Monday, July 5, 2021

Thirty Minutes of Sanity


I had just about wrapped up a “Top TV Moments” piece on Eve Plumb, who had the most interesting and varied TV career of the Brady Bunch siblings outside of that iconic series. 


But before I could finish it and post it, the following things happened:


1. I purchased a Honey Baked Ham for the holiday weekend. Before the clerk rang up the $82 purchase, I asked if I could look at the ham. She replied that she couldn’t show it to me “because of COVID.” She did not explain how “COVID” impeded her from taking her plastic gloved hand and lowering one slim layer of gold foil. But one of her fellow clerks chimed in with this helpful suggestion: “You can look at it after you bought it.”


2. I read the details about a new policy in my hometown of Chicago that now prohibits the city’s police officers from chasing after certain criminals. For instance, if a woman is mugged and the thief is fleeing with her purse, an officer is no longer allowed to run after him, and can be suspended or fired for doing so.


Insanity on a small scale, producing only a moment of frustration; insanity on an epic scale, that will likely result in more casualties for a city that already has an obscene murder rate.


This is why the first line of the Introduction to my book When Television Brought Us Together is “Is there anyone else out there who doesn’t understand the world anymore?”


My friend and fellow TV blogger Mitchell Hadley has been publishing a superb series of pieces called “Descent Into Hell” that observe how episodes of classic TV dramas and suspense series from 50 or more years ago could be remarkably prescient in figuring where our culture might be headed.


Classic shows can do that. That’s one reason why so many of us still watch and enjoy them. If they didn’t have something to say to an audience now, there would be no reason to pay attention. But sadly, all they can do is point to a cliff; they can’t stop us from stepping over the edge. Like Wile E. Coyote in every Road Runner cartoon we now seem hell bent on throwing away everything we have to chase something we’ll never be able to acquire, regardless of the cost.


As every week seems to bring another story that adds to the crescendo of crazy, classic TV can also serve another purpose, one that is particularly apt to acknowledge on this Independence Day weekend: We didn’t used to be like this. We were better than this. And we can be better again. 


Television can create fads and catchphrases and even inspire career choices, but it cannot mold an entire civilization. That is up to us. What TV can do, and must do for its dramas and comedies and variety shows to be credible, is reflect an accurate picture of the times, places and characters it portrays – specifically as it depicts their priorities, outlooks and values.


Pick a show – I can’t imagine you’d be here if you didn’t have a few favorites from the Comfort TV era. Why do you still watch them, especially if you have already watched every episode? The stories will no longer surprise you, the punch lines might still be funny but they won’t be as funny as the first time you heard them. So what are you getting from this experience that makes it time well spent? 


I can’t answer for you but I can answer for me, and I would suspect my motivation is not very different from yours.


It’s thirty minutes of sanity; it’s spending time in the company of happy families and responsible fathers and qualified teachers and reliable newspapers and (mostly) honest politicians. It’s where characters learn lessons about forgiveness and humility, honesty and civics (a word that now seems as archaic as CB radio language – 10-4, good buddy).


It’s seeing the best of us – and being inspired again to follow the example being set, even if it sometimes feels like you’re the only one still trying. 


Faith, family and community are part of the bedrock of so many television shows from the 1950s through the 1970s.  I read one author who wrote they have been replaced with a new postmodern trinity – race, class, and gender. It’s interesting how the first three encourage individuals to look outward, to think of ourselves as part of something larger and inviting us to contribute something positive to that collective. And the second set, at least as most commonly expressed, look inward and issue demands – this is who I am, and this is how I expect you to regard me.


I’ll stick with the first option. To me faith, family and community are beautiful things. And I see them in these shows and their portrayal of good people living good lives. 


“For beauty is a source of strength for man. It is inspiration for work, a light that guides us through the darkness of human existence and allows us to overcome all evil, all suffering, with good.”

Pope John Paul II


That’s not the only reason I still watch these shows. But it certainly ranks near the top.


P.S. #1: The Eve Plumb piece will run next week.


P.S. #2: The ham was really good.


  1. David, this was a lovely, thoughtful piece. I skimmed it once, read it twice and get what you're saying, but don't know what to say... but gosh I couldn't agree with you more.

  2. ApacheDug is right, David. Just a wonderful piece, and so spot on! And thanks for the plug, by the way, but mainly thanks for writing this!

  3. Thank you for writing and sharing this; the quote from St. John Paul II was the period at the end of a beautiful sentence. I share my love for classic TV with my children and they enjoy being entertained without being shamed or put down. May classic TV live on forever!