Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Olden Times

This is where the "rambling" part of the blog title comes in.

Nothing like ripping apart an old tv show, but I'm in the mood. I have a fondness for some of the PBS "House" "reality" shows and have three of them: 1900 House, Colonial House and Frontier House. They're frelling expensive, so I make sure friends, like Heather and Anita, who are also into this kind of thing get a chance to borrow them.

The deal with these shows is that they are promoted as historical/educational, but they are not too different from The Real World, just with different costumes and a limited locale.

I'm watching Colonial House for the second time since I received the DVDs, and have some observations to make. Some of these issues could be due to the editing/direction, but I'll name 'em anyway:

  • Of course, the knitted wool hats and stockings rule. (I knit a Monmouth cap after I caught a couple episodes during the broadcast times, and want to do another, with more authentic yarn.) Sad to see no one knitting at all, and doing little in the way of needlework. Proof that these are more about the drama than the history, that they didn't have time - in 8 episodes - to show much beyond fighting and whining. (There were 2 instances that I'm aware of: 1 participant darning a sock, and a few of the ladies doing needlework once Heinz officially became governor.)
  • Speaking of the Heinzes... I really wanted to like them. Especially the wife. But I couldn't. I realize that some of what we see was due to careful editing, but they can't fake the snark and elitism. I can understand why many of the participants didn't like the new CEO-type they sent in, but I thought he was pretty cool.
  • From the voice overs, they make it clear that this cast of participants/characters was similar to real colonists in that many of the originals starved because they didn't know how to hunt or fish. But I doubt that they'd stand around and scoff after being shown where free and easy food was. (The clam flats. I only like my clams deep-fried, but I'd learn to love steamers if there was only 1 ration of meat a week!)
  • I started writing this while I was halfway through the series, so "I guess there was a garden, because they had a radish once. But wouldn't this be crucial?" isn't 100% accurate. They actually show a garden in a later episode and show one of the servants cleaning up. Still, never showed anyone harvesting or eating from it (or planting it) except for that radish.
  • Another early note: "If I could have been involved in the planning, I would have allowed people to do some research and make notes that they could take with them." Later: Turns out they had books, but I got the impression from something governor Wyers said that they never opened them. Helpful, that.
  • The original colonists might not have known what plants were edible, etc., but some of them must have had a trade to bring with them. No one knew how to brew beer, make wine or cider. Hunt or trap. Or, if they did, it was never shown.
  • Like how they didn't introduce all of the second group of colonists? One of the guys (Craig) finally - in the second-to-last episode - had his name under his face (another, Jeff, was identified a couple of episodes previous). Neither he nor Jeff were actually introduced.
  • The best part for me: seeing how messed up a combined church and state was, and seeing people realize it.
Quickies on the other two series I have (the only ones I've seen):

Frontier House: LOVED seeing the newlyweds think outside the box for ways to earn money (cheese) - and the wife was actually shown knitting! LOVED the fact that the community decided on a private school because - if it were a real situation - the newlyweds' future (mixed-race) children wouldn't be allowed to attend a public school. The kids were the real stars. It was sad to watch a marriage fall apart, the exact opposite one I would have bet on during the first episode.

Even if the guy was kind of a whiny baby (I'm starving. No, you're dehydrated. That will be 50% of your savings, please), the one that picked a still as his one special item was pretty darn clever. I think his family was perceived as cheating more than once, but they showed some real ingenuity. If they hadn't gone into that one house to watch TV, I think they would have been fine trading with the family.

The 1900 House: Shortest, I think, but still one of the best. The first episode showed how they got the house retro'd to 1900 standards, then the family they picked. Because that time had regular mail delivery, she had access to resources and was able to research activities and food to keep the kids happy. I was right there with her and the one daughter when they couldn't go swimming (in their fabulous bathing costumes) because they were on the rag and tampons hadn't been invented. Finding out that take-out existed, in the form of fish 'n chips, is probably what got her son through it.

Not so good: sneaking to a drugstore to buy shampoo. Tsk tsk. It would be SO hard to be right in the middle of all the hustle & bustle of a big city and have to pretend it doesn't exist. Knowing that there's a bottle of Suave with your name on it, just around the corner.

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