Monday, March 3, 2008

In Memory Yet Green

With apologies to good Dr. Asimov, some things are best left to memory and should not be revisited.

The "It's a Small World" ride at Disney is at the top of that list. While tolerable at Christmas, I should have avoided it like the plague rather than destroy that sense of wonderment I had when I saw it at the New York World's Fair in 1964. It was the ride we rushed to a second time in the late evening when the crowds had thinned and a repeat was possible. I can't imagine what our parents thought about it, but it is pretty awful for an adult to sit through.

Last night, in the comfort of our living room, another memory was left dying in the dust. With no new episodes of The Amazing Race on the air, we decided to let the Sunday night dinner and TV group come over to watch stuff on DVD. Anything was fair game and the first thing that won a viewing was the pilot for the TV show Here Come the Brides. Oh, dear.

First of all, I missed most of the first year of the show because of a scheduling conflict, but I remember my sister was a huge fan and I too enjoyed watching cute Bobby Sherman and even better looking Robert Brown on nights when I was home. The second season was on Friday nights, when I was almost always home to watch. Looking at the show with the intervening experience of the women's movement and, OMG, homicide should have been in order. Our friends who were watching the show with us are about 10 years younger than we are, and while Bob kept trying to make excuses for the show he had brought, Lorien and Becky couldn't really buy into the "well, you've got to look at it from the perspective of when it was made."

Although Bridget Hanley's character showed signs of budding feminism--after all, she was working on a fire-engine when we first saw her--there was a tendency to fall into the "only until a man sweeps me off my feet" attitude. The poor woman doctor who gets recruited in the second episode has to deal with shunning by most of the town's women--she was rising above her station and doing "men's work." Robert Brown's character, who usually quickly overcame whatever particularly sexist attitude he first expressed, didn't really do it fast enough.

The most disappointing part of all was that the DVD release does not have the wonderful theme "Seattle" sung over the credits. I'm guessing that there was some problem with securing the rights to the performance by "The New Establishment." I don't even know if I should call the group a "one hit wonder" when I can't find any references to them using Google. All Len wanted to do was sing along with the theme (to everyone's protest), but there was no singing to sing along with. As if to let us know we were not having 60s hallucinations about the theme, there was actually a credit for the song and singers on each of the two episodes we watched.

My friend Barbara Hambly was a big enough fan of the show to write a Star Trek novel called Ishmael in which Spock time travels to this version of Seattle where Aaron Stempel (the adversary of the Bolt brothers) explains Spock by calling him his nephew. Aaron Stempel was played by Mark Lenard, who portrayed Spock's father Sarek in Star Trek (he also played a Romulan on an episode.)

In terms of shows that do hold up to watching decades later, I put the original Twilight Zone at the top of the list. While not every one is a gem, it's got a really good batting average. Well written, well acted, well directed and wonderfully cast, I enjoy watching episodes I've seen dozens of times. I want the original Star Trek to be better than it actually is; some episodes hold up but lots of others are awful. I'm in the camp that holds somewhere between 1968 and when the show started running in syndication in the 1990s, someone took those wonderful old episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and remade them badly. On the other hand, I Love Lucy is as funny and well loved today as it was when I was little. If you have the opportunity to listen to the Jack Benny Radio Show, it too is as funny as it was in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s. Both shows were well written, well directed, and the stars had perfect comic timing.

I've gone down to the Museum of Radio and Television a few times to look at old episodes of television (in the days before DVD release became so common), and there are definitely other things I should have left to memory. The foremost example in my mind is a musical version of "The Canterville Ghost" staring Peter Noone. The Ugly Americans come to England to visit and the daughter falls in love with the local lordlet (played by the then-adorable Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone, a.k.a. Herman of Herman's Hermits.) Complicating things is the castle ghost and some really dreadful musical numbers. But the worst part of all are the fashions. Peter wore these awful stripped bell-bottoms. I've had nightmares ever since and I'm sure that Oscar Wilde's been spinning in his grave for 40 years.

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