Was it that long ago? Praise be for syndication.
Nathan: Family Matters
This Cosby Show rip-off won me over with its nerdy next door neighbor character, Steve Urkel. As a fourth grader, I somehow felt it would be cool to dress up in a horrible plaid shirt and suspenders for Halloween. Donning my own Coke-bottle classes, I ran around parroting Urkel’s most popular catch phrase, “Did I do that?”
Yes, I was that annoying kid.
Tyler: Goof Troop
I feel like the only person on Earth whose particular favorite of the Communist-like Disney bloc of afternoon shows was Goof Troop. I never got into Darkwing Duck (“Let’s…get…dangerous!”), I fucking hated Talespin, and Ch-ch-ch-Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers had no appeal to me. Yet, after catching a ride home via bus or parents or friends or hovercraft (I did go to an expensive Catholic school, after all), I absolutely had to get myself in front of the TV to watch the adventures of bizarrely-domesticated Goofy and his son (Sam? Sport? Contrivance?), for at least a long year or so. This phenomenon still baffles me to this day.
Travis: Night Court
I’m one of those only child weirdos and I have weirdo parents who let me do only child things like stay up way too late. I only know this is weird because I’ve talked with people who aren’t only children and people who are since and the similarities/dissimilarities are terrifying. All of that is probably something for some other time, but it felt necessary to say to explain why, as a six or seven-year-old, I was watching late night syndicated reruns of Night Court on a regular basis. There was a lot of sexual humor in this absurd workplace sitcom about an arraignment court in pre-Giuliani NYC that I only understood a little bit of (mostly involving John Larroquette’s prosecutor Dan Fielding and his seemingly unending carnal appetite and relationship with prostitutes) until watching the same episodes I’d seen multiple times much later on in life, but there was plenty of stuff there that made me laugh even at a young age. My favorite episodes, I learned later on, were what are referred to in TV terms as “bottle episodes,” shows confined to one setting to alleviate the costs of other episodes that went over budget, and in Night Court’s case tended to just take place in the courtroom and involve as many silly sight gags regarding things that might come before the bench as possible. A perfect example: tortoise nervosa.
M.A.S.K. isn’t remembered as well as G.I. Joe or Transformers (the two shows it stole from most liberally), but it was far better than either. M.A.S.K. was an acronym for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. The characters had transformative vehicles and masks that gave them special powers to fight V.E.N.O.M (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem). Quite frankly, it was cooler than all that other crap kids were watching…except maybe Voltron.
What really sealed the deal for me was the typical 80s toy line that accompanied M.A.S.K. Despite a relatively short run (75 episodes, 1985-86), Kenner rolled out a wide variety of action figures, all of which I owned.
Tyler: Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?
My family daily grew amused and/or annoyed with me when I would invariably stomp up and down, frustrated with kid-contestants who couldn’t identify, like, India. Do it, Rockapella!
Postscript: seeing Lynne Thigpen, “The Chief,” on episodes of Law And Order that friend of FR/old roommate James would watch was always absolutely fucking surreal.
Travis: Batman: The Animated Series
Most of the cartoons I watched as a child are objectively terrible. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the shit out of them, but it’s hard to view them with the same rose-colored glasses with which I might view other shows I enjoyed as a kid. B:TAS, as it is abbreviated by other people who were about my age and still enjoy it, as I do, is different. I made sure I’d biked home by 4:30 during fifth grade in case a new episode was on, and often my friends would join, or I’d join them at whichever house we’d decided to watch it. Why it’s good, I’ve written before as an adult. Why I remember it so much from childhood I think is obvious.
Nathan: Batman: The Animated Series
As though it were a religious rite, I plopped myself down in front of the TV at 4pm every day after getting off the school bus in sixth grade. I loved Batman: The Animated Series. I taped episodes on our VCR and watched them over and over again.
Along with Calvin and Hobbes, Batman taught me that artistic form could inform content. It was a revelation to me to learn that the show was animated not on white paper but on black! It occurred to me then that the creators wanted to give us a world that was darkness even to its core. It was a worldview choice, cynical and brilliant.
The ultimate evidence of my love for can be found in this anecdote:
When I got home from school on one of those early fall days, my mother informed me that I would have to miss Batman, because she had scheduled pictures for me and my sister to be taken at JCP. I did not go gracefully. Livid with what I perceived to be a great injustice, I unrepentantly refused to smile for any of our pictures. My sister, naively grinned from ear to ear while I scowled at my fate. The caped crusader would’ve beat the tar out of all of them and taken me back home to watch his show.
My comic-book phase didn’t last a lifetime–though I do occasionally check in on Wikipedia to see what, say, Gambit is up to–but my most thorough obsession with the genre was spawned by Fox’s animated Saturday-morning X-Men series. Oh, holy Lord. There was this character named “Morph,” he only existed in the TV show, he got killed off in the pilot, but was snarky and funny in the way that 5th-graders find endearing (and 29-year-olds know was actually grating), and then they brought him back from the dead as a kind of corrupted good-guy for the second-season finale, and my friend Matt and I were like so excited about it, and we both sort of had a crush on Rogue, and…
Okay, I’m sort of embarrassing myself here. DA-NAH-NAHNAH-NAH-NAHNAH
Travis: Sesame Street
I would guess this is a childhood favorite for many, but I may not remember it as much as I do were it not for the fact that I relived the love of Sesame Street early on, so that it’s doubly nostalgic. My dad was always disappointed that I loved Big Bird (I couldn’t help it, sorry, Dad) but on the second go-round, when my summer babysitter had an infant and a toddler and I watched Sesame Street with those younger kids over and over again I learned to give the real star, Grover, his props. I mean, obviously Grover should get his props. Muthafuck a Elmo, Grover in the house.
To this day I can’t tie any knot other than a simple shoe bow. You’d think that after watching so many episodes of MacGyver I would’ve learned something along the way.
Tyler: Saved By The Bell
One of the stretches where my parents and/or myself liked to believe I have any kind of athletic ability led to a handful of early evenings spent in guilt-school aftercare, fresh from a session of missed foul-shots and diverted glances from much more able “teammates.” Throughout said stretch, I was introduced to Saved By The Bell, which was lively yet innocuous enough to be shown to we ten-or-so-year-olds whose parents had actual jobs to tend, or whatever they were doing (Chardonnay?). I maintain to this day that The College Years was actually better than the original show. Why? Why, I’ll give you two reasons: Bob Golic, and the fact that I am a lunatic.
It’s hard to separate these two, mostly because they were both shows designed to be awesome and sell awesome toys to children. That didn’t stop me from getting sucked into either one and being a demanding little shit, leading my mom on Sisyphean quests to toy stores around the St. Louis area looking for Robeasts, the Coffin of Doom, or Starscreamer. I have held true on my nostalgia for Transformers and have not watched the Michael Bay abominations with Shia LeBoeuf and Megan Fox, but I have seen Transformers: The Movie, featuring Orson Welles as the voice of Unicron, at the New Beverly Cinema revival house. How has there not been some sort of CGI massacre of everyone’s childhood Voltron dreams as well?
Nathan: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I watched the show relentlessly. I had most of the action figures. I had the Burger King promotional videos. I had the video games. I saw the movies. I even had a cereal bowl shaped like a ninja turtle. Was the show any good? Probably not. I tried to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze a couple of years ago and felt incredibly stupid when it was over. I’ll do everything in my power to avoid seeing any episodes of the show. I’d like my memories to be fond.
Tyler: The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
Breath mints. Breath mints. Breath mints…breath mints…BREATH MINTS!!
I’m a Golden Age of TV snob. Depending on what day you ask me, I can explain why The Sopranos is the most important show ever to air on television, why there are no cop shows it’s worth watching other than The Shield, how The Wire is the most intricate and Deadwood the most Shakespearean, how Breaking Bad is breaking new ground in serial storytelling intensity. But if you ask me the show that’s my favorite of all time, it’s Roseanne. The later seasons went all bugaboo and totally sucked, but when it was on its game, Roseanne was the show that embodied being part of an American family in the 1990s, especially if you were from the Midwest. I can still laugh at it even though I’ve seen every worthwhile episode tens of times, from when it originally aired to the reruns in syndication and on Nick at Nite and TV Land. If you’ve ever been bowling with your family, I hope you agree with me.