The intimacy of watching television is different than bonding with movies or music. Whenever I enter new periods of confusion in my life, I make it a point to rewatch the The Graduate (1967) or blast the electric “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” Live 1966 “Royal Albert Hall” version of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” I pursue the familiar wisdom born of disillusionment in these pieces of art because it’s comforting and gives me hope. Television shows come to me as ever-changing episodes that demand my attention in the present moment. Whatever happens in my life between these installments informs my perspective on the stories and characters.
Certain television shows become our favorites due to what I call the Four Factors of Televisual Familiarity. Before you alert the Pretentiousness Police, hear me out. First, we usually find the shows that become our favorites during transformative periods in our lives. One such case for me is the classic All in the Family (1971-1979), which I obsessively watched in reruns as my political points of view were beginning to form in high school. Watching “Archie Bunker” (Carroll O’Connor) lash out against a draft dodger was the first time I thought about the ethics of war. I remember listening to the radio news report on March 20, 2003 announcing the United States was invading Iraq and wondering what Archie would think. The second factor that leads to tv devotion is someone you love turning you on to a particular program. My biological father introduced me to the sitcom Perfect Strangers (1986-1993). The show became a part of my everyday life when my dad and I used to go for walks past a neighbor’s house that had a life-size cardboard cutout of “Larry Appleton” (Mark Linn-Baker) standing in his driveway. I used to watch the show for sentimental reasons after my parents divorced. Sadly, I never found out what happened to cardboard “Larry.” Next up is sex appeal. I genuinely enjoy Beverly Hills 90210 (1990-2000) — I’ve seen every episode about a dozen times at this point — but my infatuation with “Kelly Taylor” made sure I was parked in front of the tv every week. Is it weird to thank Jennie Garth for helping me through puberty? Finally, there are programs that help us develop professional dreams and attitudes we carry into adulthood. By this I mean shows that give us characters we want to be. 30 Rock (2006-2013) cemented my desire to be a tv writer in New York City. I romanticized the career and lifestyle of “Liz Lemon” (Tina Fey) in the hopes of emulating her path. These four categories are not exclusive. Most of the time they blend into an ideological and emotional montage through which we see our own experiences edited together.
The magic of television is that we get to change with the shows and characters we love. In our current binge-watching era, I’m inclined to watch shows more than once, projecting new bits of my psyche onto the stories each time. The increased control over viewing habits also allows me to return to shows that informed significant periods in my life and re-evaluate their meaning. That’s why I was excited to learn that the cult-favorite Ed, another of my all-time favorite shows, was posted on YouTube.
The comedy-drama ran on NBC from 2000 to 2004, the same period I was in high school. It informed my beliefs about love, friendship, and creating a place for yourself to belong. My one big difference with the show’s protagonist “Edward ‘Ed’ Stevens” (Tom Cavanagh) was with his idea of “home.” When I was a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of my small New Jersey hometown and away from family drama. “Ed,” on the other hand, relishes going back to his his hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio, after getting fired and finding his wife cheating. Today it’s thirteen years since the show’s cancellation, and I want to perform an experiment to see how my relationship to the show has changed. I want to dive deep into myself and see how I’ve changed in the last thirteen years. I’m curious to know what the show has to teach me now that I’m 30. Tune in next time.