Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sitcom Girls I Had A Crush On In My Formative Years

I vividly remember being three years old and devastated one afternoon to find I had fallen asleep (naps were an extreme rarity in my childhood) and missed "Scooby Doo".  I don't know what is more rare: missing my daily Daphne fix, or the fact that I have many vivid memories of being three years old.

Looking back, television makes a chronology much easier.  I remember a couple of things from the age of two, and they are both T.V. related.  I watched a lot of PBS as a child.  Forget all the accusations that Disney was a masochist teaching children hard life lessons in Bambi; when I was four, Mr. Rogers gave me a crystal clear portrait of death when his goldfish died, and I'm a better person for it.  ALF taught me, at age six, you don't always get the one you love.  No exaggeration, both of these episodes resonated deeply with me.  And I honestly don't know which lesson was harder to swallow.  For me, crushes were always deeply internalized.  It was easy for me to buy into the nerd-pining-after-unattainable-girl-for-complete-series-arc trope.  Hell, I followed "Dawson's Creek" into my twenties (even through the abysmal season five).

My mind was fertile soil for imagined relationships and television kept it watered.  Not merely escapism-- sitcoms often informed my life and female characters became real-life fascinations.  The characters were never constant, but different stereotypes returned enough to form ideals.  The following is a (sometimes creepy) investigation of the types and specifics of my television crushes in my formative years.

I specifically remember, at age six, trying to determine the difference in age between myself and Cindy Brady.  I knew this show was syndicated and the gap was likely significant (though I probably didn't guess 18 years), which may have led to the end of this crush.  However two things can be determined:

1) My vision of cuteness couldn't be overcome by built-in, annoying character qualities (Cindy's annoying traits are reminiscent of a later crush I had on Stephanie Tanner).

2) Though it was probably age relativity, I'm pretty sure I was attracted to a diminutive essence.  How much of this is due to (a truth the Disney Channel has be exponentially exploiting over the last decade) young me wanting to relate with characters my age in a public forum, I don't know.

Both of these qualities come into play in my 1987 crush on Mickey Foley (Heidi Zeigler) from NBC's short-lived "Rags To Riches", again the youngest in a large family of girls (though I may have started to outgrow this-- I never followed her to "Just the Ten of Us").  Speaking of all-girl casts, I was also very allured by "The Facts of Life" around this time, as it offered insight into females behind closed doors.

Quick aside:  my favorite program in second grade was easily "The Cosby Show".  As trite as it sounds, I'd like to offer up what was, to me at a young age, indisputable evidence that racial discrimination and "otherness" is a learned, environmental behavior.  Growing up in the cultural mecca of Mesa, Arizona, I had very little contact with African American culture.  In fact, I thought the Bangladeshi kid in my class was Black.  As much as Cosby has been blamed for being too vanilla, I will counter-argue that, while perhaps not always indicative of African American culture, the ability for me to relate to "The Cosby Show" made color (sometimes literally) invisible.

So imagine my astonishment when after months, if not years, I finally realized Tootie was Black.  I'm not sure if this made me the most progressive or the densest kid in town, but even as a dumb kid in the middle of White America, the level of transparency these programs gave me in the name of entertainment was integral to a healthy worldview, as unbelievably contrived as it sounds.

By 1989, "Charles In Charge" was becoming a force to be reckoned with in syndication (something that strangely eluded it in prime time).  That meant every evening I could watch Nicole Eggert as Jamie Powell (presuming it was at least season three).  This was an interesting character for me to fall for, establishing a third tenet in my sitcom crushes:

3) I could forgive-- and maybe even be attracted to-- a certain amount of snobbery and privilege.

Jamie Powell might have been my biggest sitcom crush to date, and her blond may have influenced my taste for some time.  Other crushes in this category include Larke Tanner from "Beverly Hills Teens" (a cartoon I honestly don't remember for anything else), her apparent neighbor, Kelly Taylor in "Beverly Hills, 90210" and Heidi Lucas's Dina Alexander a few years later in Nickelodeon's "Salute Your Shorts" (also a fairly sizable crush).

Strangely, despite how I felt in real life, many girl-next-door types weren't up my alley in television.  Popular heart-throbs Winnie Cooper, Wanda Plenn and Topanga Lawrence just never did it for me.  Sure, I had a thing for Christine Taylor's Melody Hanson in "Hey Dude", but perhaps she was a little too everyday.  I cannot even begin to tell you the hours I had invested in "Saved By The Bell" circa-1992 (there was a time when you could catch back-to-back-to-back episodes between WGN and TBS), but I was always more into "California Dreams"'s Tiffani Smith (Kelly Packard, another prominent-foreheaded blond) than Kelly Kapowski.  The older I got, the more it became obvious that Joey Potter and Felicity Porter were, as Sean put it in an episode of "Felicity", "the kind of girl[s] you marry, not the kind of girl[s] you date."  But as a child, the "unknown" allure of the female was attractive and:

4) Mystique goes a long way.

Let me put all the cards on the table here:  I would not be the person I am today if it were not for "Clarissa Explains It All".  I mean, Melissa Joan Hart was cool and all, but more notably for me, there was a single episode in which a family friend, Piper (Sheeri Rappaport) comes to visit.  To 13-year-old me, this girl was the unattainable, cultured, collected, ineffable cool.  This girl wanted to watch Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, and now the cat is out of the bag.  This girl was a confident Angela Chase; an un-nerdy Daria.  In a lot of ways, this character is responsible for how I envisioned cool, and the fact that it was one episode and she was out of my life fed this.

Sometimes, this "mystique" is magnified to a point of alien.  Maureen Flannigan's Evie Garland in the Saturday morning syndicated "Out of This World" (often coupled with "Charles In Charge") was a half-alien who had the sweet gimmick of stopping time by connecting her index fingers.  The sci-fi twist added a Pandora's box element to an already attractive lead.  The dark side of the moral quandary regarding the extent to which these powers could be abused were never explicitly present, but I couldn't shake them.

Similarly, Alex Mack (Larisa Oleynik) was given sci-fi powers as a tom-boy with access you would never entrust to a human being.  The boundary-hopping between public and private space was only a few degrees of separation from Hollow Man, yet passed as a kid's show in which imaginations could run wild.  The show always tagged her with backwards caps and baggy overalls, working overtime to defeminize her.  It didn't work.  How Oleynik isn't a superstar is beyond me.

And sometimes, the mystique needs little more than a foreign accent.  I also had a thing for Moira Quirk on Nickelodeon's "GUTS".  Speaking of quirk, though the annoying-neighbor trope was almost always annoyingly fruitless (sorry Gibbler), I was also strangely drawn to Six (Jenna von Oÿ) on "Blossom".  The reasons for this have always eluded me (though the fact that the lead was so unlikeable couldn't have hurt), even though a 1998 version of will go down in history as one of my favorite websites.  At this point, I'm O.K. with not being able to explain that one.

1 comment:

  1. I read this and was fascinated. I am glad that you are blogging again!