It has been brought, quite abruptly, to my attention that I indeed have a type. Me, this self proclaimed and outwardly noticeably, uniquely diverse in taste, person. My taste for telly is distinct yet spans across all genres, not unlike my taste for humans. Let’s play a game of connect the dots shall we:
- American Horror Story
- Sons of Anarchy
- The Golden Girls
- Masters of Sex
- Black Sails
- Breaking Bad
- Penny Dreadful
- Sex and the City
- Law & Order: SVU
- The Good Wife
- The Affair
- Grace & Frankie
- Will & Grace
- How To Get Away With Murder
- The Big Bang Theory
- Orange is the New Black
- Desperate Housewives
- Game of Thrones
- The Wonder Years
- The Sopranos
Now, what do all of these shows have in common besides being some of my favorites? Some are dramas, some are sitcoms, some are comedies, some are old, others new, some are network, some are cable and some are streaming. It’s really simple actually:
famiglia f (plural famiglie)
Italian slang for ‘the evil eye.’ Basically it has similar meaning to the stink eye, but is scarier because it is given by little Italian women who damn you for eternity for doing them harm, doing their family harm, or going against their will.
Fade to a high school performing arts auditorium circa 1998-2002, where one would find a gaggle of drama geeks belting their hearts out:
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love?
Of course they were supposed to be in class somewhere, but that auditorium was home and those geeks were my family. Through bullying, loss, life, love, hope and dreams, we stayed family and I am still in contact with almost all of those Rentheads who made me thrive on theater. “Rent” was one of our favorite pieces to meddle with. The meaning behind every lyric Jonathan Larson wrote, the way in which Jonathan suddenly died before ever seeing his creation come to full term and the way it hit every nerve connected to our heartstrings, make “Rent” a very special piece to me, one which has carried it’s meaning over into my full blown adult hood, without an auditorium.
The themes of “Rent” are constants in my taste for entertainment, both on and off screen and behind the camera. I’ll examine some of my telly habits as examples, as someone pointed out that they all have strong themes of family and the meaning of family. “American Horror Story” is one of my favs of all time, and the themes of family that Ryan Murphy explores are brilliantly woven into each season whilst still maintaining the complexity of suspenseful telly:
- Murder House: All about family and the consequences of infidelity. Constance had a deeply disturbed connection with her children, but they meant the world to her. Heartbreaking to witness when Addie is struck and killed by a vehicle and Constance fails to get her body on the property in time to ensure she would still see her.
- Asylum: Kit constantly fought for his family, the patients had to become a family to survive and take care of each other, even Jude became Kit’s family in her downfall, he went back for her and she helped raise his children.
- Coven: The coven is family, the coven will fight like hell for that family. The complex relationships between mothers and daughters, as masterfully portrayed in Cordelia and Fiona.
- Freak Show: Freaks band together, kill together, to protect their home and family. The relationship between father and son is explored with Lobster Boy and the Strong Man. Pepper returns and we learn of her family abandonment issues. She becomes maternal with Ma Petite and even attempts to start her own family with Salty, despite their disabilities.
- Hotel: All about family, the one that lost a child and their marriage is suffering, the mother who lost a child to drugs, the mother of vamps and then the family that was built between folks such as The Countess and Liz Taylor. Trapped in a Hotel, you can either build a family with those trapped with you, or…
- My Roanoke Nightmare: A mother’s child is kidnapped, her brother is involved. The actors on a reality show, as dysfunctional as it may be, are family, bonded.
Besides all of the themes Ryan Patrick Murphy executes, the concept of a pool of actors returning each season to tell a different tale speaks to the idea of a close knit family, bonded by their experiences, and that bleeds through to all of his iterations, from “Scream Queens” to “American Crime Story.”
I will not go through the list of all of my favorite shows, but the common thread is the fight for family and the building of families that are not necessarily related. “Sons of Anarchy” for instance, Gemma was, how to say, hell bent on protecting her family. The club was a family and that family meant everything and was worth killing for. Loyalty meant everything to SAMCRO. Will, Grace, Jack and Karen were a family through and through. “Friends” should have been called “Family.” Frankie and Grace are family through mutual betrayal. “Wentworth” and “Orange is the New Black” are very different shows about female prisons, but it is natural in a prison environment both fictional and factual, that bonds are made and loyalty to that family are of utmost importance, just ask Tony Soprano about loyalty.
As a black sheep, outsider, freak and overall lost soul, the concept of building family through experience is something I’ve always been enamored with. My blood family is tight, we are close but as an adult finding her own way, I’ve long since sought out my adult family. My roots remain but in the process of growth and experiencing as much of this world as possible before I leave it, I am not a foreigner to being free to have other families. My theater years afforded me many families of that era. Theater families are so special and yet so short lived.
It is increasingly difficult as I get older to build families because through the years the innocent trust we are all born with decays and the true irony is that the moments where you find yourself fresh out of trust and feel alone, are the moments when you need a family the most. The epiphany that writing this has manifested, is that creativity and art are the core of my families. When I find a family I can express my creativity in I become the girl in the plastic bubble and nothing else matters. My loyalty shines through regardless of what brought me and my families together. La Vie Boheme. When the bonds break within one of my artistic families however, that is the single most painful thing I can and have experienced. Those situations leave me the rawest, the most broken and they steal any sort of faith I have left in my reservoir.
Perhaps my part in all of it, is that I assume the word “family” means to everyone out in the world what it means to me. Maybe I trust my pseudo families to the extent that I refuse to believe they don’t possess my vision of what loyalty should look like. For me, it truly is in the midnights and cups of coffee I share with people. It is certainly in the inches and miles I would travel for family and the inches and miles in which I grow from absorbing the ideals of others to better understand my own ideals. Not necessarily in the strife of everyday life in this fucked up world we find ourselves, but MOST importantly, it is in the laughter I share with other beings, without which, myself and a lot of them would cease to live.
Jonathan Larson said it best:
The heart may freeze or it can burn
The pain will ease if I can learn
There is no future
There is no past
I live each moment as my last
There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.
No other road
No other way
No day but today
There’s only yes
We must let go
To know what is right
No other course
No other way
No day but today
I can’t control
I trust my soul
My only hope
is just to be
There’s only now
There’s only here
Give in to love
Or live in fear it
No other path
No other way
No day but today
Note: Someone said some words to me today that really stuck, “Family will never be the ones asking you to leave. They are always the ones hoping you’ll stay.”
Today also happens to be my late grandfather’s birthday. Speaking strictly biologically, what with DNA and everything, not unlike Forrest and Bubba, we were of no relation. My grandpa did not ever tell me what family is, was or should be. He showed me, every single day what that word meant to him and I carry THAT with me in everything I am. His heart.