When I was in primary school, the mother of my two best friends watched all the daytime soaps so on rainy school holiday days (and there were many of those growing up in Melbourne!), we would hunker down for an afternoon of ridiculously-scripted drama and intrigue.
And I was hooked.
It didn’t matter that the acting wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy.
Or that the storylines were often preposterous.
Or that we were probably too young to be watching these types of shows.
It was storytelling, and I came out of the womb craving to be told, and share, stories.
I loved the romance.
I loved the unlike-real-lifeness of it all. (Until my life started to resemble Days of our Lives but that’s a story for another time.)
I loved the silly stares and arched eyebrows.
I loved the characters that died and then miraculously came back to life – sometimes with the same actor, sometimes not.
I got caught up in the love stories and got mad at The Room of Unseen Writers for constantly creating reasons for My Favourite Love Story Characters to be ripped apart from the Happily-Ever-After destiny that was clearly meant to be theirs.
And then I cheered loudly when The Room of Unseen Writers finally saw fit to reunite the star-crossed lovers and all would be well in my soap opera world again.
During my high school years I continued to catch up with my soap opera friends whenever I could, and then when life bestowed a VCR upon me, I started taping my favourite soapies each day.
At first I resisted the urge to watch it but then curiosity grabbed hold of me and like any addict, I thought I could watch Just One Episode and then never watch it again.
As if that was ever going to happen once the residents of Port Charles had once again embedded themselves in my psyche.
Yesterday I sent the following text to a friend who understands my Soapie Addiction and never judges for me it:
‘I may be in too deep with my return to General Hospital. The other day I got teary when a couple decided to divorce. A couple I’ve been watching for a couple of months. Not even one I was emotionally invested in for years and years! It’s a slippery slope I tell you.’
She replied with empathy and understanding.
But she also offered to come to my home to have an intervention should I feel the need for one.
Although she wasn’t into daytime soaps, she did love a good nighttime drama series. Particularly if it involved romance, hospitals or crime. I can’t even begin to tell you how many gruesome murder-mystery/CSI-type shows my parents have watched over the years.
Actually, they’re pretty much the reason I had nightmares as a child. My parents that is, not the television shows.
I’m going to disclose some rather personal information about my Dad right now and those of you who know him, know he’s The Gentlest Man on Earth so you may have trouble believing this. But he has a dark side. A very very dark side.
In 1979, when I was 11 years old, my dear, sensitive, Disney-movie-loving mother took my brother and I to see ‘When a stranger calls’, a totally scary movie (or as the internet describes it, ‘a psychological horror film’) I was clearly a wee bit young for.
I guess ‘The Muppet Movie’ (also made in 1979) wasn’t showing at our local cinema that night.
The following year when I’d barely completed my therapy after the ‘When a stranger calls’ Anti Father of the Year incident, Dad took me to see ‘The Shining’. You know, that incredibly edge-of-your-seat ADULT horror film starring Jack Nicholson?
I was thirteen.
Once again we went at night. I’m detecting a pattern of Quite Bad Parenting Decisions here.
So we arrive home and Dad drops me off at the front door before parking the car in the garage. A few minutes later, as I’m hugging my mother and asking her to promise to stop sending me to Very Inappropriate Movies, he walks quietly through the door with an axe in his hand. I’m not kidding. My incredibly gentle father then proceeded to chase me around the house with an axe. This will no doubt seem like an even stranger thing to do if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know that’s what Jack’s character does to his family in the movie.
Here’s a little clip in case you’ve never had the viewing pleasure.
I’ll give you a few moments to now watch this Very Funny Elmo Clip to settle your nerves.
As you can imagine, I was hysterical. Dad however thought it was hilarious. And Mum was screaming at him to stop terrorising me. And my brother, well he was probably in his room filling in an Application For a New Family.
I made Dad sleep in my bed that night and I slept with Mum.
And he never chased me around the house again with an axe.
I’m sure you won’t be at all surprised to learn that I never ever ever watch scary movies anymore. And even if I watch something violent like a Quentin Tarantino film, I generally need to watch a Disney movie straight after it.
Well, for the month of January I gave up Netflix.
Yes, I did.
And I was actually amazed as just how easy it was, as I was expecting it to be Quite the Challenge.
As you may know, I don’t have access to regular TV so I signed up for Netflix in the middle of last year to catch up on the shows I’d been missing and I quickly discovered just how supportive Netflix is of human beings spending endless hours binge-watching TV shows or movies.
You don’t even need to get up to change the DVD disc or lean over to find the remote control as Netflix starts playing the next episode – after fifteen seconds - without you having to lift a finger.
It’s scary time-wasting stuff.
So I thought having a Netflix-free month would be a good thing.
And it definitely was.
I read more.
I went to bed earlier. Only slightly earlier though, as Books also have the power to entrap us on the couch/bed/zebra chaise lounge for hours at a time.
And I spent time thinking about how much TV viewing has changed.
Do you remember what watching TV used to be like?
Back when you had to wait a week for a new episode to emerge.
Back when there were no VCR/DVR players to record your favourite shows if you weren’t home.
Back when you had to wait months (and months!) for the next season of a show to start.
I remember it feeling like years before Dallas returned to our screens to reveal who had shot JR.
Up to that point, it was The Biggest Thing to Ever Happen in TV Land.
Everyone was talking about it and it was the birth of The TV Cliffhanger. Which wasn’t intentional by the way. Apparently the producers wanted to make a few more episodes and said ‘oh, let’s just shoot him and work out next season what happens’. A stroke of hook-in-your-viewers genius that is part of the format for most TV shows these days.
And the episode where his shooter was revealed - 36 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT: it was his sister-in-law (and mistress) Kristen - is still one of the highest viewed episodes in television history.
Of course now we can buy DVD boxed sets or binge-watch on Netflix to our heart’s content so that element of protracted anticipation no longer exists.
Unless we’re watching shows as they’re produced and aired (and therefore have to wait a few months in between seasons), the suspense is largely gone – or it’s there but for a much shorter period of time.
We can also Google to find out what’s going to happen next as the Internet is absolutely filled to the brim with juicy spoilers.
But there was something rather amazing about the power of a fair dinkum TV cliffhanger like 'Who Shot JR?'.
It’s not every day a TV show graces the cover of Time Magazine and has the whole world talking - without the Internet being involved.
Mother Nature chose that night to put on The Best Light Show I’ve Ever Seen so I spent over two hours on my zebra chaise lounge staring outside at the night sky.
It was truly magical and like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
And I figured Netflix wasn’t going anywhere.
Here’s a short clip to show you just how absolutely spectacular Mother Nature’s performance was. Definitely Oscar-winning material.
I’m now on Day 7 of February’s challenge… I’ll be back in early March to fill you in on how that went!
‘We owe a lot to Thomas Edison - if it wasn't for him, we'd be watching television by candlelight.’ Milton Berle