It’s funny what we, as human beings can attach emotion to. Fiction of all types, be it printed or visual resonates with us because we empathize with characters. They trigger emotion in us and that makes us feel connected to that world that’s being built.
I’ve never been shy about expressing my escapist leanings when it comes to entertainment. I see no shame in it. If a couple of hours spent with Dr. Who or Malcolm Reynolds makes my life a little bit better, then I’ll take the simple joys where I find them and go on with my life.
I lost a friend very recently to cancer. He was a fellow Geek. Thinking back on my memories of him, I was struck by what a powerful thing good storytelling could be. While my friend and I did do things like road trip several hundred miles for book signings from our favorite authors, one of the things that we did the most often was go and grab some food and have marathon viewings of something we wanted to watch.
It wasn’t uncommon for him to ask if I was buying some television show season set or another and then ask when we were going to sit and watch it. Some people might have considered that kind of rude or possibly even very presumptuous, but it wasn’t. He knew that more than likely, I would get a copy of a show he really wanted to watch and that I would be more than happy to watch the show with him.
A lot of the time, it was pizza and sci-fi, especially if we were going to one of the Science Fiction Club Movie Days. I’d bring stuff to add to the viewing pile at his suggestion, since he usually knew more about what was already going to be there, and we’d go spend the whole day in a crowd of Geeks watching whatever the majority voted to watch until our eyeballs were ready to fall out.
This is how I first became acquainted with “The Young Ones,” as someone brought their set of “Every Stoopid Episode”. There was almost no debate as to how this could possibly fit into a sci-fi marathon, since there is an episode that does involve a flying saucer. When this was pointed out, the one voice of dissent quickly said “Oh, yeah, nevermind.” We watched that episode. We laughed probably much harder than was strictly necessary, and then started talking about the show.
People kept talking about parts of other episodes and as soon as they figured out which episode that scene was from, we’d vote and pretty much end up watching it. It was hilarious. We watched the episodes completely out of order, but it didn’t matter. As far as spontaneous, organic viewing experiences are concerned, that one was a great one. I never even would have suspected that “The Young Ones” existed unless my friend had invited me to come along to watch. It was a great afternoon for more than just me. We were all enjoying it. Nobody acted like anyone else was an idiot or a lesser order of Geek because they hadn’t seen the show, instead, it was a giddy free-for-all of making sure that all of us noobs got to see the best episodes while we had a golden opportunity.
Sometimes, we would actually plan to watch something. We watched a lot of “Mythbusters” episodes when we got the chance. There was a lot of mutual marveling over the toys that the crew accumulated over the course of the series. There was a lot of shared envy over getting to misuse those toys in the name of forwarding science, or, at least, debunking common misconceptions.
We joked about “Mythbusters” a lot, usually about how much trouble we would probably get into if it was us doing the experiments instead of trained professionals in an enclosed environment. Specifically themed episodes were probably our favorites. The ballistics episode was watched more than once. Of course we needed to see the team try and make disappearing bullets at every available opportunity.
I actually got him started watching “Top Gear”. Or, at least, I got him watching the UK version of that show. The American version just doesn’t appeal to me as much. There’s less of a sense of adventure and fun on that one and it seems like the hosts just don’t play off each other as well as the UK guys do.
My friend was skeptical of watching a car show. Vehicles just weren’t his thing and he didn’t think that anything I suggested was going to change his mind. I promised him that we’d only watch one episode and if he hated it, then we’d immediately switch over to watching something else that he would like better. I just wanted him to give the show a chance.
He decided to trust me, so I brought over the “Botswana” episode. For anyone who doesn’t know, the hosts of the show go to Botswana and each of them is given a specific budget and told to go purchase a car. The idea is that they are then supposed to race those cars across Botswana. The one who’s car doesn’t break down wins. Everyone else has to ride in a Volkswagen Beetle (this is said in a tone that makes it clear that having to ride in the Beetle is a punishment and should never be done).
I knew what he was expecting. He thought I was going to bring over some dry show that only true car enthusiasts could possibly enjoy. He was sure he was going to be forced to endure an hour of technical specifications and horsepower and all of that other stuff and then he was going to have to run the risk of possibly hurting my feelings by saying he wanted to watch something else.
Happily, that was not the case. Oh, sure, the “Top Gear” guys dribble specs in all over the place whenever they can during the show, but the way that they test the cars is fantastically entertaining. The ribbings that they give each other over car preferences and the glitches that ensue with new car ownership are nearly priceless. After we finished the Botswana episode, we went on to watch a little more than half of that season in one sitting. We snickered over car challenges we wished we could have had a hand at trying and we giggled when things went drastically different than planned.
Of course, we watched more conventional Geek fare, too. We were both excited about the return of “Dr. Who” to television. Both of us had fond memories of watching the Tom Baker episodes on our local PBS stations after school. Each of us remembered different sets of episodes and we had fun comparing notes about what had stuck with us during those earlier years.
I know that I’d mentioned how I hadn’t cared much for Peter Davison as the Doctor because Tom Baker had just seemed to be a kinder, friendlier Doctor. My friend didn’t agree with me, because, to him, Baker’s Doctor seemed to be more dangerous because he’d always seemed much crazier. We had a good-natured debate about the Doctors that we remembered throughout our viewings of “Dr. Who”.
When we finally got to watch the new episodes, we spent a lot of time just talking about how we felt they fit into what we knew about The Doctor. Sometimes, we would save up several episodes and watch them in a binge, sometimes we’d just watch one or two. It depended on whether or not we got into a big discussion about Geek things or not.
We watched “Firefly” together as soon as I bought it on DVD. We did not watch it all at once, since that would have taken long enough we’d probably have fried our brains. Instead, we planned to watch them over three consecutive Saturdays. Over barbecue, we took in the episodes and the movie and compared them to our favorite sci-fi and westerns. I’d like to think that if any of our college professors would have heard us, they would have been proud. We were discussing the merits of them, comparing and contrasting them and making light of a lot of the dearly held tropes that seem to cross genres so well.
Now, of course, I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve got the first season of “Elementary” on order and I don’t have to give him a call the day the box arrives to tell him it’s finally here. We were thinking of rewatching “Sherlock” first, then starting in on “Elementary” just to watch dueling Sherlocks. We both liked both of the shows and, maybe not so surprisingly, we liked them for very nearly the same reasons. I know that the mail is going to come one day in the next couple of days and I’m going to open it and feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me.
We might have acted like the shows themselves were the most important part. They really weren’t. They were just starting points for us to talk to each other about things that we had in common and the things that we didn’t. It was a small way to share an experience and have an adventure that never had to take us any farther than a comfortable couch and a TV screen. Now, he’s gone. And I’m left with shelves of DVDs that have a lot of good memories attached to them.