Phil Gyford


Tuesday 4 February 2003

PreviousIndexNext Felicity

I must admit that I’m a sucker for US TV series featuring teen angst and attractive kids who always seem to glow with the peculiar golden light that only the American networks can achieve. My So-Called Life, Dawson’s Creek, Roswell, all that, I’m there. It’s bewildering to me that of this genre Felicity has had the least impact in the UK. It’s consigned to the digital wasteland that is ITV2 where it obviously failed to find an audience on early Sunday evenings, having now been shunted to the unholy hour of 9.25am the same day.

For me the show has everything going for it. We can take the attractive and strangely articulate young people as read. It’s set in New York, which is a good start, although it’s so understated (or, perhaps, budget-conscious) that one rarely sees a picture postcard view. There are the endless shifting relationships between characters that have made Dawson’s so exhausting and tiresome of late, but somehow it’s less cartoon-like; the angst is more believable from these world-weary college kids than it is from the increasingly sickly and slap-worthy gang that has failed to make the leap from Capeside to Boston. And the crucial ingredient that raises Felicity above the competition is its humour, a light-heartedness and sense of fun that stops us from taking it too seriously.

There have been times when the balance has been wrong, and even the wackiest of gay coffee-shop proprietors and hare-brained scheming businessmen would be hard-pushed to balance the over-wraught trauma that was the prolonged near-death of a parent from alcoholism. But recent episodes have somehow managed to pull together the most unlikely plot devices into something that magically holds together… Felicity, convinced she’s been with the wrong guy since he cheated on her, appears to have travelled back in time, thanks to a flatmate’s Wiccan spell, to set things straight with the right guy. This week both guys over-reacted when she divulged this and had her committed to an asylum, before the “wrong” guy realised she must, somehow, be telling the truth and got her out, becoming the right guy (which we knew all along). Only for the original right guy (who was, by now, the not-quite-so-right guy) to die. Presumably in the college fire from which he rescued Felicity back when we were all in the future.

Yes, it’s preposterous, but somehow it worked. Felicity’s frustration and desperation, the guys’ confusion, the final minute police phone call and the comedy background sub-plots involving manicures, Dollywood and imaginary boyfriends all worked and I had tears in my eyes. And yet I’ve no one to share it with because I don’t know anyone who watches it. But that’s fine, because it makes the show just mine and I don’t have to share.


The Sopranos is another much underrated series, so I am told. This guy I work with is determined that I should watch the Sopranos. It pains him that I've never watched it and that no one else in the office does. He comes in the night after desperate to talk about it, only to find that no one ever watches it. In another social circle, (I belong to a pub quiz team), one of the guys loves the Sopranos and he can't find anyone to talk about it with either. I suppose I should introduce these two people so that they can talk about the Sopranos to each other. Half the fun it appears is repeating some of the more colourful lines of dialogue.

When I was growing up there were only two channels, there was always a good chance that you would have watched the same program as your school friend or work colleague. Then along came BBC2, then Channel4 then Cable and Satellite, as the channels multiplied, the chances that you watched the same program last night as your work colleague diminished. I suppose we might get to a point where it is movies that provide a common currency of conversation, rather than TV programmes.

Other patterns of life are changing. Sundays used to be really quiet on the roads. It was quite common in Newcastle to see men waiting outside the pub on a Sunday just before 12:00. Two hours later they would emerge, have Sunday lunch, fall asleep in front of the fire. No opening times have been relaxed, the Supermarkets are open on a Sunday, the bars are quiet and the roads busier than ever. I find it hard when I am in North America to figure out patterns of communal activity. Unless there is some great sporting event, its very difficult to figure out what people are doing at any given time in their homes. There is much more of a 24 hour culture there, though I would guess we are headed that way too.

We often think about getting rid of the TV, particularly in the summer when the license fee is due. It would be quite possible to buy a DVD drive for the computer to watch movies, have broadband Internet for news and radio. Why bother with a TV at all? Its the addictive aspect to TV that worries me and the amount of time it takes up.

There are too many good television programs, If you watched all of them you would do little else. If I was organised with the video then I could record favourite programs and watch them when I was ready. However I'm not that organised, I lost the ability to set the video when we got digital cable TV installed. Even before then I used to just record stuff and never watch it. It got to the point where I would record a program just so that I didn't have to watch it. "Record it and forget it" thats my motto, or it would be if I could get the VCR to work.

One of the appealing things about American situation comedy/soaps is the infrastructure. Most Americans don't enjoy the palatial luxury of Dr Frasier Crane, but most of them have better interior decor than the average English home. Whatever you own circumstances its great to marvel at their large appliances and spacious accommodation. American shows are a pleasure to 'watch', irrespective of the script. The air is clearer, the people look better and healthier the colours are brighter the sun shines more often. I particularly like the cafes. Why can't we have cafe's like the Central Perk in Friends or the Seattle coffee shop in Frasier. Don't tell me that places like this don't exist because I know they do.

For much the same reason I prefer watching Sky News to BBC News, not because the correspondents or reports are better but because it looks better. The studio is blue and futuristic they show more pictures. The newreaders are more spiffy. The contrast between the presentation of the weather is stark. The BBC may be better to listen to but Sky is better to watch and on TV its the latter that wins out in the end.

Posted by Richard Hyett on 5 February 2003, 9:52 am | Link

Thanks Richard.

To me 'The Sopranos' is incredibly non-underrated (I wouldn't go so far as to say "overrated"). Many of my friends watch it and when there's a new series (or even at other times) it's not unusual for pictures and articles about the show to appear in the press. However, I've never seen an article about 'Felicity' in the UK and I'd bet that almost all my friends have never heard of the show, let alone watch it.

I'm fascinated by the decrease in "event television" multi-channel TV is apparently causing. There are still big events that will get plenty of people interested and talking, but I expect the groups of interest are becoming more fragmented and less universal. It's about events within a specific social group/demographic. What's a big event for readers of the Guardian's weekend 'Guide' isn't big for most readers of The Mail.

I'm not sure whether movies will take the place of these events. It's a tough call now and I wonder whether in the future, with digital projection systems that make the scheduling and projecting of films more flexible, whether movie "events" will be more dispersed, less of a "big bang."

I generally only watch shows I've identified in the schedules, and always video them if I'm out; I haven't felt the need for a Tivo because it's not often that I miss something I want to watch, and if I do... it's far from the end of the world.

I know what you mean about US shows looking better. It's the strange "glow" I mentioned; everything seems somehow golden. I've noticed a similar effect on UK shows occasionally... maybe it was 'Hollyoaks' or 'As If...'; I can't remember. Anyway. I can't stand Sky News however; BBC every time for me, not just because it looks better to me, but for the lack of ads and lower level of hyperbole.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 5 February 2003, 10:39 am | Link

I take your point about Sky News. The tendancy to loop footage, most recently the disintegration of the Shuttle, was rather disturbing. To see the same 45 second clip 10 times in as many minutes is a bit over the top. What I was trying to understand was why I keep turning that channel on in spite of failings such as these, the only thing I could come up with was the "glow" or the "gloss" that surrounds everything.

In America the opening of movies or films are far bigger events than they are here, they tend to get covered on News programs, on chat shows like Jay Leno and David Letterman and most of the coverage is far less critical than in the UK. I found that they are the one thing that everyone seems happy and able to talk about. Can you think of anything that provides more of a universal focus of discussion than films? Current affairs, sports I don't think so, not in the same way.

With the Sopranos I was less concerned whether the show was good or popular or overrated and more interested in your original point about not being able to share something of worth with other people.

Posted by Richard Hyett on 5 February 2003, 9:35 pm | Link

I'm just disappointed this wasn't a post about Felicity Kendal.

Posted by Ted on 7 February 2003, 10:10 am | Link

i watched that Felicity episode - I had no idea what was going on, but enjoyed it enormously (maybe cos it was a 'clips' show)

Posted by matt on 9 February 2003, 1:30 pm | Link

For my future reference...

I adore really tightly-focused and well-done sites like this. Yay!

Posted by Phil Gyford on 16 February 2003, 10:27 pm | Link

I got addicted to Felicity during August and have felt the same as you re: noone to talk to about it! Been loving it anyway until this week when I can't find it on tv listings and haven't a clue what's going on! ARghhhh and why was it on around 2/3am anyway jeeeeze!!!

Posted by cK on 10 September 2003, 12:20 am | Link

Wow! Such love and dedication for an American TV show.. by Englishmen! Heheh, I'm impressed. A couple of my friends used to rave about this show. I've never seen it though.

It was my impression a more popular past-time was slagging off American's or at least American TV. ;)

Posted by Sam on 18 November 2008, 6:19 am | Link

I think the slagging off of American TV stopped several years ago, before all those HBO series showed us how good drama can be.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 18 November 2008, 9:30 am | Link

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