I guess you could say that some of today’s television shows have catchy theme songs. Most people could probably recognize the open to Modern Family. Unfortunately, I think just as many people would instantly know Two and a Half Men as well. But with few exceptions, most network programs have super boring or nonexistent opens.
What happened? Back in the day, the theme songs were just as memorable as the shows themselves. Sometimes more so. I couldn’t tell you a single plotline from The Facts of Life, but hells yeah, I could sing you the open. And Cheers. And Three’s Company. I bet I could do a decent rendition of Diff’rent Strokes, too. Props to Alan Thicke.
As with most songs, whether they’re sung on television or radio, you form lasting recollections of them because of the moment or time period they evoke. But perhaps more branded into my memory are not the theme songs from the shows that I watched, but rather those that my father liked. Which, by the way, were all totally depressing.
I always knew when my dad had tuned into M*A*S*H because suddenly I would be overwhelmed by an inexplicable wave of sadness. Given that the open to M*A*S*H is called “Suicide Is Painless,” I think my reaction to hearing it was entirely apropos. That said, I barely knew my ABCs when M*A*S*H went off the air, so I’m not sure if having such feelings of melancholy were healthy for a kid my age, especially on a weekly basis. And here’s a fun fact… M*A*S*H was Emmy-nominated 11 times… for Outstanding Comedy Series.
Same goes for Hill Street Blues. Not the Emmy nominations for being a comedy. At least the academy – or whoever decided the votes – had the sense to recognize that the show was as depressing as its theme song and called it a drama. What I’m referring to is the sorrow I would experience while watching it on the couch with my dad, blankie in hand and thumb in mouth. Coping mechanisms.
And apparently I’m not the only one who went through television-induced depression during my formative years. Just the other night, my boyfriend and I discovered that we both suffer from Taxi post-traumatic stress disorder. Taxi was the worst of the despondent 1980s theme songs.
Now I realize that all the songs I’m mentioning have received high praise for their quality and composition and whatever other musical terms apply. So I’m not saying that they’re bad songs. But I am saying that they made me want to throw down a few sleeping pills with my chocolate milk and call it a night.
The thing about Taxi is that the entire show was depressing. The theme song was only the precursor to what would be 22 minutes of miserable characters and an even more miserable backdrop. No wonder Christopher Lloyd was always drugged out. I wish I could erase all memory of Sunshine Cab Company, too.
I must have a very different sense of humor from adults of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Like M*A*S*H, Taxi was Emmy-nominated multiple times – and won most of those nominations – for Outstanding Comedy Series. In fact, it was up against M*A*S*H three times – and trumped the Korean War “comedy” each year. It also beat out Mork & Mindy. Whaaat?
But I suppose even the tried and true sitcoms of the 1980s had their darker moments. I still remember the Family Ties episode when Alex battled his grief over a friend’s death. And what about when Carol Seaver’s boyfriend died? I wept many tears over Matthew Perry that night.
You don’t see that too often in primetime television anymore. I can’t imagine shows like Parks & Recreation or New Girl tackling teen drunk driving. Maybe because there are no teens on either show, but that’s beside the point. To be totally honest, though, I prefer it that way. I like my comedy straight up, and after a long day of work, all I want to do is tap out to Leslie Knope’s bubbling enthusiasm and Jess Day’s adorkableness. Though shows like M*A*S*H and Taxi may have their place among the greats of television programming, I’m content to let others explore the depths of their despair with them in syndication.
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