I love summer. I love every last aspect of it, even sunburns and heat-waves and mosquitoes, if only because it’s not really summer without them. I even love summer television. It always seems gloriously good or gloriously bad, not to mention strange. In comparison, the fall line ups always seem so tame and colorless. I’ve gotten a bit spoiled, these last few years, with cable and hulu and the ever-growing trend of releasing even long forgotten cult hits onto DVD.
But during this dry and dull June, I’ve been thinking back to my high school and early college years, when unbearably boring and inescapably hot late nights were filled with tongue-in-cheek B horror films and random cheesy late night television. Summer has the tendency to strip of us of all modesty and dignity, especially if it gets hot enough. We slump. We sprawl. We wear things that are outrageously skimpy, ill-fitting, or unfashionable. And we watch and read things that we’d usually be too proud to. So why not embrace it? I’m going to bare my soul and reveal those late night shows I fondly recall from many a sweltering summer. It’s my list of shame. Subtly and brilliance are wasted on heat-induce insomnia, so let’s revel in the bad, the cheesy, and the tongue-in-cheek.
1. Star Trek: Voyager.
Ah, Star Trek: Voyager. Star Trek meets Lost in Space. Voyager had the mission to boldly go and try to use every cliche science fiction trope it could find. Here’s the thing about Voyager, though. It has a bad reputation, certainly. And a good many of the criticisms sent its way were quite justified. However, it was also capable of being good fun, if not quality television. It helps if you are not particularly invested in the franchise. If you’re not worrying about how it may be forever tarnishing the Star Trek brand, you can enjoy even its weakest characteristics- at least when it’s outrageously late and you’ve nothing better to do. If it were absurd or inconsistent, that’s just to be expected. If the character development were lacking or bizarre, it is maybe a little disappointing but not as outrageously frustrating as it is in shows with more potential. And less than stellar writing can be excused as long as it is self-aware enough to be funny. As a result of this- and with a few infamous exceptions (even people who haven’t watched it have heard of the garbage that was “Threshold”)- I did genuinely enjoy watching Voyager, and it is a fundamental component to any nostalgia I feel for those nights trapped in an oven of a house in my mind-numbingly boring hometown.
2. I Dream of Jeannie
It may have been an unrepentant “Bewitched” knock-off, but I always liked it more. I don’t think I need to point out why this show wasn’t great television. It wasn’t trying to be, which is part of its charm. Man meets genie, sets genie free. Genie follows him home, falls in love with him, hilarity ensues. There is absolutely nothing in there that screams of greatness…but by the same token, there’s not even a hint of pretension, either. By far, the greatest criticism I ever hear launched at it is that it was a knock-off of “Bewitched”, without the redeeming feature of being perhaps proto-feminist. I’m not convinced, but it doesn’t matter. It was silly, the cast had pretty good chemistry, and I had a little crush on Major Nelson, even if he was a bit of a twit (unlike Darren, who was a tool of epic proportions). I was pretty fond of this show, and it was one of the most enjoyable parts of summer-induced insomnia. I liked the first season best of all, perhaps because the dynamics were a little bit more interesting. It reminds me of the old Plautine comedies in which the slave was actually the only one in charge of the situation- readers may be familiar with Pseudolus in the modern adaption, “Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Jeannie may call Tony ‘master,’ but at least in the beginning, it’s about her desires, not his- she’s bored, and decides that he represents a good time. He doesn’t seem to mind that she has magical powers, nor that she uses them; he just wants to be allowed to live his own life, and tension arises from the fact that she has very different ideas. Of course, this is probably the only way it could have been done without causing too much outrage- to do otherwise would have brought the show uncomfortable close to ‘happy slave’ territory- but I like it, and since it’s a summer shame, I don’t feel the need to justify it. It may have just been reasserting the normative gender roles while (and by) subverting them, but since the whole purpose of this kind of television is to “get stupid” for a while, as a roommate of mine used to say, I think we can let it slide, don’t you?
3. She Spies
She Spies- three beautiful (if a bit ditzy) cons are sprung from jail in order to work for a secret agency in a show that never tried to hide the fact that it was reminiscent of “Charlie’s Angels”. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? I did not want to watch this show. It looked stupid, insulting, stupid, and sexist. My sister and I actually got into fight over it one night, because she wanted to watch it and I would have gladly blown up the TV if that would have kept it from polluting our living room. It was the whole Barney situation all over again. But fortunately for me, my sister won that one – by dragging mom into it, the little brat. So I sulked and pouted as only a teenager can, and was as disparaging as possible. All I succeeded in doing was making a fool of myself, because the show turned out to be awesome. There was absolutely no point in making fun of it, because its sole goal seemed to be to make fun of itself. My pouting and criticisms were like accusing “Blazing Saddles” of historical inaccuracy: it just went to show I was missing the point. The first season never took anything seriously. It parodied pretty much every spy-thriller trope it could get its grubby little hands on, and as far as the show was concerned, the fourth wall did not exist. It reveled in being the best cheesy late-night action-adventure show it could possibly be. It was the quintessential summer show, the acme of everything I love about summer television. It was funny, it was silly, it had plenty of ass-kicking goodness. What more could you ask for? Well, except for a decent second season that didn’t throw out everything that made it good, but there’s no point in dwelling on that.
4. The Simpsons
This may seem like a strange entry to find on a list of shame, if for no other reason than that “the Simpsons” remains fairly popular. “Futurama” probably wouldn’t raise many eyebrows, as it nominally does fit the category better- somewhat off-kilter, more of a cult-hit, and the humor was far geekier. It was on Adult Swim on Cartoon Network for many years after its cancellation, giving it bona fide late-night credentials. But here’s my dirty little secret:I loved “Futurama”, and enjoy it just as much if not more even outside the late-night cheese context. I cannot say the same for “the Simpsons,” and that’s where the shame comes in, because admitting that tends to elicit reactions of shock and disbelief, and accusations of being a humorless bore. Truth be told, I have no problem with “the Simpsons”, but I have never been able to get into it in the same way I can “Futurama”. The humor always seemed more stupid and more superficial, and the stories were so random as to be unsatisfying. “Futurama”, strangely enough, had tighter characterization and plotting, something I appreciate even in silly shows. But in the wee hours of those long and boring summers, I found I did have some love for “the Simpsons.” Jokes that in a different context left me irritated or impatient caused me to giggle instead. The randomness and lack of plot did not bother me because I was too brain-fried to care. There’s something about watching television at absurd hours with other people that’s fun all on its own. This may explain the popularity of some of the more random late-night offerings on college campuses.
So ends my list of summer shame. I’ve shown you mine, now you show me yours. What summer shows have you secretly and shamelessly indulged in?