And now, the third installment of “Too Much TV” continues!
80. Walt Disney World, Inside Out (The Disney Channel, 1995): Come now, how could I not include this one? Second only to the Super Mario Brothers (#98) as a show on this list that effectively doubled as a commercial, this Disney Channel specialty was, openly and expressly, designed to motivate the viewer to visit Orlando. Little more than a propaganda arm of the theme park sector, host J. D. Roth showed us all the cool new things that were happening in Disney World at the time- Innoventions, the Boardwalk Hotel, proto-Test Track, Blizzard Beach water park. Okay, so this wasn’t exactly Orlando’s most exciting hour, but it was a quick, effective way to get a Disney fix at the time. As an added bonus, George Foreman would show up to make cameo appearances once in a while.
79. Batman (FX??, 1990-1992, reruns): I’ve never once seen the world “campy” applied to something so often, and so consistently, as it is used to describe the 1960’s Batman television series. (And to put this claim in perspective, I have acquaintances who are in the chorus of Legally Blonde: The Musical.) This whole series was just too much- the scenery-chewing villains, the henchmen who wore nametags on their uniform, the deadpan delivery of Adam West, the 20’s-serial style narration of the announcer. Yet, lots of people watched this when it was on reruns- and one of my friends even collected the action figures from a line based off this television series when we were in 1st or 2nd grade or so. It provided a fun, colourful alternative to the dark, dramatic gravitas of the first two Batman films.
78. Mysteries of the Bible (A&E, 1995-1998) : One of the particularly nice things about television shows from this era was that cable channels actually had programming that aligned with their purported interest. A&E had shows to instill wonder in the aesthetic world, the History channel had program of an instructional quality, and MTV showed music videos. (One could argue that Comedy Central was the exception that proved the rule, but let’s not go there quite yet.) One of my favorite shows from this era of cable television was Mysteries of the Bible. Now, I was always inclined to liberal theology and higher criticism- by the time I was in 8th grade, i was reading textual critiques of the Pentateuch, and books on how the canon was developed. So, this show had something of intrinsic interest to me combined with cool visuals and intimidating voiceovers. Their topics generally balanced the sensationalist with the respectable– none of this ‘Was Mary Magdalene the wife of Jesus’ nonsense. And occasionally an episode of real merit would show up. One particularly interesting one was called “The Silence of Sephorus”– a pretty big metro area that was extremely close to the region where Jesus preached during His ministry, and yet it is never given so much as a mention in the New Testament- why? For people like myself who like their religion tempered by some scholarly inquiry and historical context, Mysteries of the Bible was a real treat.
77. Flavor of Love (VH1, 2007-08): This fits in with Mysteries of the Bible really well, actually, since the Calvinist doctrine of the total depravity of mankind is best manifested through this reality show on VH1. Sadly, this was a spin-off of a spin-off. The show originated in a season of The Surreal Life, where six celebrities whose careers are in deep shit live in a house together– this particular season included Public Enemy drummer Flavor Flav and Conan actress Brigette Nielson. Their on-screen romance spawned a six-episode series called Strange Love, which in turn became a Bachelor-esque show where Flav tries to find the woman of his dreams after Nielson rejects his advances. This series is so bad, so horribly immoral, so utterly depraved, that it set music-video television, reality tv, and perhaps even American race relations, back about 40 years. The contestants clearly have no interest in the obscure rapper who stars in the series, and each is clearly a model out to advance her career through outrageous behavior and/or enjoy unimpeded access to the wet bar.
76. Dating in the Dark (CBS, 2010): A reality show that was partly a social experiment, 3 men and 3 women are invited to a house and are sequestered from the opposite gender. Throughout the course of an hour, they go on group dates and individual dates– all of which are in a completely dark room (which the television viewer can see via infrared cameras.) Any assumptions they make and judgments they have to draw on, are all from voice contact and physical contact. Each contestant finally whittles down one person they want to see “revealed”, or shown briefly in the light for a few seconds. Each person makes a choice (or oftentimes no choice at all) and if two people choose each other, off they go in a stylin’ chauffeured SUV to go on a lovely date in the greater LA area. This show had an intriguing premise, but virtually no contestant on the show was hit by the proverbial ugly stick– the closest they got was “Mary Ann pretty” as opposed to “Ginger pretty”. An intriguing, but ultimately lost, opportunity.
75. Heathcliff (Nickelodeon, 1989-1991): There really isn’t that much to say about Heathcliff, except that this show was several notches better than the god-awful comic strip. It split its time between the title character and his young owner Iggy during the first half of the show and transitioned in the second half to the Cadillac Cats- who live in a junkyard and are chased by a junkyard dog named LeRoy (shades of Jim Croce?) For the life of me, I can’t think of why I watched this.
74. The Love Boat (cbs.com reruns, 2011): Love was both exciting and new as I watched reruns of this famous series on CBS.com while finishing my dissertation. I love, love, love the 1970s aesthetic- not the flashy disco stuff, but the muted, Carter-era burgundys and beiges. With only about 5 regular cast members and an endless bevy of guest stars, this captured a silver age of travel in the Caribbean, with spacious guest rooms, courteous service, and actual camaraderie between guests and staff. (Think of what a change this is from the super-ships of today where there are simply too many people on board for you to form meaningful bonds!) It deals gingerly with some social issues in a bland, noncommital way– but it features couples with decades’ difference in age, addresses the stereotypes of black entertainers, grapples with divorce– not easy things for the 1970s. Happy endings abound, though, and The Love Boat captures both the exciting promise of exotic ports of call, and the enduring hope that the right circumstances will lead you to that one special person.
73. Without Prejudice (Game Show Network, 2007): Unlike the failed social experiment of Dating in the Dark, Without Prejudice is an endlessly fascinating social experiment, and probably the most intentionally interesting show I watched on television in the last decade. It’s just a pity it wasn’t on the air longer. Essentially, a panel of four individuals has to chose whom in a group of six contestants will receive a prize of $20,000– based entirely on whomever they think is most deserving. They have to cut one person based on a simple video introduction. Then they have to make cuts based on how they answer questionnaires, how they behave when secretly videotaped, and how they respond to one question the panelists come up with. Different prejudices– rural vs. urban, race, faith, class, age, disability, and especially sexual orientation– all these things come into play in various subtle ways– and in a certain sense, it’s the panelists who are actually on trial rather than the actual contestants.
72. Ka-Blam! (1996-97): This Nick show was just a series of vignettes, some of whom began life on All That, a show in my top 15. Some of these are just roll-on-the-floor hilarious– I especially love “Prometheus and Bob”, recovered archive footage of an alien trying to teach a caveman how to be civilized. One other great sketch was “Action League Now:” a hilariously incompetent stop-action superhero team featuring a naked he-man figure and a half-melted G.I. Joe among others.
71. Nick Arcade (Nickelodeon, 1992-1993): I’ll admit, the show’s contemporary, Legends of the Hidden Temple, has more nostalgia value for most people of my generation. The talking Olmec head and the live actors interfering with the young contestants progress through a lost Mayan maze ensure this. But me, I loved Nick Arcade. For someone like me who dreamed of owning an 8-bit Nintendo (which I never did)– the pheneomena of placing kids into a computer-generated video game, where through various blue screens and playback screens they could monitor their own progress– was an astounding piece of technology at the time. Despite the generic trivia questions they would ask to determine which team got to play, it was still great fun to watch during the golden age of the home video game system.