A Love Letter to Television
What TV taught me about growing up.
I have always loved television; it’s a medium I can completely immerse myself in. I love getting to know the characters, and feeling like I’m a part of their lives.
I think this phenomenon is particularly important for young adults, and perhaps why television targeted at this demographic is often so successful. It’s because so often we feel alone when we’re young. Whilst we’re struggling to figure out who we are, and what we want to be, it helps to see characters on screen going through the same thing. We can watch them struggle with love, friendship, family, mortality, careers, and the uncertainty of the future, and know that we are, in fact, not alone.
I was just such a teenager. I took great solace in shows that not only made me feel like a comrade in arms in the great battle of growing up, but which unashamedly heightened, embraced, and poeticized everything I was going through. Shows like One Tree Hill, Buffy, Charmed and Dawson’s Creek, irrelevant of their supernatural elements or plot deviances, represented and portrayed exactly how it feels to be a teenager: the drama, the pain, the anguish, the uncertainty, and the heartbreak. They did this elegantly, and whilst creating relatable, lovable characters for us to anchor ourselves to for support when our own struggles felt overwhelming.
I am now 28. I have a great relationship, and I work for myself. I rent a house with my boyfriend, and whilst my life doesn’t look like everything I imagined it would, I have little cause for complaint. But I still adore TV. It’s still my anchor in the storm, and I still love nothing more than losing myself in those beautiful, comforting worlds, and during my lucid hours I’ve started to wonder if perhaps I could create one of my own.
So, I’ve begun on online course in writing for television, and one of my assignments was to re-watch a TV series or two that we haven’t seen in a long time, and analyze its structure, character introductions, and arcs. As a result I find myself back at the start of One Tree Hill, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, two of my all time favourite shows.
Watching these shows as an adult has been a surreal experience, as I’m now much closer in age to the writers that created it than the characters on screen. I feared that I might not relate to them now, alienated from the teenage world they inhabit, and in some ways I worried that my favourite shows, and my memories of them might be tarnished by my adult cynicism, and be ruined for me forever.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. One Tree Hill, from the first scene, filled me with such heady, beautiful nostalgia that I found myself tearing up. As I moved through the seasons I started to appreciate the poetic, poignant lessons shining through in each episode, started to love the characters more deeply, and feel their pain more acutely than I had even as their peer. At first I assumed this was a projection only of my fond memories of the show itself, of re-finding beloved characters long forgotten, but now I suspect it was much more than that.
I now realise, in a way I couldn’t when I first watched them, that these shows are not created to represent what being a teenager is like, they are rather lovingly crafted memories of what being a teenager felt like. Whilst narrated by a young actor, these stories are told with an adult voice, and now that voice resonates with me in a way it never could before. The echoes of the past that underpin the shows' writing, the stains of regret, the glimmers of catharsis, speak to me now in a way that required the lenses of hindsight. I needed to grow up to understand how deep our nostalgia runs; how relentless is the nagging, tragic desire we all have to look back, and to rewrite our pasts. We want to make the loves burn brighter, the friendships bond tighter, to find meaning in senseless loss, and ultimately, to redeem any mistakes we made along the way. We want a do over, and the amazing thing about being a writer? You can have as many as you like.
As the characters you write grow, learn and forgive themselves and each other, you can heal along with them, and the good news is that if writing a TV show isn’t for you, there are plenty of nostalgic adult writers ready to welcome you with open arms into their world. Kevin Meade Williamson said it best through the immortal words of Joey Potter:
“Mistakes were made, hearts were broken, harsh lessons learned, but all of that has receded into fond memory now. How does it happen? Why are we so quick to forget the bad and romanticize the good? Maybe it’s because we need to believe that the time we spent together actually meant something; that we were there for each other in a time in our lives that defined us all, a time in our lives that we will never forget. I can’t swear this is exactly how it happened. But this is how it felt.”