Sunday, October 6, 2013

My All-Time Favorite Series - Family Life

One of my readers, (thank you Marge) asked if I'd recommend my top ten series and once I got started, well, try as I might to winnow down the list, my top ten grew, I ended up with sixteen — and even that was a sacrifice!  So to spare you all, I'm breaking up my favorites into segments and I hope you'll agree with, watch and enjoy my choices and/or post your favorites in the Comments section and set me straight!
If you want to see and understand how a good family functions,  Family is the series to watch.    [Unfortunately only two seasons are available on DVD.  Write and complain to Sony Entertainment.] I'm going to tell you more about the series that gave me but let's work our way back to the best...

Felicity (1998–2002)  To be honest — I did not see this series when it first aired — years later I watched it online, really enjoyed it, and have watched it again (and yes, again).  Though I wasn't crazy about her at the time, I do like Keri Russell (love her in The Americans) and I identified with that crazy-in-love feeling that propels one to do things one normally would not do (like follow a guy who hardly knows you across the country to go where he is going to college).  It's this wide-eyed optimism that fuels this series about twenty-somethings just trying to get through college and find their place in life.  Felicity learns a lot about herself, her family, and her newly acquired friends who are goth, gay, enterprising, and at times, disappointing, and damaged.  At the time the show aired, there was a big to-do when actress Keri Russell cut her long flowing mane and showed up to work with really short, cropped, curly hair that sent the show's producers into a spin and probably was responsible for a clause now in every contract that forbids altering your appearance without prior approval of the network.  But in a funny way, just as her character did throughout the series, maybe Keri Russell the actress was struggling to find her identity.

My So-Called Life (1994–1995)  Aaahhh Angela Chase.  Sweet, dyed-her-hair-red-without-telling-her-parents, Angela Chase — played with vulnerability and true teen-angst by a teenage Claire Danes. Stuck in a family of four, Angela doesn’t feel she fits with her parents, grandparents, friends or anywhere and going to high school just makes her plain irritated but Angela is a girl who sticks to her principles and her guns — much to the chagrin of the adults she's annoyed by every day.  Angela's surrounded by a crew of misfits Brian (the nerdy next-door neighbor who's in love with her), Sharon ( her childhood best friend forever that just isn't on the same page any more), Rayanne ( the resident bad girl who appeals to Angela's need to rebel), Rickie (Rayanne's sidekick who wears eye makeup, struggles against the bullies who taunt him for his sexual identity, and at one point ends up homeless) and last but never least, Jordan Catalano — the heartthrob that Angela pines over and manages to snag despite the gulfs (socially, intellectually and economically) that exist between them.  Claire Danes is masterful in Homeland but you owe it to yourself to see her in this early work where  in just 19 episodes  she'll win you over hook, line and sinker.

I, Claudius (1976) This is the blockbuster story of family life — dysfunctional family life among the Romans from 24 BC to 54 AD. Whatever you think of your own family — they will not compare with the absolute insanity of this one (think Caligula).  From Augustus Caesar to Tiberius, to the afore-mentioned Caligula, then to title character Claudius, on through to Nero we see the splendor and the horror of life among the Imperials.  While Rome is being built — legion by legion, territory by territory — the Emperor's family (most especially Augustus' wife Livia) is plotting and scheming and positioning to curry the Emperor's favor and secure more of the wealth that the Roman army is pillaging and sending back to the imperial family.  Club-footed, stuttering Claudius, who is openly scorned by his grandmother Livia, gets a piece of advice to hide his intelligence and to "play the fool" in order to stay alive and that is what he does while recording the history of the devious and dubious goings on in his power-hungry family.  Through I, Claudius, you will learn an incredible amount about life inside the palace and why you should watch what you eat or drink whenever Livia's around...wicked, wicked, wicked.

And the same year we enjoyed Livia's scheming, we were treated to the wholesome life at the Lawrence household in Family (1976–1980).  Directed by Mike Nichols, starring Sada Thompson James Broderick (Matthew’s dad), Meredith Baxter Birney, Gary Frank and Kristy McNichol, this series had it all — the beautiful older sister divorced and messed up who moves back home with her child; the son a middle child who rebelled against college, and the pressures to get a job and be the mirror of his parents; and the youngest (Leticia, known as Buddy) an upstart who sees and understands everything going on even though she’s the youngest and no one pays attention to anything she says (hey, that’s MY role in my own family life).  

This may be my number one pick because — because — it showed a “normal” upper middle class family with a normal-looking mother and a normal-looking father and three kids (actually four but one son died and that plays out in the series), each with their own problems and unique place in the family right down to each parent secretly having their favorite I just loved, loved, loved the way they interacted and got mad (without smashing glasses or punching a fist through a hollow-core door) and made up and laughed — yes, a family that actually laughed and had fun.  They seemed what I imagined "normal" to be — heck, they even lived in Pasadena.  

At the time of this series I was out of college, in Manhattan, trying to make a living, trying to figure out who I was going to be in the world.  After a day of working and drinking, I came home alone at night, turned on the television for company and — one lucky night a week — I got to be comforted just being part of Family.  

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