Culture Film & TV

The TV That Made Me – Emmeline Armitage

F.r.i.e.n.d.s. 

If Julie Andrews is gospel and she says to start at the very beginning because it’s a very good place to start, then I really don’t have any other choice but to start here. F.r.i.e.n.d.s. (side note – did anyone ever get to the bottom of the dots?) is the benchmark by which I’ve come to measure most TV. This was the show that introduced me not only to the box set, but to the razor-sharp sarcasm of Chandler Bing, the insane fantasy that I too could grow up living with my friends in a sizeable, purple-walled brownstone on the income of a waitress, and that going on a break is never a good idea. This is a show that defined many comic trends of the decade, and continues to influence pop culture. Most series in the ego-boost of a seventh season renewal become tired and worn-out, the script fades, the botox increases and the canned laughter is jarring like never before. F.r.i.e.n.d.s. only gets better with time, as its more recent addition to Netflix and continued popularity effortlessly proves. 

The Bridge 

I was a strange child for many reasons growing up, one of which was my confessed undying love for Nordic Noir – for those of you unfamiliar with the term, Nordic Noir is a branch of crime drama made in Scandinavia, usually involving a washed-up detective, some shady politics and a generous lacing of Sara Lund-style knitwear. There was one day in high school I spent at home ill and fell face-first into The Bridge. The script is tantalisingly fraught with familial and socio-political drama. Its lead Saga, played by the ferociously brilliant Sofia Helin, is a young, female detective with (suggested) Asperger’s and an innate curiosity for murder – it is from her that many of the show’s best scenes unfold. By chance, later that year I happened to stay in a B and B with the writer and freaked out over breakfast about as much as a thirteen year old should have if, say, Zac Efron had walked in the room. 

Borgen 

With a penchant for Scandinavian drama and a box set in my hand, I soon settled into my newfound love, Borgen. Danish coalition politics? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, is all I have to say. This series features another of my favourite strong female leads, Birgitte Nyborg, as she attempts to enter the realm of government whilst juggling her ‘duties’ as wife and mother. The backstabbing and tense dialogue that ensues is practically Shakespearean, and thanks to this phase in my life I now have a cursory arsenal of Danish phrases (albeit lingering around niche political lingo: tak, statsminister). 

Sex and the City 

As I sit at my laptop screen, surrounded by open books and worn-out dvds, I can’t help but wonder – what if this is the perfect TV show? That’s how Carrie Bradshaw would start this paragraph; her voice, her style has become so entrenched in modern culture that there are even whole instagram accounts dedicated to parodying it (see Carrie Dragshaw). Although I do have issues with Sex and the City, mainly surrounding Mr. Big who, don’t get me started, is Just. Not. Right. for Carrie, what this show did and still continues to do for whole cohorts of viewers in its candid discussion of sex and female sexuality (enter Samantha Jones), is simply impossible to ignore. 

GIRLS

If Sex and the City was my training bike, GIRLS was my first ride without stabilisers. This show is my desert island, die-hard and holy-grail of television, and has probably contributed most significantly to my metaphorical ‘making’. GIRLS is simultaneously graphic, tender, shocking, empowering, rude and a whole host of other adjectives. It is complex in its description because it deals with such complexities in its portrayal of being young in the city, finding the love you think you deserve, and navigating the maze of adult friendship. One of my favourite scenes is early in the series when leads Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Marnie (Allison Williams) dance to Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’, it is the ultimate transaction of comfort, joy and understanding between two women. And surprisingly, it is a testament to the power of this series that after watching it I continually reflect on how none of the characters are actually that likeable. 

Mad Men 

If anything, Mad Men taught me the importance of a good script, of well-developed characters, of excellent period costume and why after leaving Oxford I won’t be signing up to work at an ad agency. I was also pretty young, perhaps in mid-to late high school, when I got obsessed with Mad Men. This series has become that show that people joke about wanting to like, trying to get into, pretending they’ve watched but failing at the 55 minute mark and leaving only with the hots for John Hamm. I get it, the show is slow, considered and takes a while to settle into. But once you’re there, the rewards come crashing in. If you only watch one episode, watch the sixth episode of the third season ‘Guy Walks Into An Ad Agency’, which perhaps features once of the greatest dramatic moments in all TV history (I won’t spoil it for you). 

Big Little Lies

This TV show is borderline perfect, and I say that because ‘perfection’ and the struggle for it is one of the series’ major thematic concerns. Big Little Lies is the story of the women of Monterey, California, their complicated relationships with men and the politics of the school-gates that play out over a who-dunnit framework. It deals with difficult subject matter in a gripping, stylised and yet considerate way; the women behind this show are powerhouses, and continually stand up against acts of prejudice and violence towards women at times when it is most needed. The second season is now out and is worth watching just for Meryl Streep’s scream.

Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girlsis one of those programmes I won’t usually recommend to a friend, and I think this is because it’s so personal to me. I devoured this series when I was really in need of that TV-hug, and consequently it holds a dear place in my heart. Just like myself, Rory Gilmore was a young, bookish and yet out-spoken teenage girl, riding the wave of college applications, hormonal boys (I was a fan of Jess at the time, although have since, perhaps questionably, matured into Logan) and what it means to be independent. The relationship between Alexis Bledel and her on-screen mother Lauren Graham will have any mother/daughter captivated. In terms of the reboot? Don’t bother with it – the innate curiosity gets you so far, but once that wears off the feeling of ‘wrongness’ kicks in pretty quick. 

The Office/The US Office 

Look, okay, the slash offends me too. It’s criminal. And before you write in, I do know that these shows are separate entities, they do not exist in the same world (other than in the cold open where David Brent and Michael Scott meet = genius), but I’m a big fan of TV if you couldn’t tell already and at this point I’ll do anything to squeeze in an extra number. In a further act of criminality, I watched half of the US version of the Office before the UK one, and then returned for the other half of the US. This is a decision I have sincere regrets about and to be honest, I think that’s part of my general slash-resulting confusion. I think I do prefer the UK version? I mean, I kind of have to. But both of these shows are hilarious, well-developed comedic masterpieces and when the UK version left me with an appetite, at least the US helped to appease my hunger for a little while more.  

Succession 

If you were angry with the slash, then you may want to look away now because this is another cop-out response. I haven’t seen Succession, I don’t know the plot, I’ve avoided the trailer because I don’t want to know any spoilers and I currently am only in physical possession of season one. But I know I’m going to love it (friends, reviews and air-born frequencies have told me just as much). So this is a promise of a final show, that I sincerely hope will ‘make’ me in some way when I binge watch it all in over easter vac and spend the next month trying to find a new series to get hooked on. If you know of any, pray tell. 

If you like what you read, you might also like what you hear. Check out the playlist ‘Music from the TV shows that made me’ to hear 50 of my favourite track from these top mentions: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1ceeC8qvjQoYMOUhcliYHJ?si=CYs7CWwsSoGJ3YK8F2w9Uw