Monday, 8 September 2008

How to lose interest and alienate girlfriends...

Starting a conversation with, 'Hey, do you watch the Wire?' usually illicits a groan from my female friend, who tried watching it but found it impossible to decipher the Baltimore dialect, street slang and c-operational jargon. Even worse than my opening gambit of 'Hey, do you watch the Wire?' is the reponse... 'Oooooh man....' or 'duuuuude...' or 'wo-ah, dude...'

So, there I was at a party on Saturday night, not drinking alcohol (for some alleged September abstinence- i.e. the most boring month to come ever) and I was discussing television with a friend. Through discussions on Dexter, Entourage, The Sopranos, the Wire and what he, as a Canuck, should check out from this side of the pond now he's planning to live here, we bonded on a real geek-quency. What was interesting was that I couldn't find any drama to recommend to him except State of Play and the sitcoms I love he probably won't appreciate due to a difference of humour-senses. I don't imagine him liking the cult satire of Garth Marenghi, the male pessimism of Peep Show or the surrealness of the Mighty Boosh. So I wondered, why do we relate so well to American shows? How did a programme about 6 very Caucasian affluent Friends catch the imagination of the world-over whereas Only Fools and Horses didn't. Both have just as many national idiosyncrasies. It seems we're all versed with American pop cultures and ways of life. I know who Larry King is, what prom dresses are and how fraternities initiate intimately well, despite never seeing Larry King's shows, going to a prom or belonging to a fraternity. Are American as versed with Israeli conscription, British bingo or Russian tobogganing?

A friend of mine once won an international screenwriting award and part of his prize was to attend an American reading of his script, along with trained actors from Nu Yawk doing the parts. He found it strange because as much as he watches a lot of American telly, his script contained references to Des Lynam, small towns in Surrey and Grant Mitchell. People were nonplussed at the references, he said.

Speaking of which, while I was at this party, I had a discussion with my cousins on why they always referred to episodes of Friends to quote life lessons. For example, I told them I wanted to change my name by deed poll (to something sensible and administratively sensical) and they all replied, 'Like when Phoebe changed her name to Crapbag?' What? Who's Phoebe? Oh yeah Friends, yawn. It reminded me of this article what i wrote earlier this year and forgot to get published:

Please Don't Be There for Me

People don’t have real-life experiences anymore. They have moments in ‘Friends.’ Somehow, the banal self-obsessed madcap antics of Chandler et al have re-written our books of life. We look to them to relate our lives to something tangible, something real and relevant.

I was at a party the other day talking about changing my name by deed poll (for administrative reasons, not tax evasion), to which someone said, ‘What, like when Phoebe changed her name to Crap-Bag.’ Huh? They didn’t even contextualise their comment by informing me they were talking about a TV programme, and not our bipolar biscuit designer friend, Phoebe. I stopped watching Friends sometime around 2001, how the hell would I know what Phoebe has been up to and, anyway, how does that relate to my real-life deed poll dilemma? Does Friends mirror real-life that much that our lives all contain a Joey, a Ross, a Monica, and worst of all, Jennifer bloomin’ Aniston. I don’t think there is anyone I care less about than Jennifer Aniston. The most interesting thing about her is a haircut she had in 1994.

Time was, the elders used to talk about how things were ‘back in their day.’ Now, all we hear is, ‘well, it’s just like that episode of Friends where everyone thought Joey had a venereal disease.’ Friends must have done something right to alter the cultural cosmic plane in such a monolithic way. People can continue to moan about how it lost its spark when it got bogged down in subplots about the characters having sex with each other, yet the relevance of each of these events will stay with us for the rest of our lives. In fact, writing this column is like that episode where Chandler and Ross get something printed in Playboy magazine and… errr… lots of madcap hilarity ensued.

Was Friends even that good? Is it worthy of our continual reverence through life’s constant homage to its plotlines. Suddenly, being ‘on a break’ with your girlfriend takes on a whole new meaning. Being a jobbing actor definitely means being stupid will invariably get you a role opposite a drunk Gary Oldman. You will always get the girl, or boy, and still shag around with no consequence in the meantime. And any problem you may encounter in life, however serious, however trivial, however hilarious, will be resolved in exactly twenty-three minutes time, not including an ad break in the middle and the theme tune.

Sing-a-long now, we all know the words… ‘I’ll be there for youuuuuuu…’

I guess the moral of all of this is... don't talk about the Wire at parties, especially if you want to maintain the respect of your missus... all those geeky conversations should probably be saved up for a specially sanctioned event.

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