Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I love syndicated TV

I was very flattered to find my blog mentioned in one of Cynthia Leitich Smith's blogs (another former lawyer, yay!) and since she mentioned Buffy I began looking to see if she is a Veronica Mars fan (the world is made of two groups: those who are fans, and those who soon will be) and found an entry about Forever Knight, which got me thinking about syndicated shows from the 80s and 90s.

The syndicated shows of the 80s and 90s helped pave the way for the multitude of programming we see today that exists beyond the big three networks. Some of it is remembered fondly; some is forgotten. Since many of these were before the Internet as we know it today, Internet fandom, if it exists, is about a show that used to be. My comments are based on memory; all mistakes are mine.

Friday the 13th (1987-1990, no DVD) had nothing to do with the movies. Two cousins inherit a pawnshop/antique store from their Satan Worshipping uncle; the cousins now have to track down the cursed objects the uncle sold to unsuspecting people. Highpoints: a main character was written out by turning him into a child; bad things happened for no good reason (that is, it wasn't as punishment for bad behavior, it was just bad luck to have bought that cursed doll). As with many of these shows, looking at guest appearances reveals some interesting casting, such as Sarah Polley.

In Freddy's Nightmares (1988 - 1990, no DVD), Freddy Krueger hosted an anthology series of horror stories set amongst the people stupid enough to move onto Elm Street. Unlike other series based on popular horror movies, this show actually related to the movies. Freddy related the story, but rarely was involved in the story. Highpoints: stories often connected to each other so while an anthology, there were multi ep arcs; and bad things happened for no good reason.

Aliens are living amongst us in War of the Worlds (1988 - 1990, no DVD yet but rumors are that one will be released to coincide with the Tom Cruise movie of the same name.) Aliens are living amongst us and plotting against us. In season 1, it was a secret; in season 2, all out war. Both Adrian Paul and Philip Akin appear, prior to their work on Highlander.

In Dark Justice (1991-1993, no DVD), a judge has decided that the legal system sucks. So, while he's a suit wearing short haired law abiding judge during the day, at night, he and his long hair, his motorcycle, and his gang of former-but-not-really-bad criminals hunt down the bad guys who were let go because of technicalities and punish them! Silly laws. They just hamper us in our efforts to fight evil. Fondly remembered because no one watching could quite figure out the hair: short at day, long at night.

Forever Knight (1992-1996, DVD) (a sort of spin off of a 1989 made for TV movie starring Rick Springfield called Nick Knight (1989, DVD)) is about a vampire who is trying to atone for his centuries of crimes against humanity by fighting crime. What, you think this sounds familiar to another show, perhaps one called Angel? You're not the only one; both featured mopey main characters who work only at night due to their vampire issues; main characters who drove cool old cars; frequent flashback theatre; edgy editing between scenes; and arty shots of sunrise and sunset. FK also had a very charismatic bad vampire, LaCroix, and moral issues about whether or not it was OK for vampires to live off humans. Noteworthy for having one of the best series ending episodes ever; it stayed true to Nick's struggles.

Another series based on popular movies is Highlander (1992-1998, DVD), which sort of followed the continuity of the first movie and ignored the remaining films. Immortals live among us, but they aren't interested in humans; they are more interested in surviving, fighting each other, killing each other by beheading followed by lightning storms, and trying to be the ultimate survivor: there can be only one! One immortal, that is. Season and series long arcs; funny dialogue; flashback theatre. Addressed the ever important question: if you live forever, what is moral? Contained the unanswerable question: how do they hide those heavy swords in their clothes while walking around? Had the nerve to kill off main characters, establishing that being in the credits does not mean a person has to survive. Most importantly: Methos, who deserves an entry all his own.

Speaking of deserving their own entries: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994 – 1999, DVDs) and Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001, DVDs). C'mon, you know who Hercules is – they still teach myths and legends in school, right? I don't have to link for Hercules. Hercules and Xena live in a world where all ancient history, mythology, folklore and legends are true, and apparently, exist at the same time. (Seriously: the battle of Troy, Julius Ceasar, and Hera, all in the same world.) Hercules is half-god and protects humans from the pantheon of gods who would play with human lives; Xena used be very bad and now is making up for her past crimes by helping the helpless. Started off as just fun camp with quirky dialogue and odd references (credits included such tongue-in-cheek disclaimers as no centaurs were injured in the filming of this movie.) Soon went beyond that, with innovative storytelling that pushed the boundaries of TV (modern day reporters following Xena, time travel, alternate worlds) and at the same time addressed issues of redemption, family, loyalty, forgiveness, and revenge. Noteworthy actors included the always awesome Bruce Campbell, the underappreciated Ted Raimi (humming, "Joxer the Mighty, roams through the countryside, he never needs a place to hide") and the funny and sexy Kevin Smith, who tragically died in 2002.

Another movie inspired TV show that had nothing to do with the movie is Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996-1999, no DVDs). Members of a secret society, called The Legacy, fight to save us from the creatures of the darkness and evil in general. Season and series long arcs (are you beginning to see a pattern?) and surprisingly well rounded characters. People who fought against evil and yet were sometimes tempted by evil. Another series were being in the credits didn't guarantee one's safety.

Finally, the very important La Femme Nikita (1997-2001, DVDs). As Nikita said at the beginning of each ep, "I was falsely accused of a hideous crime and sentenced to life in prison. One night, I was taken from my cell to a place called Section One, the most covert, anti-terrorist group on the planet. Their ends are just, but their means are ruthless. If I don't play by their rules, I die." The obvious parallels are Alias and 24; with Nikita going undercover like Sydney, and doing bad things on the side of good like Jack. Throw in a lot of moral ambiguity – one is never sure if Section One is the good guys or the bad guys. People were always lying, playing each other, and betraying each other.

So those are some of my favorite syndicated TV shows: I'm proud to say I watched them and loved them all. Sadly, Highlander, Hercules & Xena are out of my price range for DVDs at the moment and Poltergeist isn't available. So, what are your favorites?


Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I likewise loved "Friday, the 13th" the series. I can remember staying up late at my parents' house, crashed out on their infinitely comfortable couch (which they sadly ditched for a more Colonial one), watching this show. It was really seriously creepy. Fabu!

Liz B said...

I'm thinking we should get some T-shirts: I watch TV, TV Watcher and Proud of It, TV Didn't Kill My Brain Cells.

Anonymous said...

I LOVED Friday the 13th ... do you remember the episode when the guy who stalked a singer, he ended up BECOMING her? Like, went INTO her skin? So nasty.