the cold-light of 21st century progression. Fortunately, they still work – at least I think they do, I’ve not got to the dancing baby yet.

Even better, it’s all still watchable. The jokes are funny – Elaine the crazy secretary is still hilarious (especially when wearing her face bra) and the legal cases bizarre. My only issue is that then, I aspired to be Ally – well, not exactly Ally, I fancied myself as a glamorous lawyer in Boston, not a desperate singleton. Now I actually am Ally – well the desperate (ish) singleton of a similar age; less so the short skirts, skeletal thin-ness and lawyer skills. Scary stuff.

And on to the rather less surreal and ever so much more gritty Party of Five. It’s lovely – sad, rather angsty and a tad unrealistic – but lovely. Or is it simply that I could watch Matthew Fox and his early 90s curtained hair for hour upon hour? Sure the fashions have aged (though I believe flannel shirts are making a comeback and I honestly think I’d do anything for a slightly needy, longish-haired man in a flannel shirt…) and music’s moved on, but this is good drama in a similar vein to early ER. It must be good as I watched eight episodes in the space of 24 hours.

Plus, I finally realised that the moment in the opening titles that I’d always thought showed Bailey and Charlie (the aforementioned Matthew Fox) washing a car is in fact them sanding some wood – even more manly [watching this again I see that it’s quite obvious what they’re doing – I was a fool, clearly]. For your viewing pleasure:

In conclusion, I’m happy to say that both pass muster in the new century – just as My So Called Life proved last year. (Honestly, it’s actually fabulously written and compelling.) Sadly, what really doesn’t is my old favourite of Dawson’s Creek – I’m not sure it’ll ever be a classic, but it will comfort me from time to time in my old age…

As a final tip, if you’re searching for some classic boxsets, check out the Guardian’s weekly recommendations. It’s a highly diverse list and contains plenty of gems you’ll have completely forgotten about.

On trains, it is best not to…

…watch movies with lots of naked people in – it makes your fellow passengers wonder if you’re watching porn.

Had I had internet on my journey to the shire, my facebook status would’ve read:
“Liz chose the wrong film to watch on a crowded train – SATC simply looks like porn to the casual observer.”

Sex and the City isn’t the only, seemingly innocent (ok, not so innocent, but it’s hardly an 18!) that this is a problem with. Love, Actually can also be a bit of an issue, what with that storyline with the naked body doubles. (My sister realised this on a train up to Preston a couple of years ago.)

The other problem with watching stuff in public is reacting to it a little too strongly. Like my habit of applauding when something I’ve wanted to happen happens…I actually did that when I watched Luke & Lorelai finally get together (Gilmore Girls) on the way to Exeter months ago. I guess laughing’s ok – in moderation; shouting at the screen probably isn’t; crying is usually problematic…maybe all I need is some self-restraint. Such a shame that quality’s so hard to come by!

You know you’ve been blogging too long when…

…you compose a post in your head on your way home, start writing it and then realise that you’d written pretty much the same thing not more than 15 months ago. Rubbish.

Basically, my idea stemmed from my discovery that this weekend is the Queer Arts Festival at the Queens Film Theatre in Belfast – my parents’ local arts cinema. I’m popping over the Irish Sea this weekend and trips to the QFT are a regular fixture (parents are members, it’s very cheap and shows excellent art house films), so whilst I was intrigued by Big Gay Musical, I have the feeling it wouldn’t be quite my parents’ thing…or rather, it’s not the kind of thing I fancy watching with my parents.

You know how it is, you kind of want to keep your parents thinking that you’re sweet and innocent, or at least a ‘good girl’, so it isn’t the done thing for them to see you laughing at possibly dodgy jokes, or understanding double entendres…

For example, when I was a student, it was perfectly ok that the whole family liked watching Graham Norton (the original show, when it was still hilarious), but not ok for us to watch it in the same room. The main purpose of the TV upstairs was so that me & my sister could watch it and laugh without the risk of judgement.

It works with friends’ parents too – especially when so many of them are also vicars. A few years ago I went to see The History Boys with (but sitting separately from) the parents of a friend who was in it. I was so glad they couldn’t see me during the show because my understanding of all the jokes would totally have shattered their golden image of me. (Although interestingly, going to see the same production with my own parents was not too much of an issue, perhaps because I’d seen it so many times by then I knew when to control myself!)

This train of thought concluded with the realisation that a back-up plan to go to the cinema would be watching a DVD, perhaps the excellent French film (Tell No One) that I gave my Dad in the summer. That’s when I remembered that the main characters are naked for a good part of the beginning of the film…think I could probably deal with that.

Customer Service

One thing that even the shortest period of working in retail gives you is a very high regard for customer service. Thanks to my days of toil in various bookshops I know what the rights of the consumer are; I have enough respect for cashiers to not talk on my mobile whilst paying for goods; I will stand my ground when returning faulty goods; and, most of all, I expect shop assistants in certain shops to know their onions…
Yesterday I had some time to kill in Birmingham, so I decided to tick a few things off my to-do list by heading over to the glorious (but architecturally controversial) Bullring for some retail therapy. Top of my list were some DVDs for my father’s imminent birthday, so I headed to HMV.
HMV is one of those ‘certain shops’ whose employees I believe should know their stuff – it’s the same case for bookstores and little specialist ones. Sometimes I like to give such assistants challenges, just for my amusement. Other times I just end up revealing what an utter idiot I am, unable to perform even the simplest shopping tasks.
I had chosen in advance two films that I’d seen in recent months which I knew my Dad would enjoy. Problem was, I couldn’t remember the exact title for either. I knew roughly what one was, but couldn’t find it. The other was French and I had no idea of either it’s French or English title.
There was no other option but to ask for help and the ensuing conversation went something like this:
ME: “Excuse me, I’m looking for a couple of DVDs but I can’t remember their titles – could you help me?”
ASSISTANT: [Gives me a withering look and sighs] “Yes, possibly, how much do you know about them?”
ME: “Erm, the first one is French. It’s got Kristen Scott-Thomas in it – but it’s not the one she got an Oscar nomination for last year. It’s a detective type film.”
ASSISTANT: “Right…I think I’ll just have to read out the list of films she’s been in. Will you recognise it if you hear it?”
ME: “Errr, possibly.” [Really not sure that I will.]
ASSISTANT reads out long list of films including ones that quite obviously are not French (like The Horse Whisperer) and eventually gets to Tell No One.
ME: “That’s the one! Great.”
ASSISTANT: [Stating the bleeding obvious] “It’ll be in our World Cinema section.”
ME: “Ok, one other film. I thought it was called ‘In the Wild’, but I couldn’t find it. It’s set in Alaska and there’s a campervan…”
ASSISTANT: [Cutting me off mid-sentence] “You mean Into the Wild. It’s under ‘I’ in the Feature Films section.”
ME: [Feeling rather sheepish] “Thank you so much, you’ve been very helpful.”
I returned 3 minutes later with both films, hoping to prove that I wasn’t such an idiot after all. I was somewhat relieved to be served by a different assistant.
The moral of this story is two-fold.
(i) Do your research before shopping.
(ii) Don’t treat shop assistants like idiots – they often know much more than they’re given credit for and will one day come to your rescue when you’re looking for ‘that book that was Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime three and a half weeks ago’. (Trust me, that was a genuine customer enquiry once upon a time!)
The Bullring’s Selfridges. Honestly, what’s there not to like?

Box set fever [Updated]

I need help.

I’ve been spending far too long in the town of Stars Hollow (aka location of feel-good show Gilmore Girls). It’s not an obsession, just a very happy place to spend a couple of hours of an evening or a weekend morning.

Here’s the thing: back in January I bought the first three seasons rather cheaply and ever since it’s been the perfect escapism, however, I’m one episode away from finishing Season 3 and none of the others have been released in the UK. (Fools…)

Luckily, I’ve found an affordable multi-region Season 4 and Season 5 may become affordable soon. Seasons 6 & 7 might appear at some point. My need to complete may go unfulfilled.

The reason I need help (in this instance) is that I feel I may need to branch out a bit in my DVD TV watching, so I’d like suggestions. The joy of the DVD boxset is that it’s pure escapism, which unlike a show on TV, you can watch continuously for as long as you can bear to.

I’m open to new things, and have eclectic taste, so ideas would be very, very welcome!

[Alternatively, if you have suggestions as to how I might get more of a life, they’d be appreciated too!]

Update: The glorious Abidemi made a comment to the original post, suggesting surfthechannel.com, where you can find almost anything online. This has resulted in my rediscovery of Felicity (which is good, 90s, chick-flick drama); but I’d like more suggestions of stuff that might be a bit of a departure from that kind of thing!