As the glowing babysitter, television has so often depicted periods in history that the oversaturated mind could confuse for historical factoids. Join us as we travel through the cathode ray tubes of the mind, journeying to a bygone era via Five Historical TV Shows That Rewrite History!
Let it be known: Kevin Arnold and Paul Pfeiffer are the Chuck and Flav of retro teen-nerd television, the shoulders upon which cult fave “Freaks and Geeks” stands. The latter would not exist without the former. A 60’s period drama that blossomed in post-Reagan-era tough love, “The Wonder Years” was the first drama to tackle the perspective of the normally brushed-aside pubescent American. Winnie Cooper stands in the pantheon of summer babes as a symbol of all things right and unattainable in a middle school hallway, the consummate mix of sweetness and sexuality. Upon completion, fans of the show are encouraged to graduate to Richard Linklater’s masterpiece “Dazed and Confused” as a psychedelic cherry on top of a quality 60’s retro binge.
Not entirely ridiculous–yet entirely ridiculous–the dramatizations of the dealings from America’s grandest moguls from the History Channel tend to view like a sober “Drunk History” made by interns dismissed by Ken Burns. Striding through billows of steam in finely-pressed Monopoly-man suits, staring intensely out of their bay windows, pushing piles of money and contracts around tables, one could almost imagine “The Men Who Built America” as a cracker’s answer to the West Coast gangster rap video. Its educational qualities, however, render it the very lowest form of public television, making it an eerily hypnotic guilty pleasure.
The most important historical cartoon to have ever freaked-out baby boomers of the 60’s and all pre-internet (sic: “stone age”) children henceforth via syndication. “The Flintstones” would have never happened without two things: “The Honeymooners” and The Paleozoic Era. Given this bonkers juxtaposition, it’s any wonder that Hanna Barbera didn’t follow suit with an animated interpretation of “Howdy Doody” set during the French Revolution. Awe of premise aside, this was a TV show whose commentary on the modern capitalist home meant the following appliances: a bird for a record player, an octopus for a dishwasher and a turtle shell as an iron. And the producers had stones! Celebrities had to have some kind of petrological pun crammed into their names to be featured on the show. Mind-blowing 20th century Americana.
Are you watching this show? You gotta watch this show. “Boardwalk Empire” is a well-oiled engine, chugging on the steam of ace writers, fantastic production design, and a stellar cast. One can only speculate if Steve Buscemi has kept a role like Nucky Thompson tucked away in his back pocket his entire career, leap-frogging between juicy supporting characters until the time was right to spring his brilliance as a leading man upon us. Amongst an already illustrious cast, Shea Whigham is a criminally underrated actor on this series, deftly turning every scene to the advantage of his counterparts no matter how large/small the character.
You could, and probably still can, watch entire seasons of “M*A*S*H*” with your dad. That really says something. It respected the intelligence of viewers young and old, sloughing off the Ozziet-and-Harriet sitcom cheese of yore and putting the atrocities of war in your face. Jokes were cracked while surgeons bloodied their hands. Characters revealed defects that made us feel closer to them. In terms of cultural machismo, Hawkeye Pierce was the poor man’s Indiana Jones, the archetypal antihero who kept a lopsided grin as the world was coming down around him. The misadventures of the 4077th set a record at the time for longest-running television series in history, as well as being the most-watched finale of all time.