Connor watches TV

This post is very naive and I don’t care.

Gilmore Girls

Yesterday I ended a 153-day adventure. I decided to re-watch Gilmore Girls, watching one episode a day, no more, no less. People may think I have no willpower, but I did it. I consistently resisted the urge to watch a second episode. Every single day since the 19th April, I have watched one 42-minute episode. There was only one exception, the 29th of May, the day I flew to Macedonia, but I made up for it by watching 2 episodes the following day.

I think Gilmore Girls is my favourite TV show (the only real competition would be The West Wing) and I already miss it. I was inconsolable yesterday sobbing noisily for quite some time after the last scene. I was tempted to start again today with series one, episode one, and I might still do that, but I think I’ll wait until next year and start again then.

Part of what’s great about Gilmore Girls is the world. It’s a warm show, and watching it is like wrapping yourself in your snuggliest blanket. It’s set in an impossibly beautiful small town in Connecticut that’s peopled by a group of characters who are totally surreal, and it’s no surprise that the co-creator of the show was also a writer on Family Guy. The tone of the show is sarcastically witty and even the “sad” episodes are highly comic, with the background characters playing out roles that are Spike Milligan-esque. The small town vibe is so appealing that it is in no small part responsible for my decision to move to my little village. I want to live in Stars Hollow and have a stand in the Firelight Festival and go to the Town Meetings in Miss Patty’s Dance Hall. And I still half-think I might find the Longford equivalent of Star’s Hollow and take refuge there just like Lorelai does on the show.

Set against this surreal background is the core drama of a single mother and her daughter and their always tense and somewhat tragic relationship with their grandparents.  It’s a cleverly-written and original drama that resists the temptation of plot, instead taking a much more realistic attitude to the timing of events in the life of the main character. There are only about four moments of genuine soap opera drama across seven seasons, which is brave, but it allows a dedication to character development that makes the genuine joys and sadnesses of the main characters all the more striking. And no one can make you cry like Lorelai Gilmore.

It’s a funny show that’s simultaneously unreal and hyper-real. For the last one hundred and fifty three days, I’ve had 42 minutes to look forward to every single day. It was something to look forward to. And if I’d watched my episode already that day, then I could enjoy the sweet anticipation of watching tomorrow’s episode. I already can’t wait for the next time.

Parks and Recreation

My favourite sitcoms are Grandma’s House (Simon Amstell is my spirit animal and his partly autobiographical and deeply depressing sitcom is amazing and makes me laugh on the fifth and sixth re-watches) and Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 (Chloe is ballsy and vicious and hilarious and weird and fabulous and every single second she’s on screen is amazing). This summer, I finally watched what has become my third favourite sitcom.

Parks and Recreation is a gentle ensemble sitcom, which is principally successful because of its sketches of lovable larger-than-life comic characters like Ron Swanson, April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer, who are all very funny. When I started watching it I found all of these characters funny and engaging and kept watching. (I also fancied the pants of Aziz Ansari, so that helped.) But the reason I fell in love with the show was the main character, Lesley Knope.

Lesley is the Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation Department in the City Hall of Pawnee, the fictional sixth biggest city in Indiana. The show started out by poking fun at her for how seriously she took this job, but over the first two series the sarcastic tone was dropped and the show made you want the Parks and Recreation Department to do well. You also followed Lesley’s battle to become a member of the city council and the subsequent jobs she had in public service and the writing was unapologetically supportive of her naive passion for improving the quality of parks in Pawnee. The audience are made to be cheerleaders for the most mundane aspects of local government.

The programme was, at many times, an anthem to public service. In Parks and Recreation, “virtue” meant serving the unappreciative public to the best of your ability in spite of surrounding cynicism and bureaucracy. Part of what I love about The West Wing is its message that well-intentioned people can change the world. What’s wonderful about Parks and Recreation is that it valorises those who improve the little patch of earth around them. And Lesley Knope is (I think) the only sitcom character who has ever made me cry, and not at her lovelife, but at her achievements and failures in politics. (Incidentally, the show was unapologetically feminist. When Lesley had triplets, there wasn’t even a hint of a storyline about how she was going to balance work and family.)

As long as I remember, I have believed that being “good” means (in part) being political. You aren’t leading a good life if you aren’t involved in politics, if you don’t believe in society and the service we need to give it, at whatever level. It’s part of the reason I moved back to Ireland. I struggle to understand politics abroad and it will be much easier to get involved in Ireland and help try to change a little patch of the world as much as I can. And I will. I can be Longford’s Lesley Knope (as well as Longford’s Lorelai Gilmore).

RuPaul’s Drag Race

I have always enjoyed reality TV talent contests. As the years have gone by, I have become more and more cynical about singing contests, but I still enjoy Strictly Come Dancing, the Great British Bake Off and the Apprentice. However, undoubtedly the finest reality TV show of all time is RuPaul’s Drag Race, a contest to choose America’s next drag superstar that is now in its eighth year and I love it.

I have watched every episode of the show at least twice. I often have it on in the background while I work. It has become part of the fabric of my life. I mutter quotations from the more memorable queens to myself at unlikely times. If I’m late for a bus, I might bitterly whisper “Bitch I am from Chicago”. If someone looks at me funny, I might silently say “This is not RuPaul’s Best Friend Race”. If I’m psyching myself up for something, I might scream “Come on Season Six, Let’s Get Sickening!”. And when I look in the mirror, I have been known to declare “She is large and in charge, chunky, yet funky. Bold and beautiful baby, I am Latrice Royale.”

Of course, I know this is a heavily-produced show, but I honestly believe that it is a more positive phenomenon than any other TV talent show. The contestants are all working drag queens, so no one is terrible – this is their job. And every single one of the 75 or so queens who have participated over the years have better careers as a result of appearing on the show. Even if you’re eliminated in the first week, your booking fee in the clubs sky-rockets as a result of being in the show. So it never feels as exploitative as the X Factor or the Apprentice can. RuPaul ends every show by saying “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” and the show echoes that message – underneath all the bitchiness and fighting and penis jokes, there is a constant refrain of acceptance, tolerance and celebration of difference and it’s wonderful.

When I was a teenager, popular culture sold me a picture of a gay world. I dreamed so hard of that world and it never materialised. When I first went to gay clubs, I was so disappointed. They weren’t playing ABBA. They weren’t even playing S Club 7. No one had glitter smeared on their face. Were these people really “my people”? They just looked like straight people in tighter clothes. The gay world was never the colourful rainbow unicorn fairyland that I dreamed of. Since then, I have found elements of the teenage dream in the gay world, but never the whole package. And RuPaul’s Drag Race is the place that comes nearest to that fantasy.

Yes, it’s about gender identity and it does celebrate difference, but it’s mainly the gayest show on earth. It’s all colour and beauty and bending conventions and creating characters and making art of the human body and drag is genuinely an art form. Every week the Bottom Two have the “Lip-Sync for their Life” to decide who goes home. The Drag Race queens are occasionally very “masculine” in their daily lives, sometimes very gender-bendy slipping in and out of different identities, some are very “feminine”, and four of the contestants have announced that they are transsexual since appearing on the show. But they are all in some way Ugly Ducklings, who have the power to become the most beautiful swans. (I should also mention that the show is hilarious.)

And it’s such a tempting world. And just because I’m back in Ireland, it doesn’t mean that I’m not still dreaming of my Vegas show. Being a rainbow unicorn swan is undeniably attractive and I’m going to do it. And not half-assedly. I’m going to do it properly.

McFarland USA

I have always loved sports movies a lot more than sports. Sports movies are inspirational – they are about overcoming impossible odds, they are about digging deep, they are about being the underdog. They all basically have the same plot, in some shape or form, be it Mighty Ducks, or A League of Their Own, or Cool Runnings, or Moneyball, or Big Green. There are a motley collection of underdogs, preferably coached by someone out of their comfort zone and they train long and hard and the local community starts to take notice and they begin to be successful, at the last minute something means they might not be able to compete and the coach solves it with barely any time to spare and then they climactically win, or else lose but not as badly as they might have, and everyone cries and it’s wonderful.

I always dream dreams and scheme schemes on plane journeys. You’re completely cut off from the world and flying through the actual sky and anything is possible. On the flight home from Kazakhstan, I watched two sports movies. One wasn’t exactly a sport – it was “Spare Parts”, about poor teenagers entering an underwater robotics contest, but it had the exact plot that I just described. (Note: Sister Act 2 also has more or less the same plot). It was a good movie, but the other one was better. “McFarland USA” is about a high school cross-country running team from impoverished Latin-American families in California.

I was carried along on a river of emotion by the underdog story. Then, in the final race, one of the boys slows down, so it’s up to the fat kid to win the race for the team and he does it and I actually cried out loud on the plane (I know I keep talking about crying – I really don’t cry that often).

I fantasise a lot about running. It’s the TV symbol for health and wellbeing and when I close my eyes, the first image I often see is of me running. And while I’m running, I see physical chunks of my body fat literally flying through the air as I get thinner. And I run smoothly and easily, like I’m in an ad for low-cholesterol butter or tampons. I know it’s a weird thing to picture, but it seems to be my brain’s default happy place and it goes there multiple times a day.

And I might never be a runner, but I know I can be a winning underdog, as well as a Vegas Queen, and Longford’s Lesley Knope, and Longford’s Lorelai Gilmore.

Someday. Someday soon.

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