Yes, it really was better back then
Not all forays into nostalgia end well.
Way back in the mists of time, four- and five-year-old me was firmly addicted to one of the earliest animes to make its way over here: a show called ‘Marine Boy’ that no one else seems to remember. It was on just before I had to leave for kindergarten (back then, if you turned 5 before the midpoint of the school year, you could start kindergarten… I guess now you have to be 5 on the first day of classes), and if it had been on later, I would have cheerily skipped school as often as possible to see it. I remember making up new stories — proto-fanfic for the pediatric set.
Well, I recently found the series on line, and watched it again. And while it provided the warmth that only nostalgia relived can do, I gotta admit that it really hasn’t aged all that well. Certainly not aged like a fine wine–although it hasn’t aged as poorly as a fine mayonnaise would have. It was… well, it was a cartoon for kids. It made no pretensions of aiming for an adult audience. It was nice to see again, sure. It was probably even formative to my creative streak.
However, some dumpster-dives into the past turn up unexpected treasures. There was another show back then that I remember watching, that aired in the 1969-1970 season and was cancelled for no really good reason. Five- and six-year-old me was enchanted by the animation, the silliness, the sudden swerves into pure fantasy. It was “My World and Welcome To It“, based loosely on the work of James Thurber. And I recently tracked down a few episodes of it. And forty-*mumble* year old me is even more entranced by the animation, the silliness, and the sudden swerves into pure fantasy.
It’s a pure paean to the joy of the uninhibited imagination, and William Windom’s slightly curmudgeonly Thurber stand-in is absolutely pitch-perfect, whether dealing with his daughter and the death of the family dog or daydreaming his rail commute to NYC into a spy-laden journey on the Orient Express.
Most of all, it’s intelligent, something sorely lacking in this age of “reality” TV (sorry, living on a tropical island competing for a million dollars isn’t part of any reality *I* ever heard of) and celebrity for the sake of celebrity and five hundred channels of focus-grouped, watered-down, committee-approved, completely unwatchable shit.
It demands your attention rather than just filling the air with background noise — if you don’t pay attention, the shifts into and out of Windom’s fantasy life will only leave you confused. It’s a show you put on to watch, and genuinely watch, not just to have something on to fill the room with light and noise while you do other things.
I’ve really taken to radio over the last several years, especially BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra. Why? Because you interact with radio, creatively. They provide the description while you provide the mental image. A really well-done radio production — even a reading, not a full production — is the soundtrack that pushes you to create your own Cinescope movie, all inside your head.
“My World and Welcome To It” is one of the few TV shows that actually delivers visually. It skips back and forth between mundanity and fantasy, and both are often obtruded on by Thurber-inspired animation. It’s also one of the few TV shows that does things that can’t be done on the radio: the visual interplay is just as important as the verbal. A radio program that tried to provide an equivalent word-picture would lose all pacing and become dragged down by its own prose, however well written. So much easier to simply see him talk with his (imagined version of his) wife, she appearing as a huge animated face off the back of their house!
This is a show that genuinely deserves a proper DVD release — far more so than most. This show really is an argument in favor of TV and what it can do.