Tag Archives: TV

Ten things we can learn about life from American sitcoms

Though my first visit to the United States wasn’t until I’d reached my 20s, I think it’s fair to say that I thought I knew a fair amount about the country through the years of watching American TV. From Newhart to Chips, US telly played an unquestionable (although on some level, highly questionable) role in my cultural upbringing.

More than anything, it was US sitcoms that I loved. Whether it was Willis in Diff’rent Strokes, Balki in Perfect Strangers, or Becky in Roseanne, I took deep into my life the characters that appeared on my screen every week. And to be fair, I think that they – and many others – taught me some valuable lessons and principles about life in America:

If you spend a substantial period of your life in the same bar, there is the distinct likelihood that everybody will know your name (Shelley Long is the exception that now proves this rule). Unfortunately, such heavy drinking may mean that you are no longer capable of remembering your own name.

The Golden Girls
If one of your best friends throws a party, you should not spend time carefully planning what to buy as a present. As long as the host sees that the biggest gift comes from you (and you attach a card with a casual inanity such as “thank you for being a friend”) you should be fine. Oh, and old ladies can be sexually active too, apparently.

Being a neurotic obsessive who is incapable of commitment doesn’t stop you from pulling women if you are a popular comedian. Being a short lackey in the employ of a baseball team is slightly more limiting.

Close pals do not need to worry about calling each other to check if it’s OK for them to turn up at an acquaintance’s house. They just roll up and let themselves in. Despite all the frequent comings and goings, and the constant crossing of the corridor between your apartments, you will never once be accused of being free loving swingers by your neighbours. Not to your face, at least.

The Cosby Show
If you’re a successful doctor and you’re married to a successful lawyer, and you live in New York City, you will still not earn enough money to live somewhere where two of your kids don’t have to share a room.

Happy Days
If you can make a jukebox play merely by hitting it, you are guaranteed sex. Even if your real name is Arthur.

Will & Grace
Having an incredibly irritating voice should never be seen as a barrier to success if you’re an actress (cf ‘The Nanny’).

Fathers can be the most down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness people, and their sons can still turn out like unconscionable pricks. If Fraiser had been my son, I’d have known exactly what to do with that tossed salad and scrambled eggs, and I can absolutely promise you that it would have taken at least ten years of extensive psychotherapy for him to erase the memory.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
If you were born and raised on the streets of West Philadelphia, and a couple of guys (who were up to no good) started making trouble in your neighbourhood, your mother’s idea of punishment will be to send you to live in one of the most expensive areas of the United States. Not only that, despite Los Angeles being 2,712 miles away, she’ll send you from the ghetto in a taxi. Approximate cost – $7,250.

Mork & Mindy
Moving to New York from London is broadly similar to landing on Earth in an egg-shaped spacecraft from the planet Ork. Sadly, greeting staff in New York delis with the words “Na-Nu Na-Nu” does not go down well. And I should know. Shazbot.

Where’s Sky Sports when you need it?

There’s something slightly strange about watching football on television in the United States. For a start, you have to tune into a station called the Fox Soccer Channel. I’ve no idea what this ‘soccer’ thing is, but if anybody has got any insight, do let me know. Nevertheless, if you’re separated from your beloved team by a matter of a few thousand miles, this is the place you have to turn.

I think it’s fair to say that the Fox Soccer Channel isn’t one of the most watched channels on American cable. On Time Warner Cable, it’s down at position 124. In other words, there are 123 channels considered more important than FSC – including the Speed Channel, which is currently showing a programme called ‘Unique Whips’. Mainstream stuff, I’m sure…

The relatively low viewership is particularly evident in the advertisingcommercials that appear around key games. Most of the adverts have been shot on a budget that wouldn’t even buy you a coffee in Starbucks, and I’ve seen better production values in kindergarten art classes. And that’s the good ones.

What’s most alarming though is the nature of the products being advertised. Tuning in yesterday to watch Manchester United’s second half demolition of Newcastle, it was like being forced to sit through the 3- 4am slot on one of QVC’s less successful competitors. Merely being marginally impressed by one of the products on offer would be enough for family members to have you committed. I daren’t even think about the consequences of actually making a purchase.

Among the items being sold were the Teeter Hang Up, a device that hangs you upside down by your ankles so that you’ve got gravity on your side when you’re doing your exercise. It looked ridiculous on the TV, but you’ve got to hand it to the website for their attempt to sell it:

“Used sensibly, inversion is extremely beneficial, and no more dangerous than many other popular and widely practiced fitness activities.”

No more dangerous than other widely practiced activities? Such as boxing blindfolded, presumably.

Also on offer was the Riddex digital pest repeller which apparently “eliminates rodents automatically”. Ignoring the sheer bravado of the product claim for a moment, I was particularly taken by the customer testimonial of one old lady (who was in no way an actress), who claimed:

“Riddex just makes me happy”

After all, who needs love or money when you’ve got a digital pest repeller?

My absolute favourite though was the Forearm Forklifts, a device to help you lift heavy furniture or equipment with the minimum of effort. I’d like to report that the Forearm Forklift is a small and highly mobile lifting device. It’s not. It’s a couple of plastic straps that you and a mate put on your arm to help lever your sofa into the air. They’re selling it for $20 if ever you’re seized by a desire to purchase something that cost 56 cents to manufacture.

Impressively, Fox Soccer Channel doesn’t interrupt the match to play commercials. Sadly that means that there’s no expert analysis at half time, just constant adverts for sleeping aids, home decorating aids and dodgy exercise devices. Clearly advertisers believe that the average football fan is a lazy couch potato whose general untidiness leads to armies of rats invading his (or her) messy pit.

It’s amazing how accurately consumers can be targeted these days, isn’t it?