I've babbled before about the nostalgia effect that makes people look at everything in the past as being great. TV shows in particular are one of those things everyone has fond memories of, more so than films. They were part of the weekly routine (not so much these days amongst people I know, thanks to DVD and P2P people watch various things at their own pace) and everyone was familiar with what was airing; friends would follow a TV show at the same pace as you, and the latest episode would often be a topic ripe for discussion. Ah, the good old days... [a single manly tear rolls down my cheek, à la Bruce Willis in Armageddon].
When revisiting these shows from the hazy past, however, it becomes all too apparent that memory is a cruel deceiver. The fond smile you start off with is rapidly erased from your face, and your eyes glaze over as you realize that a show you invested so much emotion, thought, and time into is less a classic for the ages and more a travesty best kept locked away for all time. OK perhaps I exaggerate (a little), but I'm willing to bet that for most people many youthful TV memories will meet the same fate as many youthful dreams - they'll be dashed against the rocks and shattered into a billion pieces under the cold harsh light of reality.
Alright, enough of this negativity. I was just trying to be funny, honest. In actual fact, I've found that my memories are surprisingly accurate when it comes to TV shows from the past. In recent years I've revisited quite a few old shows, and here's how they hold up.
The ones I remembered as being really good:
The Tripods - I've just started re-watching this sci-fi adaptation, and it's great! The tale of three rebellious teenagers who embark on a perilous quest in a dystopian future where a blissfully happy mankind is enslaved by alien invaders still resonates. Alright the acting is a bit iffy and the early eighties BBC production values are obviously dated, but it holds up well and the story and writing really shine through. One of the rare eighties shows that had genuine story progression.
Robin of Sherwood - The best incarnation of Robin Hood ever, and it holds up incredibly well. Great stories and characters (well acted), a gritty take on the legend mixed with mythic and magical elements, fantastic production values that still hold up (authentic locations really add so much to this show), and the wonderful Clannad soundtrack all add up to what is still one of my favourite TV shows ever.
The Legend of Prince Valiant - OK, I've only watched one episode of this tale that revolves around Arthurian legend and which I loved when it first came out in the early 90s, but that one episode was enough to tell me that my recollections were correct. It's way better than most animated shows of its time, with a slightly more mature tone (while still being entertaining) and more complex characters and themes. It also had a storyline that actually had some progression instead of being eternally stuck in an infinite loop!
Blake's 7 - This show has so much going against it from a modern audience's point of view, but I contend that it's still a pretty terrific sci-fi series. A band of criminals, each with their own agendas, are thrown together on board a powerful alien ship. Led by the charismatic Blake, they attempt to overthrow the oppressive totalitarian Federation. It's so low budget it looks like something the neighbourhood geeks may have cobbled together in between D&D sessions (I'd have been one of them); that didn't prevent the writers from turning out quality material though, and the acting was also strong for the most part (though quite theatrical). It also featured one of the most memorable final episodes I've ever seen.
X-Men the Animated Series - Another animated series that has great animation and storylines. It incorporates several famous comic book stories (most famously the Phoenix Saga), and it has a surprisingly mature take on the core themes of the X-Men - intolerance, prejudice, and opposing ideologies. Good stuff, with terrific action sequences and voice work.
Moonlighting - One of the best and most innovative shows of the eighties, Moonlighting is less a narrative and more a show focused on two characters who spend most of their time engaged in verbal sparring. I actually enjoyed this much more watching it now than I did all those years ago. Probably something to do with me actually getting a lot of the innuendo this time around. Brilliantly acted and written and featuring wacky storylines, it makes me wish Bruce Willis did more comedy.
Kung Fu - Ah, who can forget the tale of Kwai Chang Caine as he wandered through the old west, failing miserably at avoiding violence while reminiscing about the good old days back at his monastery where people called him Grasshopper and he was routinely bested in combat by a blind man. Jokes aside, Kung Fu is actually quite good, with a thoughtful and introspective approach and a serene, pacifist hero making it a very unique series. The less said about the awful spin-off sequel series, the better.
The ones I suspected were a bit rubbish:
Knight Rider - The action adventure series about Michael Knight, crimefighter extraordinaire and his super cool talking car is still fun in small doses, but it is frighteningly stupid and formulaic. Watch it for the wacky stunts and David 'The Hoff' Hasselhoff's mullet.
Battlestar Galactica (the original) - The new BSG is all kinds of brilliant. I can only assume that those few people who still maintain that the original is some kind of holy classic are on crack. This tale of a rag-tag fleet on the run from murderous machines is, quite frankly, rubbish. The theme music is still awesome though.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - The Dolph Lundgren film is probably cheesy fun, but this early eighties cartoon about the most powerful man in the universe is painful to watch - and to think it was once my favouritest cartoons ever! Perhaps I'm being harsh, since most cartoons of this era are crap, but next to stuff from around the same time, like The Transformers, He-Man looks piss poor, with its shoddy animation and ham-fisted storytelling.
Space 1999 - Ignoring the fact that space travel in 1999 didn't come even remotely close to what's depicted here, the series is still a bit crummy. Actually, it's quite boring and drab. I'm not sure why I ever enjoyed this, to be honest. I guess I was hungry for sci-fi and watched any old rubbish. Then again, it has been a few years since I revisited it, perhaps I ought to reconfirm that it is as bad as I remember. Those Eagle space ships are still ultra cool though. And those take off sounds, I can still remember simulating an Eagle taking off using various household objects while making that 'Phweeeeeeeee' sound. Heh.
G.I. Joe - I knew this one was a bit rubbish when I was watching it, actually. I haven't even revisited it. No further comment. Other than - how come, despite all the incredibly mayhem on display, no one ever got killed?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Loved it back in the day. Looking at it now, I am thankful that I grew up. Even as a kid I started to notice the shoddy animation and lousy stories, but when I watch it now, I feel like jumping in my De Lorian and going back in time so I can punch myself in the face for watching it. Curse my childhood self!
There's other stuff that I've watched but haven't caught up on. The Transformers, for one. The movie bored me, and I remember the movie being way better than the series, so maybe I ought not to bother. I'll just settle for the upcoming live action film. Street Hawk is another one, I wonder how that holds up? And Thunder-Sub, I loved Thunder-Sub... I wouldn't mind seeing that again.
Bah, there's probably plenty of fodder for another post. I suspect I've forgotten a lot of the bad ones already!