One common thread most of us have in our lives is a childhood of television favorites. From those of us who grew up with television playing a big part in our free time to those who only had a short time a day to take in our preferred programming, we all get transported back to a simpler time when we see those shows we watched so many years ago.
I've been told by my brother that one of the first shows I took to watching over and over (and over) was a VHS copy of two episodes of Teen Wolf: The Animated Series. Not only do I have zero recollection of this (I actually had to look it up to make sure such a show ever existed) but I couldn't tell you the first thing about anything Teen Wolf. My knowledge of the franchise is this: Michael J. Fox did the first movie, Jason Bateman the second. That is it. But it's inarguable that it may be one of my earliest exposures to television.
Next came the obvious classics as a child: Looney Tunes, Muppet Babies and Sesame Street. To this day, I'll sit down and watch a good Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck cartoon, having seen it at least a hundred times before and still laugh. I enjoyed Sesame Street but was less enthused by its obvious attempts to teach me something. How dare they pepper in useful tidbits between segments starring Elmo and Big Bird?
I shouldn't leave out one very important part of my childhood: wrestling. My grandfather, my uncle and my brother all loved wrestling. I have to point out that we are not, in fact, a bunch of hillbilly rednecks. Canada does have those, even around here, but just because we loved wrestling didn't mean we were rednecks. Still, I can't deny my adoration for all things Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and Undertaker from my childhood. I can still watch it occasionally to this day, but the early 1990s era of wrestling was my generation and always will be to me.
After that I began my quest to laugh. As I neared double digits in age, I began watching family-friendly favorites: Home Improvement, Full House, Family Matters and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. 90s television at its safest. Once I learned how to record on a VCR, I taped as many episodes of Home Improvement as I could. I was less involved in Full House (it blew my mind when I found out TWO separate people played the role of Michelle... what a weird world) and Family Matters, while the only show out of all four that I can still watch is Fresh Prince. It's not exactly timeless, but it is the most accessible in my mid-20s.
Recording on VHS tapes (I never called them VHS until DVD started driving them out of all stores) was as important to me as homework and time with friends. I literally had stacks of VHS tapes for a better part of my life. I recorded everything on those tapes. I can very easily get nostalgic and sad for a time long gone when I see old VHS tapes at a thrift store. It just seemed like a simpler time to me when VHS ruled, DVD was in an infantile stage and Laserdisc was the next big thing.
Of course, in retrospect, VHS was wrong in just about every other way. It was clunky, took up far too much space, had zero of the features given today on DVD and Bluray and was one SOB when the tape itself got jumbled up in the VCR. Was there anything more aggravating than when you took out a VHS tape from the machine and the tape itself stayed in, separating itself from the tape? It was like you lost a friend. You could wind it back up with those two white turners, but you knew it was damaged goods. The perfect playback was gone and would give way to annoying white lines jumping up and down the screen once it hit that particular spot. Damn those VHS tapes. To hell with ever feeling nostalgic anymore!
Home Improvement and Full House eventually ended and they gave way to my love for more mature comedy. It wasn't long before I fell in love with Seinfeld, Frasier and Friends. Hard to believe that at one time, NBC was the premiere place for all things sitcom. Not that The Office, Parks & Recreation and Community don't have their own fans, but no where near the level of the 1990s on NBC. Seinfeld and Friends were easy sells for me. Sure, I wasn't quite sure what "master of my domain" meant at the time or what part of the female anatomy Dolores rhymed with, but I still loved it. Frasier was a tougher sell. Now I consider these three shows my favorite sitcoms of all time, but Frasier was so smart and high-brow at times, I didn't get the humor. Of course it would go over the head of a 10-year-old, but eventually I came to enjoy the antics of Frasier and Niles Crane.
I can't write a proper tribute to my childhood without mentioning Game Show Network. At one time (when it was still called that, and not just GSN) I loved the classic game shows showcased on the network: Match Game, Card Sharks, Family Feud (Richard Dawson FTW!) and The Hollywood Squares. Not the Whoopi version either. I'm talking Paul Lynde, Peter Marshall, Wally Cox, Wayland Flowers and Madame, Charo! Match Game was my favorite. I feel like I'm one of the few 25-year-olds who knows and instantly recognizes the names Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers, Nipsey Russell, Bill Daly, and the greatest game show host of all time, Gene Rayburn. I even nicknamed my cat after Charles Nelson Reilly when she came home from the vet after getting spayed and wearing a stylish bandana around her neck. For the record, I didn't put it on her, they did. For the record, I also didn't take it off, she did. But for a brief period, she was Charles Nelson Millie. The reference still tickles the ol' funny bone.
And it goes without saying that a childhood of game shows was led by Bob Barker and The Price is Right, the classiest of all game show hosts. Nevermind Alex Trebek and his incredible ability to correctly pronounce EVERYTHING, Barker was classy. And who doesn't love Plinko? Once you heard those magic words "You're going to play Plinko!", you prayed someone smart was playing. And once they disappointed everyone by only getting one damn chip, you prayed they would get $0 for being a dummy and wasting your time. It's no fun unless they have AT LEAST four chips. Everyone knows that.
I've mentioned so many favorites, but there is only one show I will always classify as my favorite show of all time: The X-Files. It's not just the 202 episodes and two feature films that define it for me. Of course the first few seasons were far better than the last few seasons. Of course it had many mediocre episodes. Of course it should have ended a season or two earlier. It still defines part of me. For a time, I had all the VHS tapes, tons of books on the show, various other odds and ends involving the show. I wrote fan fiction for the show. And I can say with certainty that my first full-blown love interest was Gillian Anderson. I, like many others, loved her. At the time, I couldn't imagine finding anyone else hotter than her. Of course today, there are a ton of actresses I think are as hot or hotter than Scully, but at the time, she was it. She was the one.
I didn't come to The X-Files from the start or by my own doing. In fact, at the time, I was much too scared to expose myself to aliens, monsters and CSM. One night in late 1997, I sat watching television on a Friday night. By this time, new episodes aired on Sunday, but repeats aired on Friday. I had a toothache at the time and didn't bother changing the channel. When the show started, I was mildly intrigued by the mystery of the week (for those who care, it was the Season 1 episode "Ice") and stuck with it. And so it began. Pretty soon I was watching weekly while bugging my uncle's wife to loan me her tapes of old episodes.
One thing The X-Files did was brought me and my father together to spend time together. It's not like we didn't spend time together before, but this was different. We both loved the show instantly. Right until the end of the show's run, we looked forward to Monday afternoons after school when we would watch the show from the night before. My father and I would go on to spend a ton of time together watching TV. I always made time watch old X-Files, as well as Lost, 24 and most recently, Fringe. I always made sure that no matter how busy I was, I always made time for him.
What brought me to write about my childhood? Two years ago this coming Sunday, my father passed away at 55. It's not something I'll ever get over or forget, but I was able to move forward very early on afterwards. I miss him every single day and I especially miss our time together, watching TV and eating a frozen pizza on a Saturday afternoon. The X-Files isn't just a show about aliens and government conspiracies to me. The X-Files takes me back to this very enjoyable time in my life that wasn't that long ago.
I consider myself privileged to have such a relationship with both my parents. I still make sure to make time to spend with my mother. You only get one mother and one father in life, and I know there are a lot of people in this world who have neither in their lives for various reasons. But I not only had both in my life but realized at an early age that my parents weren't that bad. I learned so much from my father. My sense of humor came from him. He made me laugh all the time. I try to remember these moments every day because I know he would hate it that I remember him with tears and not laughs.
The day before he died, we started watching Breaking Bad. We got through three episodes. On the third episode, the weight of the human soul is discussed at length throughout the episode. I don't know if you can put much stock into stuff like that, but it still interests me. It's also funny that the first episode of The X-Files we watched together (Season 5's Bad Blood) was written by Vince Gilligan, the same guy who wrote the last show we watched together. It kind of came full circle.
Television is still a part of my life but I have so many fond memories of my childhood and the TV shows I watched. The way certain smells can unlock memories in your head is the same way I feel when I see a certain show or episode I recall from fifteen years ago. Many times I can transport myself back to the day and time in my life. I'm not the type to dwell on the past, and I don't believe my best days are behind me, but it doesn't mean I don't hold these memories very near and dear to my heart.
Thank you for everything, Dad.