Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Second One With the Writing Prompt (or The Interstitials)

Sometimes, when you're trying to be creative, the ideas flow from your brain. And sometimes your brain gets constipated. When that happens, you pull out a writing prompt from your Writer's Book of Tricks.

So, here goes. My life growing up, for better or worse, centered a fair amount on popular media of the 80s. The question this week is:

What are 5 television shows that affected you growing up?

1. M*A*S*H

This one will always be at the top of the list when talking about television shows of the 80s. While it was primarily a product of the 70s, I knew it more from the syndicated reruns that played constantly during my adolescent years. Dad was huge fan, as I've pointed out previously. If M*A*S*H was on network somewhere, there's a better than average chance that it was on the TV in our house, at least when dad was home. I never really asked dad what he liked about the show, whether it was the actors, the writing, the situations, etc. Whatever the reason, he got a lot of enjoyment from it.

While me liking the show certainly wasn't a forgone conclusion, it was fortunate that I enjoyed it for as much as it was on in the house. It was uproariously funny and heartbreakingly serious at the same time. The variety of subject matter from episode to episode kept it from being a completely formulaic sitcom and turned it into something truly special. Alan Alda was by far my favorite actor on the show, but I disliked none of the actors on the show. Even someone as deplorable as Larry Linville's Frank Burns was fun to watch because the actor was legitimately enjoyable.

M*A*S*H taught me that joy can come out of tragedy.

2. The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour

I watched cartoons on Saturday morning, like every other kid growing up in the 70s and 80s. And while there were a plethora of cartoon options during that 6 hour span of time across 3 networks, there were very few that I watched with as much regularity as The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour. The funny thing is, there was rarely anything new about the weekly show. Each episode was comprised of a number of Looney Tunes shorts, primarily from the 50s and 60s, programmed over and over again in different combinations.

Of course, it helps that nearly every single one is a timeless classic. Legendary animation directors like Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Robert McKimson created animated short subjects that were engaging, entertaining, and told a story in 8 minutes. The short running time was perfect for a young mind that found it hard to concentrate on anything for more than 10 minutes at a time, and the visual style was such that it didn't wear you out with extensive detail, focusing on telling/showing the story. Along with the story and visuals, the music was just as important to their enjoyment. Without knowing it, kids were being introduced to classical composers like Wagner and Strauss, like an instrumental ninja. "What's Opera, Doc?" directly informed my love for opera, and I watch it (and the rest of them) to this day.

3. Star Trek: The Next Generation

As I've pointed out previously, I wasn't really what you'd consider a "Trekkie/Trekker" growing up. I knew about Star Trek, obviously. I had watched some TOS episodes in reruns, and we had gone to see the first four movies in the theatre. But it just didn't give me the same amount of joy at the time as the Star Wars universe did. That all changed with the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I had been following the development of the series via articles in Starlog and entertainment news segments on television. I was amazed at the sophistication of the visual effects, which were a far cry from the original series, and looked better than any other television show at the time. I really liked the design of the new Enterprise, and I liked the evolution of designs of other ships compared to their classic counterparts. And it was going to star one of my favorite PBS presenters, LeVar Burton (being a huge fan or Reading Rainbow). It had so much going for it, I couldn't see how it could fail. And, to be perfectly honest, in my young eyes it succeeded in meeting my expectations.

Today I can look back at the first season and see its flaws. Had Twitter existed in 1987, it would have been ruthlessly destroyed before it ever got a chance to be good. Fortunately for the show, and the future of the Star Trek franchise, it got much better.

TNG taught me that, while new isn't aways better, sometimes it is, and we should keep an open mind about it.

4. Gargoyles

It's still not an uncommon opinion that animated television shows are for kids. It's a trope that has existed forever. It has, at least, in North America. The Japanese have been created animated entertainment for adults for decades. It's taken the Western world a long time to come to terms with the fact that adults can enjoy animated programming that isn't designed for kids. Now, there's almost more animation directed at grown-ups than at their children. An early example of Disney experimenting with this format is the show Gargoyles.

The gargoyles are ancient creatures who are stone during the day, but come alive at night. The designs are based off the gargoyle stone carvings often found on European castles, complete with claws and wings. They had been in an enchanted sleep for a thousand years, and woke up in modern-day New York City after their castle was relocated there by the billionaire David Xanatos. Now, they patrol the city at night protecting humanity, trying to find answers to their mysterious past.

While some of the characters did provide levity during the episodes, the story and action were darker than most children's shows at the time. This skewed the series much more towards an adolescent age range, while picking up many adult fans, as well. The animation was also much more detailed than television cartoons at that time. Add to this the voice cast including many alumni from the popular Star Trek: The Next Generation series, including Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Michael Dorn, and you've got the makings of a hit, which it was.

While I was a fan of Japanese imports like Robotech and Battle of the Planets, Gargoyles gave me a love and craving for serious, dramatic animation.

5. Doctor Who

This one was always going to be on a list like this. From the first moment I watched it on a Saturday afternoon in 1983, this show stuck with me. My dad was never going to be a fan, as the only British thing he ever really liked was James Bond, but once mom watched it, she too became a fan. When Doctor Who moved to Friday nights on Iowa PBS, we both stayed up late to watch it. I recorded every episode that I could on video tape, and watched many of them over and over (and wore on the tape on a couple). I've been a fan of the show ever since. I won't go on any longer about this show since we've discussed it at length already on this blog, but it is integral in my enjoyment of all science fiction that has come after it.

Thus ends the writing prompt. That's a little bit more about me.

As for this week's strips, on the surface it seems that I've resorted to some old habits upon running low on ideas for the current story. But, in my mind, I viewed these as the "skits" that sometimes showed up on the late night shows, like when Johnny Carson would do the reporter on the street bit, or David Letterman's Top 10 Lists. That's how I justified them, at least. Did they work any better this way? That's a bit more questionable.

Strip 130/166 - Commentary one-liners

This is by far the weakest of the lot. Four panels of text, no art. Quick-jab one-liner commentary on current events that absolutely do not stand the test of time. If nothing else, it proves that I was paying attention to the news each night, which not all of my peers were doing at the time.

Strip 131/166 - A completely different kind of scare

Health has always been a popular topic of public service announcements. I viewed this strip as something akin to PSAs that used scare tactics to get their message across. What's better than making the evils of high cholesterol a movie monster looking to sink its fangs into your arteries?

Strip 132/166 - Aww, you gonna dis Santa like that?

Come on, the guy subsides on cookies and milk. What do you expect?

Strip 133/166 - Be honest, Furble is all of us here

It doesn't take long to come to the realization that New Year's Eve resolutions are largely bunk, and there to make you feel good about yourself for about a week into the new year before you decide that it's all too hard, and you'd rather go back to the way things were last year. Furble's just saying what we're all thinking, right?

More interstitials next week, with a Halloween twist at the end!

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