Everything I Needed to Know About Life, I Learned from Nick at Nite

If there has been one thing I could count on in my life, it’s my ability to sit and watch TV for hours. I binge-watched before it was cool. I am the binge-watch hipster. I remember my small group of friends in high school used to brag about how little TV they watched, and I would just sit there quietly. The absolute worst punishment I could get as a kid was having TV taken away. I would write my parents long, pleading notes as to why whatever wrong I committed did not deserve such retribution. I was a good kid! TV was my friend! All summer vacation meant to me was more time to watch TV.

I had some kid-friendly favorites, like Hey Arnold! And the TGIF lineup, but by far I was most drawn to the hits of the 70s and earlier. I worshipped Nick at Nite. I lived for the Block Party Summer where they would marathon my favorites all the way through the night. I’m pretty sure my 20-year battle with insomnia was sparked by staying up until 4am watching Happy Days.

I’ve never understood the stigma that TV turns your brain to mush. To me, it’s just as credible a form of storytelling as anything else (though I have my pretentious opinions about reality TV, as any true hypocrite would). I’ve turned to TV to learn some of my most important life lessons. Sometimes, it worked. I’ve got some pretty snappy comebacks up my sleeves.

And sometimes, it didn’t.

As Plato says in The Republic, art has a place in society provided one has the antidote: we need the capacity to understand that art is a reflection of reality, but sometimes those realities are hidden underneath layers. I was not old enough to use a peeler and so I took sitcoms at face value. And so I thought that life was pretty much a series of shenanigans until someone got married or had a baby. Whether or not the shenanigans continued after that remained to be seen.

Because I was never good at making friends, being terrified of people and all, I would often use what I saw on TV as a crutch, using lines that I’d heard to make conversation and physical habits I’d learned from said shenanigans.

For example, there is an episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy goes to charm school. The charm school instructor tells Lucy that charming women swing their hips while they walk. Comedy ensued when Lucy, in response, very exaggeratedly swung her hips to their limits, causing her to lose her balance. Now I inferred that Lucy was doing it wrong, based on the laugh track, but what I picked up on was the “charming women swing their hips” point. As 8-year-old me understood it, charming people, in the very least, often got to hang out with princesses. Knowing a princess would no doubt shower me with friends and admiration, so I decided from that point forward, I was going to swing my hips when I walked.

The next day I swung my hips with every step I took. It didn’t seem to change anything, much to my disappointment. But when my class was all lined up to go to gym, the cutest boy was standing near me, and so I started swinging my hips even larger, as Lucy had done (because the reality within the comedy was Lucy’s lack of understanding how much to swing her hips but how was I supposed to know?!). The boy just looked at me and said, “Why are you walking funny?” And so my charming dreams where shattered.

Then I thought, maybe I was simply not a Lucy. Lucy was a bit older, after all. Maybe I was a Jan Brady. Jan and I had a lot in common. We were both the middle child and…actually, the similarities end there. But that was enough to make me test the Jan walk. Jan Brady had the opposite walk of Lucy. Jan kept most of her joints perfectly straight and swung her hair instead. I showed off this new groove to the boy. He responded, “Seriously, is there something wrong?”

The problem is really that I’ve never recovered from these two walks. I’ve had many people try to teach me to walk like a human but ultimately it just ends up looking like a duck, balancing big, swinging hips on top of locked knees. Just call me Lucy Brady.

This went on and on. I loved The Nanny and thought talking like Fran Drescher would make me seem streetwise and New York-witty. Nothing is cooler than the Fonz. How about buying a pleather jacket from the Gap and dropping my “ers”? Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to make a juke box go with my first, but I have gotten double prizes from a vending machine with my hips. Must be all the swinging.

I thought twitching my nose like Samantha Stevens would be a neat party trick. I probably looked like I was about to sneeze through most of the 90s. I quoted Archie Bunker when I was upset with someone. That never went over well with my parents.

I sat up at night, watching TV, and wished life was a sitcom, where I had my own laugh track and the villains got a pie to the face at the end of the episode. Or even a drama, where my woes were a tear-jerking focal point for everyone around me.

While I never succeeded in becoming a character, this did inspire my love for creating characters and for generally choosing to see the funny side of life. And so I am ever thankful to TV, especially Nick at Nite, without whom I may have been spared a lot of embarrassment in my attempts to be somebody else, but I wouldn’t have the passions or sense of humor I have today.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, it’s Spring Break and there’s a Little House marathon on so…

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