Now that we can find tons of ancient television shows on various streaming services, it is tempting to fire up some stuff that, years ago, tickled our fancies. Sometimes, it’s good nostalgic fun. Other times, it drives home just how bad television used to be. What stuff have you retro-streamed recently?
I persuaded my wife to watch the first episode of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In last night. Laugh In was a show I remember fondly from my childhood. I watched it when it was in production and later IIRC in re-runs. The first episode aired in early September, 1967, on NBC. I remember this time because it was almost exactly when my father shipped out for Vietnam (great timing, because Tet happened early in 1968, and who would have wanted to miss the festivities?).
The show does not, ahem, age well, as comedy TV, but is fascinating as a cultural time capsule. Including, as it were, the built-in sponsorship spots from Timex, which advertised a line of watchers from like ten to twenty-five bucks. Most of the jokes and skits are terrible, there’s an underlying (or more often blatant) sexism on display, and the production values are crude by modern standards of course.
But, there is also a wealth of cultural detail and insight here. The fact everyone is smoking cigarettes, to the extent that they are not even props, just assumed as normal parts of the experience. Alcohol is joked about in ways that are very familiar to Mad Men viewers or those who grew up in this era, but which are jarring for modern audiences I think. There are tons of often fairly funny slogans, buttons, stickers, and signs, parodying contemporary protests but also in some ways supporting causes that skirted the edge of mainstream America at the time. 1967 was a time when corporations were beginning to shift from “what the hell are these hippies doing?” to “how the hell can we exploit this youth culture for profit?,” and NBC I think was willing to risk dipping a toe in the counter-culture waters.
The first episode of the show set down the basic framework, though later it would refine a lot of it into a more polished and organized sort of chaos. The humor is similar to early Monty Python TV shows, or the later Benny Hill show, and some of the people on the show were extremely talented (if not always able to display that talent in the show’s limited format).
In any event, it was very interesting, and I’ll probably watch a few more episodes (though I doubt I can convince my wife to watch too, as she was pretty much over it after a few minutes).
What have you seen lately?