My first memory of the television is extremely vague. The year is 1994 or maybe 1995. My mother is watching The X-Files. I am hiding behind the sofa. There's a corpse, there are cockroaches, and I am terrified.
I came home to our modest apartment from primary-school at 2 pm every day. I would get off the school-bus, rush home paying little or no attention to lunch. At 3 pm, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be on. I wouldn't bother distracting me at this time. It became routine and essential. My three cousin brothers and I picked roles and I was unceremoniously, by a process of elimination, told I was going to be Michelangelo. As a pizza-loving, Cowabunga-yelling, provider of comic relief, the animated series version of Mikey was the archetypal buffoon character. Although I secretly yearned to be Raphael, as the youngest of the group, I had relegated free-will. We never really did anything. We didn't even have the energy or focus to fight pretend-crime. Being older and more adept at humiliation, the rest of the group really just made fun of me. The memories are vague, but my six-year old self religiously did very few things. TMNT was just the start of what would become what has variously been described as an addiction, a problem, a passion and a condition.
For some reason, my television watching as a child coincided with and was conditioned by food. The internet hadn't blown up, people still sought comfort in people, and I spent hours playing in corridors, or beside extremely dangerous roads with people whose names I cannot recollect. If you sat on the right seat at the dinner table you could see the television and I would watch without understanding a lot of age-inappropriate prime-time drama. On the weekends we would re-watch Sound of Music or my father would bring home the latest children's film. John Ritter's acclaimed Problem-Child series was a favourite. Perhaps, they were making a point.
The sole English language national television channel in Dubai (where I had the at once exciting and unfortunate experience of growing up in) was called Channel 33. It had a horribly pixelated pre-HD look about it. And it played an indiscriminate collection of American television shows. Thus began my introduction to The Wonder Years and the The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Suddenly, the vocabulary was changing. I tried learning the words to the opening rap, discovered that hip-hop was profoundly cool, and started watching MTV.
My older cousins watched Friends and as soon I was old enough to get it, I was watching it intermittently with no continuity. I started to recognise humour and its utility as a tool, a skill and sometimes even a weapon. I walked up to random women on the street and tried my own early-pubescent version of, "How you dooooooooooin'". I didn't.
But still, I was on a strict regimen that consisted of going to school and working hard and playing football in the park averagely and soon even with some promise. As I entered high-school, dinnertime got later, and we watched 8 Simple Rules with a younger and I would argue less annoying Kaley Cuoco. The channel was the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star World and it was consumed by a relentless appetite for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel on weekends. Then there was Dark Angel, and there was Jessica Alba and that was, well, a terrible show, but, I mean, well, you know.
As all my teenage angst frothed and fermented, The O.C. became the show that all the girls talked about and all the boys feigned ignorance about. In reality, everyone wanted to wear that wife-beater and get the girl and drive a Range Rover and live in a pool-house. Right? Oh dear god.
Then, in a spectacular career-move I joined the debate club. My tastes necessarily became more cultivated, and verging on intellectual. Boston Legal and The West Wing came to me. And slowly but surely, I was consumed, a hapless captive devoid of the knowledge that it was all going to go downhill from there. I wanted to be able to argue like Alan Shore, and be an intelligent-witty-good-looking character in an Alan Sorkin show. Simultaneously my sister started watching One Tree Hill. And maybe, I stumbled by the TV a few times. Not one of my finest moments..
Prison Break and Heroes were when things got really messy. Conversation and interaction became secondary. I binged. A lot. I graduated high-school with a messy and undisciplined array of TV experience. From Frasier to Cheers to even a weird Neighbours-phase, I had dabbled a lot. Few shows of varying quality had consumed me. There was still time to start being more productive and kick the habit.
Then, I went to university. And the sh** hit the ceiling.
The thing about college-life is that time becomes this fungible entity that you waste and use with equal guile. Freedom has disparate effects on its recent awardees. From the swashbuckling Hank Moody (David Duchovny's character on Californication), to the Entourage-lifestyle, I started consuming TV with a rigour that was unmatched. Humour acquired different meanings when I was introduced to David Brent(The Office UK) and the Bluth family (Arrested Development). The Wire was 5 seasons that went by in a blur prior to the most important exams I was going to ever have to do. It changed the game completely. It taught me narrative and portraiture in its own incomparable way. Walter White (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) showed me how fiercely honest writing and characterisation can carry a story and make it more than just that.
Kelsey Grammer's Tom Kane from the Boss series was an almost scientific construction of a man's eventual destruction. Community excavated the annals of pop culture and wove them together in ways that were both simple and complex. Law school as my next destination was inaccurately affirmed as a positive move when I discovered Suits. Although I had never been a lover of the fantasy genre, Game of Thrones trampled all over that.
Kevin Spacey's House of Cards reaffirmed my belief in two massive institutions: the political thriller and the Southern drawl. Sorkin's comeback (The Newsroom) generated a Sorkin-throwback binge session which included re-watching The West Wing and Studio 60.
And then, my recently concluded exams really left me wondering whether this was healthy. Five seasons of Friday Night Lights in far too little time. I was left really wanting to be a quarter-back and still not knowing much about football, and highly unprepared for my imminent Jurisprudence exam. And there was Minka Kelly, who was also great in Parenthood that I accidentally stumbled across my sister watching and then was forced to watch entirely. And Peter Krause was as above-average in Parenthood as he was in Dirty Sexy Money which was really quite deservedly taken off-air. I managed to gather this after watching all 40 or so episodes. .
And the list doesn't really end.
The fact is that my own personal life is punctuated and (in some ways) determined by what I have chosen to watch on TV. I maybe want to learn how to swash-buckle like Hank Moody, have photographic memory like Mike Ross (Suits). Think of what I could do with Walter White's innovation, Stringer Bell's business sense, and Tyrion Lannister's ability with language.
There is a ritualistic sense to this part of my life. It is perhaps a space of unparalleled fervour and dedication. And as worrying as that sometimes seems, it is an art-form that is unique in its ability to construct narrative. Character arcs develop, expectations are constructed and dashed, there is tension, there is humour and there is often, if not always, growth.
I am a better writer, a better thinker and maybe even a better person for it.
My name is Rajiv Naresh and I am a television addict. At least it's not meth.Suggest a correction