Posts Tagged ‘television’

Sharing Our Nightmares – A Dad’s Trip Back to Twin Peaks

May 23, 2017

Twin Peaks

As a Dad and avowed pop-culture nerd, one of the great joys in my life is getting to share my geek passions with my boys.  I still remember when my little blondie and his oversized noggin’ toddled into my study while I was riding the exercise bike and watching a VHS copy of Star Wars.  One look at the mean man in the black mask was all it took.

Just a few days ago, that same fella, now six feet tall and his head quite proportionate to his muscular frame, grunted his way to the breakfast table.  It just so happened that Phantom Menace, arguably the second worst in the Saga, happened to be streaming live at the moment.  As he dumped cereal into bowl, I cast the movie onto the big screen.  And, like a spell, the big-headed little boy reemerged.  “Hey, Phantom Menace!” he bellowed, and I spotted a unicorn: the smile of a teen on a weekday morning.

Mornings with my younger son are dominated by our shared passion for that great American sociological experiment: Survivor.  If there’s not a new episode on, we pop on a previous season and guess whether the player with apparent control is building the right “resume” or whether a premature blindside might spell her doom.  He is counting the days until he can send in his own video, proudly proclaiming that his negligible appetite will give him the leg up on the “Alpha Males” who can’t handle the lack of food.

But whether it is a Galaxy Far, Far Away, or a deserted island, or even a world of pure imagination, sharing those moments is like sharing a dream.  It floats happily on top of real life, bonding us together in a heady place of love and joy.

But there is another place.

Someplace dark and unsettling.

In that place—that land of nightmares—the sharing transports a relationship elsewhere.

And, it is happening again.

It is happening, again.

I remember coming home from college in 1990 and my mother in her latest attempt to have me meet a nice Jewish girl got me an invite to a friend’s daughter’s house.  She and a group of friends were obsessed with a brand-new show and were going to watch the premiere episode for the eleventeenth time.

I hardly remember the girl—I’m sure she was very nice and I very much hope she’s led a wonderful and happy life.  But my introduction to Donna, Shelly, Audrey, and a dead girl wrapped in plastic is something I will never forget.

Like so many others of the day, the small-town terror of Twin Peaks held me in its grasp.  And the fact that one of my three touchstone heroes (the other two being James T. Kirk and Willie Wonka—Wilder, not Depp) departed the pop-culture coil having been possessed by the evil he had chased since the pilot burnt a hole in my nerdy soul.

As many of my friends will tell you, the show has held a disturbingly large part of my imagination ever since.  Indeed, my Halloween 1999 costume of a psycho with long, gray hair, a jeans jacket, and white surgical gloves talking about catching folks with my “death bag” sure scared the hell out of the neighborhood trick-or-treaters, even though no one knew who the hell I was.

But I knew.

Before rumors of The Return began to circulate, I sat my bored teen in front of the TV and asked him to give a piece of vintage television a chance.  “This isn’t like The Chocolate War, is it Dad?” he groused, having found what I find to this day to be one of the most underrated teen dramas to be a dreary and dreadful bore.  I assured him it was like nothing he’d ever seen.  He was skeptical, but willing to give an episode a try.

“What the hell was that?”

His words as the (red) curtain closed on the pilot.

“So, did you like it?” I replied, unsure whether the little piece of my soul I shared found a place in his.

“Yeah, I think so.”


“Yes, please.”

And I dove once again over that dark and alluring waterfall into Twin Peaks, this time with my own boy along for the swim.  I listened to his theories.  We compared crushes.  We eye-rolled as Billy Zane tucked his sweater inside his pants and stole Audrey away from Coop.  But mostly, I got to experience the terror, wonder, and ultimate bewilderment as our hero ended his journey—apparently forever—staring at a bloody mirror with the face of evil starting back at him through a fresh set of eyes.

“How’s Annie?”

That line, and many others, have entered into our daily lexicon.  Because as much as the shared dream bonds, the shared nightmare binds.  For that darker place is more primal, more personal; a shared peek under the bed to find that, yes, there be monsters.

And now, by some Lynchian twist, the ending that has haunted me for a generation’s time has a new beginning.  And this journey with my son has a whole new feeling.  For our first trip to Twin Peaks was very much one of Father and Son.  I had the knowledge, and lived the new vicariously through my boy’s indoctrination.  But now, as an older Giant and older Cooper began this new chapter, we were on a level playing field.  The “Oh, F—k” that launched from his lips so many times with another twist of the proverbial (and occasionally literal) knife are now leaping from me as everything old becomes new.

And so as a parent—and a nerd—it is my nightmares that are truly a dream come true.


Making Brain Candy TV a Healthy Treat

August 8, 2012


Gus and Gunnar are now blissfully past the little kids’ TV phase.  I remember the horrors of Oobi, a group of talking hands with eyes on a finger ring speaking only in the 3rd person.  Of course, it was Gunnar’s absolute favorite, so much so that I was not only forced to listen to the cavity-inducing dialogue every day, but he insisted on playing Oobi games online as well.  The games did help him with rudimentary counting, so I was okay with that, but the choice of “baby talk” grammar is, I have no doubt, responsible for every gray hair in my head today.

In this age where networks and PBS compete with cable channels like Sprout, Nick Jr., and Disney Junior compete not only for viewers, but more important to their bottom lines, for merchandise customers, my mind normally goes to the worst case scenario as TV executives look to maximize the “Mom, I want one!” by appealing to the most base and vacuous instincts of our kids.

Disney: We even know how to make a bloody bandage cute!

And that would seem to be exactly the tradition that the new Disney Show Doc McStuffins would be in.  Aimed at the 2-5 set that the American Academy of Pediatrics says is better off without TV anyway, McStuffins is about a little girl who plays doctor on her stuffed animals.  From my understanding of the show, there is no real discussion of biology or anatomy, and none of the problem-solving or language-building skills you find in a show like Dora the Explorer.  It was intended as pure, unadulterated fluff.

That is, until a TV executive got hold of it.

In this article in the New York Times, the story of what changed Doc McStuffins is told:

Chris Nee, who created “Doc McStuffins,” said, “Disney, to its complete credit, looked at my pitch and suggested that we make the characters African-American.” Her original Doc McStuffins was a little white girl.

Gary Marsh, the president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide, said “Doc McStuffins” reflects a type of hypersensitivity to the power of television on young viewers. “What we put on TV can change how kids see the world, and that is a responsibility that I take very seriously,” he said. “By showcasing different role models and different kinds of families we can positively influence sociological dynamics for the next 20 years.”

In addition to the fact that the characters are predominantly black, it is the Mother who is the role-model doctor, and the Dad is a stay-at-home who is the primary caretaker to the star (something near-and-dear to this Dad’s heart).  This formula has won Doc McStuffins huge kudos in the online community, including a “We Are Doc McStuffins” Facebook page with the faces of female doctors around the country.  And, more importantly to Disney, sales of Doc McStuffins toys are selling briskly.

You never know who a silly little show might influence.

What I find most interesting about this is that, like Martin Luther King Jr. expressly telling Nichelle Nichols to stay on the bridge of the Enterprise even though she was often no more than a glorified secretary in the original Star Trek, true meaning and importance from television can come from more than just words.  From Uhura to Doc McStuffins, our entertainment can, perhaps more than any other medium, help to carry the kind of color-blind messaging that our culture needs to move beyond ignorant bias.

McStuffins itself also shows that such moves are in no way a sacrifice for a corporation, but instead a potential boon.  It seems the show’s merchandise is selling well across cultural lines, just as that little Latina, Dora the Explorer has.  So not only is multiculturalism a way to teach King’s timeless lesson about not the color of the skin, but content of character, but it is a way to create brand differentiation that can actually help build a commercial market.  In conflict partnership terms, that’s a “win-win.”

Hopefully this success will breed more and more copycats, lending more significance to the saccharine of toddler TV.  So long as they don’t try to stick eye-rings on a rainbow of talking hands, that is.