Nostalgia Five - 90's to 00's Children's TV
I have been looking through some of my old things from when I was a child; books, notebooks, drawings and poems that I found hidden in the dust of my past (literally in some cases). Add to that, many places and people that I spent a lot of time with have begun to disappear or change irreversibly since I left Cornwall for university in 2011, not to mention the number of public figures that heavily influenced my life that have passed away in the same time frame. This has given me a vivid feeling of nostalgia that I can't shake, I feel I need to express it in some way in case all these experiences from my past were to be erased, just like the period of time that birthed them, the hotels, pubs and shops that are even now fading away from another generation's memory. We are a race in which nostalgia is inherently embedded, we yearn for the past because we know that it can never be retrieved, the good, the bad and the downright baffling too, which brings me to The Nostalgia Five. In this article I will relay some of these childhood memories, and hopefully trigger some of yours, in the thinly veiled form of a 'top 5' style article. I will talk about the 'trigger' and the memories that formed from it. Since most of the people reading this will likely be my peers in generation, I will start with something we all have in common. Children's television. If any of these remind you of interesting memories, stories of your past or you just want to discuss your own favourites on the subject please leave a comment or send me an email. If I get enough responses I will collect them and make a post to share the best ones.
I was born in 1992. This will likely divide readers, some of you thinking along the lines of “How can someone born in the 90's be old enough to write an article about nostalgia? Oh God, he's 27!”, on the other hand I may even have younger readers who think I am some sort of ancient from before time itself. For those of you not born in the 90's (or who was raising a child at the time and was forced to watch these shows), I will try to explain the premise and why it was such a large part of my childhood, whatever the reason. I will focus mainly on programmes from pre-2000 and my time watching television slumming it with terrestrial, before we had Sky TV, and some from before we even had Channel 5, although I am sure we will leak over into the early 'naughties' as well. There is a good chance you will know these shows as in this instalment I am focussing on programmes with strong memory attachments, but I am sure I will get around to talking about some more obscure findings from the dark places of my mind. This is not a 'Top Five', though it is in a vague order of influence, starting with:
5. Bernard's Watch (1995)
Bernard's Watch was a 1995 children's drama series about a young boy (Bernard) who finds a magical watch with the power to stop time. As I was only three years old in 1995 I am fairly sure I caught this one a little later, though probably not by much. The show itself didn't influence my life or development a huge amount, I only have vague recollections of what actually happened in the episodes, but what did affect me was the premise. A magic stop watch? That can stop time!? It blew my tiny, underdeveloped mind. The number of times I lay awake contemplating the ins and outs of what the watch could do, asking questions about the range of its effects, whether turning the tap on while time is stopped would yield water, and all sorts of other exercises in fantasy, must have been in the hundreds. I still contemplate things like this to this day.
I think this show, not fairy tales, not The Hobbit, which was read to me as a child, was one of the first to really open my mind to options that were outside of this world, to wider questions and flights of fancy. Then again, maybe it only marked the transition between the world of fantasy that a very young child lives in, one where literally anything is possible, owing to how little you know of the world you have been born into, and the very real world you live in once you start becoming more self-aware of your place in life. At that point in my life, I was still naive, but I knew that a time-bending clock was not within the realms of this unfortunately mundane world. It did, however allow me to bypass the rational side of my mind and engage with my over active imagination, which I still nurture to this day. I may be giving Bernard's Watch too much credit here, it has been a very long time since I saw the show and I'm not sure how well it holds up to this day, but those ideas have stuck with me since I first encountered the series and I am thankful to it for showing me how to interact with an impossible world.
Bernard's Watch was part of the 1990's trend of giving children mystical objects that really shouldn't be in the hands of anyone (especially not anyone with the forethought I now have to use it for... well, maybe not evil... but you know what I mean), in order to teach them that “with great power comes great responsibility”. So, honourable mentions here also go to The Queen's Nose (1995), which involved a 50 pence coin that granted wishes when you rubbed it, and often took a dark turn, and Aquila (1997), where two boys discover an ancient Roman flying machine that can turn invisible. Any one of these could easily end in disaster, but when can anything end in disaster in the incredible imagination of a child?
4. Are You Afraid of the Dark (1990) and Goosebumps (1995)
Well. I have already mentioned my imagination above. When I tell you it was over active, I do mean that. I often had no control over it, conjuring horrible things out from nothing which would terrify me for weeks, months, or even years. I remember one time, me and my brother were playing outside and for seemingly no reason I ran into the house terrified. When I was inside I locked the door and I knew for a fact that a monster was about to come around the corner, a la that scene at the birthday party in Signs. Now I'm pretty sure that my brother did something to scare me, but when I was a child it all seemed so real, even though I knew it wasn't. I thankfully no longer have to check behind the bathroom curtain for the monstrous orang-utan that used to hang there. Well, not usually anyway. I'm honestly trying not to think too much about these shows as I write because they haunted me throughout my childhood, and yet I kept watching anyway. You'll notice there are two programmes here and that is because I just couldn't choose between them. Both Are You Afraid of the Dark and Goosebumps are horror series that tell different short tales each episode. The former would, from my recollection, tell multiple stories in one episode, the latter tended to focus on one specific tale to draw it out as long as possible and scare the big boy pants off you. As they both contributed heavily to my unfortunate ability to summon demons straight from hell into my brain, I've decided they both get the number 4 spot.
I am unsure exactly why I kept watching these shows. If it was just Goosebumps then I could probably argue that I was a captive audience, owing to the fact that my older brother used to watch it fairly regularly, but when it comes to AYAOTD, my argument runs out. I used to watch it almost religiously alone. Maybe I thought that watching would turn up some kind of clue, or spell, that would allow me to banish the monsters I kept creating, or, in the same way you have to watch a slasher flick all the way to the end to make sure the murderer is really dead, I needed closure for something. Whatever it was, I now see it as a gift. I have since developed an almost morbid fascination with horror, despite my fear, and seek out the best spooky media, not to necessarily to watch, read, or play, but to analyse, to learn. I am a genius at scaring myself, so why not turn my attention to scaring others. I think the effects of this genre of television has helped lead me to my interest in writing and making horror, and so I can only thank Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark for their help in discovering something I love to do, even if they didn't help me sleep at night.
I leave number 4 here with the Goosebumps tale that stuck with me the most. It's called It Came From Beneath the Sink and it is the second episode of season one, it's on Netflix, go watch it and have a laugh at my expense. I'm not sure what I found so terrifying about a sentient, toothed sponge but it burnt itself into my mind and wouldn't leave. I couldn't look in kitchen cupboards, I couldn't even walk past them if they were near the sink. I haven't seen the episode since then and I haven't watched it yet for two reasons. One, either it is as scary as I remember it, or two, it is hilariously bad and easy to laugh at. I'm not sure which would be worse, but I think it's the latter.
3. Cardcaptors (1998)
Now we come to a show that I genuinely loved and still look back fondly upon. Cardcaptors (Or Cardcaptor Sakura as many of you may know it), was an English dubbed Japanese import centred on a young girl (Sakura) who accidentally opens a book of tarot-like cards that come to life and escape into the world. She must then track them down one by one and capture them, turning them back into cards, which she can use to help her capture the others. A fairly outlandish premise when it comes to British television, but it isn't exactly unique when it comes to Japanese cartoons. Having somehow entirely missed Sailor Moon, Cardcaptors was my first introduction to anime, and although English dubs of the time tended to completely change the show during translation, often for the sake of our different sensibilities, I remember the show being funny, cute, and scary in all the right places. My discovery of anime, and a mythical world completely set apart from the European mythos I had learned about previously, certainly lead to many great experiences throughout my teenage years and into adulthood. I formed lifelong friendships with people over anime. I distinctly remember “playing” Cardcaptors with my friend Jack in his garden at primary school age, all the way to yelling catchphrases from BLEACH while playing badminton in secondary school. I now have an interest in Japanese culture, I have taken lessons in the language and have achieved a lifelong wish to visit the country (it’s fabulous, go.). I have also attended numerous conventions and had some of the best experiences of my life because of this interest. What I'm saying is, the reason I am such a filthy otaku, is partly because of Cardcaptors.
There is another reason, though, why this show makes the list at number 3. It epitomises my Saturday morning ritual, a ritual that stayed the same for what felt like years, but in hindsight must have only been months. I would wake up around 6:30am, duvet in hand, creep downstairs, get myself a bowl of (dry) cereal and curl up in front of the T.V. to Cardcaptors. I would then chain it into whatever other awesome cartoons were on next. I think the reason why I remember this so vividly is not simply that it was repeated so many times, but also because of the period of life I was in. I remember towards the end of the time when Nickelodeon ran the show, I was finding it hard to get up so early, I started to miss episodes (luckily having seen them many times before), but I recall the feelings I felt as that childishness began its slow and painful drain as I transformed, werewolf-like, into the hideous pubescent teen I became. But the joke is on them, because I still get excited when I find a pack of Clow Cards at a convention, or contemplate cosplaying Li Showron.
2. Pokémon (1997)
It had to be, didn't it? What self-respecting 90's TV nostalgia column would not mention Pokémon? Pokémon was a huge phenomena in the 1990's and 2000's, the kind of thing that almost every single kid watched, played, or collected. The closest equivalent I can think of to the children of today is probably Minecraft, or Fortnite, which appear almost as ubiquitous as Pokémon was throughout my childhood. I don't think I need to explain what this show was about, but I will. The English version follows a young boy named Ash Ketchum, who travels across the land of Kanto capturing creatures called Pokémon in devices called Pokéballs, which he uses to fight battles to earn badges and eventually attempt to defeat the Pokémon League. Although it actually sounds pretty horrible from that description, I assure you the main message was one of friendship. The show makes the list purely because I have so many fond memories of watching it with my brother in forts we had made in the front room. It is also the only one of these five that still regularly impacts upon my life. I still play the games, I still make references to the show, cosplay from it, I also still have a stack of trading cards somewhere too, not to mention regularly listening to the soundtrack, cheesy as it is.
It is also a massive unifier. If I go up to almost anyone of my generation I could likely strike up a conversation about Pokémon and easily forge a friendship upon that shared childhood. That is one of the wonderful things about mass media like this, it really can bring people together. The only reason why this isn't going at number 1 is because I am finding it very difficult to separate memories and influence of the show from the video games, and as this is supposed to be about television, I can't justify Pokémon going any higher.
One of my most vivid memories about watching the show comes from a time when I was at a Cornish Gorsedh celebration in Bude. As far as I can remember, I was staying in a caravan with my mother, but my brother was staying in a hotel with my grandparents. I can't for the life of me remember the reason, but I do remember that the television set in that hotel room had Sky One, which, at the time, was showing a lot of Pokémon and not just any Pokémon episodes, but new ones. The excitement in that room was palpable. We became privileged, not having to wait like the rest of my peers. For that short time, I was special. The episodes were from the Orange Islands series and had probably my favourite opening theme song of all time. Pokémon World. The amount of pocket money I spent that weekend on Pokémon cards from the Fossil expansion was huge, and me and my brother sat watching the show and playing with our new cards.
But, Taran, didn't you just say that Carcaptors was your first exposure to anime? That came out in 1998 and Pokémon in 1997? Yes, and while it does indeed hail from Japan, the version of the show we got over here was heavily edited to make it much more suitable for U.S. audiences, with most of the names Anglicised. There wasn't a whole lot of the original Japanese context left over, barring the occasional shrine, and so I can't really credit it in the same way I did with Cardcaptors. As a kid there was nothing stopping my mind from assuming that it was an American show, other than what I knew from external sources.
An honourable mention here definitely goes to Yu-Gi-Oh (2000), but maybe I’ll write about that when I get around to card games…
1. The Simpsons (1989)
So here we are at number 1. Some of you will argue that this is not a children's show and I completely understand why, I actually agree with you. However, I watched so many episodes of The Simpsons I can't say that it hasn't had a huge influence on me, and more specifically, my humour. I will assume that I don't have to explain what The Simpsons is, it having run from the late 80's up to the present day. They are still making it, showing it regularly on T.V. It is older than me and spans multiple generations. I grew up with that family, checking in on them almost every single day and although we have since grown apart, they were the televisual through-line of my early life. From as far back as I can remember, I watched The Simpsons, all the way through to becoming an adult in all senses of the word. Originally it was shown on BBC 2 at 6 o'clock after an episode of Star Trek, memory telling me that it was usually Star Trek: Voyager, though I am certain I remember seeing a few episodes of The Next Generation as well. This was during my time at primary school and I distinctly recall watching it regularly on at least three different television sets; the one at home, the one at my grandparent's and the one at my child minder's after school. I spent a lot of time as a child in houses that weren't my own as both my parents had jobs that unfortunately meant that they couldn't pick me up from school, and I spent most of that time watching T.V. I remember plenty of instances of sitting in an armchair at my grandparent's house, tray on my lap, plate of soggy chicken nuggets and chips smothered in ketchup on top of the tray. Occasionally I'd have to fight to be able to watch the show, my grandmother preferring to watch the 6 o'clock news instead, and me not being able to understand why anyone would want to watch something so boring when there were cartoons on. Now I wonder why anyone would want to watch something so terrifying while there are cartoons on. But I digress.
I'm unsure how many of the jokes I understood back then. I recall laughing, I recall thinking that it was funny, but now I ponder whether I just thought it was all very silly. As I grew up though, I learned to appreciate the satire and subtleties the show contained and I am sure it was instrumental in the development of my own humour, even now, if I watch an old episode, I notice jokes that missed their mark the first time, or the second, or even the tenth, but finally get the laugh they deserved all these years later.
As I was nearing the end of primary school, or perhaps starting secondary school, BBC 2 decided to sell the series to Channel 4. It was still on at 6 o'clock, so most people didn't mind, it was still a constant in their lives, every single week day. By that time though, my father had finally given in to years of pestering by his children and subscribed to Sky TV, opening up far more options of things to watch at 6 o'clock. Nevertheless, The Simpsons remained a staple of my after school television, but this time on Sky One instead. Talk to me long enough and I will make a reference to a Simpson's joke, sing a few bars of one of their many songs, or I'll say something parroted from the show without even realising until much later, it is embedded in my subconsciousness so deeply, and there is a lot of stuff in there. By the mid 2000's I'm sure I had watched every episode of the show at least five times, just by watching one or two episodes a night for over a decade.
I haven't watched it regularly in the last four or five years, but when I was home for the holidays one year, I turned on the T.V. and there it was, Sky One, 6 o'clock. It was an episode I hadn't seen. The first episode of The Simpsons I had seen in years and it was the one where Lisa decides to become an author, with special guest Neil Gaiman. I couldn't help but laugh, and laugh I did, a lot. Showing that even after such a long time, they can still do it, and the show still has an effect on me. It's important to me because it was a constant - something that I could always rely on to be there - through the turbulent times of growing up. I never loved The Simpsons, but I was very glad of their company.