BY MARYBETH GRONEK
With most things still closed and social distancing orders in place, I would like to say I’m spending all my extra time on fruitful and edifying pursuits, like reading, scrapbooking, and deep cleaning my apartment.
In reality, the majority of my time has been consumed by take-out and TV. And watching the dramatic performance that is 2020 unfold in all it’s Shakespearean glory.
Please tell me I’m not alone in this.
The silver lining of this couch-potato, sedentary existence has been the absence of a few extra pounds around the waist (what some have wittily monikered “the COVID-15”). Ironically, I’ve actually lost weight due to my *accidental* intermittent fasting. All the hours blur together, and I get to 2pm realizing I haven’t eaten yet. I’m sure I’m not alone in this either.
Watching TV during quarantine feels a lot like reading Harry Potter in the 2000s or the Hunger Games/Divergent in the 2010s. These fantasy and dystopian novels allowed us to transport to a place totally foreign from real life. And in so doing we could relax into something that was so ‘other,’ so not like what we were experiencing. It provided respite. And a common experience that we all could, for the most part, get behind.
In such polarizing times as these, my time in front of the TV has, shockingly, had a grounding effect. It’s provided characters and storylines that have inspired me, made me laugh, and most importantly made me feel like a human again. Which, in a mask-filled, glove-filled, six-foot-distance-filled society, is a welcome refreshment.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the five most important fictitious characters in my life right now.
Janeway is Captain and lead actress in Star Trek Voyager. Assertive, driven, feminine. She is the perfect example of a leader. She goes head-to-head with the war-lusty Kazon. She evades the Vidiians and their unconscionable organ-grafting racket. She crosses the Nekrit Expanse without precedent or regret. She does the unthinkable in negotiating with the Borg to ensure her crew’s safety. Oh, and she has terrific hair. #Bungoals
Let’s talk about her crew. She brings together Maquis and Federation crewmates — both with distinct organizing and leadership styles — to operate as a cohesive and unified force under her command. She treats each crew member with decency and dignity. She speaks her mind when people miss the mark, and offers praise when it is well-deserved. She’s tough and kind. Her crew adores her and respects her, a highly-coveted combination for any impactful leader with a long view of history.
I find myself admiring her interpersonal dynamics, her directness, her leadership style, and her compassion. I find myself using Janeway phrases like ‘Acknolwedged!’ and ‘I’ll be in my ready room’ (the former at work, the latter with my boyfriend). I find myself thinking if I could be more like her, there’s not a problem I wouldn’t be able to solve or a dangerous scrape I wouldn’t emerge from with grace. I find myself wondering what my relationships would be like if I gave more second chances the way Janeway did to Tom Paris and B’elanna and Seven of Nine. I find myself thinking if I could navigate the many seasons of my life the way Janeway navigates a starship, I’d be more than alright.
He’s the stuff of legends. L.A. Defense attorney. Suit donner and bullshit slayer. There’s not a hopeless, yet justified, cause he’d turn down. He defends the innocent client with bad optics, you know, the person found standing over the dead body holding the murder weapon but actually didn’t do it. A bulwark for truth, justice, and the American way.
He finds a proper motive the way a stoned teenager finds a Taco Burrito King — quickly and with singular devotion.
And no one says “Incompetent. Irrelevant. And immaterial” quite like he does.
Cinematically, the show is the perfect blend of suspense and predictability.
The show — boasting one of the longest syndication runs in TV history — is a history-buff’s dream. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, it was the first courtroom drama to hit television, as well as the first hour-long program that wasn’t a Western. Courtroom shows are so ubiquitous nowadays, so it’s hard to imagine being the first show of its kind pioneering that trail.
But Perry Mason was more than an archetype. His stoic tenacity for justice inspired many now-notable attorneys and justices, like Sonia Sotomayor, to pursue litigation as a career.
Yes, I am re-watching this late 90s show about a teenage witch, her two crazy aunts and their talking cat. No, I am not embarrassed to admit it. It’s been the guilty pleasure that I cannot get enough of.
I didn’t watch this show when it first came out. I was so bookish my teenager years that I barely came near a TV (how do you work this remote, anyways?) I first watched the show on Amazon Prime during grad school and I was hooked.
Sabrina is the high school student I wanted to be — confident but not popular. She’s quirky & fully embraces her eccentricities. That confidence gets her the dreamy boyfriend and an overall fun, rich life.
The first episode is Sabrina’s 16th birthday when she finds out she’s part-witch. Throughout the show, her aunt Hilda and Zelda, as well as the former-dictator-turned-cat Salem, help Sabrina through the process of maturing in her powers.
I like Sabrina the Teenage Witch the way I like Jane Eyre and To Kill A Mockingbird — it’s a Bildungsroman, aka ‘coming of age’ story. I love watching Sabrina mess up and learn from her mistakes. I love seeing the encouragement she gets from her family as she moves from adolescence to adulthood. And honestly, this go around, I’m taking notes. If I’m ever blessed enough to have children, I’d want to raise them the same way. Not with a talking cat, obviously, but with a family culture that encourages exploration, delivers guidance with charming candor, and makes space for grace.
The Victorian house and the magical powers would be an added plus. 😉
Andy Griffith is the dopest, most honest and upstanding sheriff that ever did grace the big screen. Son to Aunt Bee, father to Opie, and mentor to Deputy Fife, Andy is the *glue* that holds Mayberry together. And his southern drawl is somethin’ charming.
More laid back than a recliner, his easy-going, genteel attitude gets delinquents to change their ways & earns him the respect of everyone in the town. He’s Opie’s dad. He’s Mayberry’s dad. And, if you’re anything like me, you leave each episode kind of wanting him to be yours too.
If you’ve been reading this and wondering to yourself, How geriatric! Does she even watch anything from a more recent decade? Alas! You are wrong. Well, partly wrong. I do watch a lot of MeTV, who, judging by their preponderance of incontinence and life insurance commercials, is targeting an audience above seventy. So yes, I’m a bit of an old soul. But I do watch TV from this decade. I watched Fuller House (and loved it). I watched Once Upon a Time (and rewatched it). I watched Tiger King (and couldn’t quite settle on how I felt about it. Horrified? Enthralled? Is there really one word to summarize the vast array of emotions accompanying that show?)
Lately, though, I’ve been watching Sweet Magnolias on Netflix. The story of three women from a small town who go into business together. Helen Decatur, one of those three woman, is my TV crush right now. She’s a fun, witty, and vivacious attorney who uses her charm to pretty much get anything she wants. While she’s tough, she’s got such a soft side. I think that’s why I like her so much. Her power hasn’t diminished her femininity one bit. She’s not afraid to cry or tease, and when she speaks her mind its not in a harsh way. Firm but kind.
She reminds me that I can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. And I don’t have to trade assertiveness in the process.
Added bonus: Heather Headley (the actress) and I used to go to the same church back in the 2010s and to see her career skyrocket has been nothing short of amazing.
I’ve learned 5,728 million things during quarantine.
My most favorite lesson?
Don’t be picky with your muse.
Inspiration comes from the oddest of places. Like fictional TV characters.
I try not to be too choosy.
8/9/2020 01:16:28 pm
MaryBeth, In such polarizing times such as the ones we are experiencing in this unbelievable 2020, it is really good to have heroes who inspire us and help get us thru our days. I am glad you have found your heroes, albeit fictional. I love all five of them! I see some of you in each of them. You have captured the art of survival when you say that " I can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. And I don’t have to trade assertiveness in the process." I find that it is this kind but firm approach to a problem or situation which works the best. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. Thanks for providing this fun and interesting article!
8/22/2020 11:05:59 pm
Appreciate you reading ! Glad you enjoyed the levity a bit ;)
8/10/2020 01:45:02 pm
Janeway, huh? I have got to re-watch that series. I've discovered Deep Space Nine this pandemic, which I have never watched before. Then it is on to Voyager!
8/22/2020 11:07:02 pm
Believe it or not - I've only caught a couple episodes of Deep Space Nine. Will have to add it to the bucket list after I finish Voyager! :)
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