I was having a drink with a couple of pals the other night. Our train of thought meandered from the policies of the Israeli state to the resignation of Pope Benedict to baptising babies to Methodism to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to, yelled out in unified bingo-style abandon, MARMALADE ATKINS! Talk about 6 degrees of separation. Now to those of you who aren’t from the UK, this last one might be a bit niche. In fact to those of you who are from the UK, but aren’t of an age to have been watching kids TV in the early 80s, or whose parents thought ITV was a bad influence – you know who you are – this will also seem a bit niche. Nonetheless, I was struck by the profoundly powerful memory we all shared of this anarchic character from the dark and distant days of three TV channels. (OK you purists, I know she started out in book form but for a whole generation Marmalade Atkins was that girl from TV). And she was our hero.
That got me thinking about other anarchic characters from my youth. Minnie the Minx. I loved her. She was my alter ego. What am I saying, there was no alter, she was my ego. She has a statue in Dundee, you know. I was an avid ‘70s Beano reader, a member of the Dennis the Menace and Gnasher fan club, had one of those badges with the wobbly eyes, but Minnie was where it was at.
In the late ’80’s Darlene, the younger daughter in Roseanne took up the banner for irreverent youth, saving those of us with no interest in Disney Princesses from a fate worse than death. And for those aspiring to more adult themes (alcoholism, sexual violence, bereavement, relationship trouble), hard-talking, gun-toting, gin-swilling Chris Cagney saw us right through the decade.
By the time I left home in the very last year of the 1980’s, TV as we had known it – a scheduled event, galvanising a family, a nation, a subculture – had only a few years left to live. There were now four channels, satellites were springing up like extra-terrestrial beings clinging to the sides of grey houses (everything was grey in the 80s). Video recorders were in vogue. Soon there would be a fifth channel. And then cable. And then internet TV.
So let’s raise a toast to simpler times and remember when a few tough talking female characters scattered first through our comics, and then across our cathode ray tube TVs, offered a bit of feisty escapism for those of us who’d never much wanted to be one of Charlie’s Angels.
Readers of this blog will know that I recently chalked up a sustained absence from facebook, for which I felt duly smug (and, incidentally, to which I may return as my reactivated facebook account is fed on a daily basis with such sheer banality that it is increasingly a relief rather than a struggle to limit my usage). What I didn’t ’fess up to was that during that 37 day abstinence, I discovered LOVEFILM Instant. Technology will pull you in one way or another.
Now I have, on occasion, used LOVEFILM Instant in a grown-up, and well-reasoned sort of way. I’ve caught up on some films that I’d never have bothered to see at the cinema: Source Code, despite its schmaltzy ending, was kind of fabulous. But I have to be honest here: LOVEFILM Instant, for me, is really all about Buffy.
Of course, I loved the show the first time round. Who didn’t adore Willow and by extension first Oz, and then Tara? And with looks so utterly preposterous yet inexplicably cool, when Spike rolls into town, mowing down the ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign on his way, who didn’t secretly want to be him? A heady mix of the ridiculous and touchingly human, amoral yet vulnerable, moronic but somehow insightful; this was a Vampire we could all fall for. And how we did.
10 years on from the emotional roller-coaster of that last ever episode, I have lost hours, no days, maybe even weeks, to the void, and LOVEFILM Instant is to blame. Every single episode, right there, ready at a tap of the touchpad. And when you build in all that extra buffering time to the Buffyverse, (my broadband, it would seem, ain’t all that broad) well, that’s a lot of time. I wonder how it stacks up against my last few years of facebook use? Whatever the maths though, I reckon weeks lost to the Buffyvoid are, when all is said and done, weeks worth losing. Because, this programme stands the test of time. In 2013, Buffy seems better than ever. Quirky. Straight. Tragic. Comic. Light. Dark. It’s all there in those 40+minute episodes, across the arcs of each season, all the way from ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’ to ‘Chosen’. But what really does it for me, is the sheer scale of well drawn, central female characters. How often do we get to see this on screen? Recent British TV pales by contrast: the current season of Being Human is sorely disappointing. Can that ghost actually be said to possess a character? That is not rhetorical – please, somebody, tell me. Nor metaphysical. And what about the last season of The Hour? Is it possible to believe that that ineffectual, quivering-lipped, poor excuse for a boss actually heads up a crack, cutting-edge, current affairs programme? And don’t get me started on the wan’n’wistful-pseudo-French-pseudo-marxist-wifey who rocked up out of nowhere – all Jean Seberg crop and no trousers. What the hell were the writers thinking? Were the writers thinking? Here’s to Detective Inspector Sarah Lund. And please, please, please can we have some more kick-ass women on screen? Oh, and bringing back Spike wouldn’t hurt either.
Update: series 5 of Being Human got better. Not quite series 4 better, but it was a hell of a shame to see it go. The ghost improved. A little. But female characters remain the weakest on the show. Still, bring back Tom and Hal. Please.