Monday, July 1, 2013

So Weird: They don't make 'em like they used to



When I was 10, I was obsessed with a TV show called So Weird. After a bizarre string of nostalgia fits and wayward research, I spent the majority of this weekend watching old episodes of the show, almost finishing the first two seasons (there are three in all). It wasn't until almost halfway through that I realized how much the show still influences my writing even today.

The show follows 13-year-old Fiona Phillips -- Fi for short. Fi's mom is a musician, Molly Phillips (played by Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of The Mamas and the Papas singer John Phillips). After a decade long hiatus following her husband's death, Molly is back on the road touring, and Fi and her older brother, Jack, as well as Molly's manager and her family, are along for the ride. Fi is extroverted, tenacious, and has a love for the paranormal. In every city they stop in, she finds some strange happenings -- from ghosts to aliens to telekinetic kids. Or do these things find her?

Despite Fi's love for all things weird, older brother Jack is the perpetual skeptic. No matter what sort of strange shenanigans Fi gets herself into, Jack is always looking for the logical explanation. It takes awhile for him to ever admit that anything supernatural even exists. Most of Fi's other companions approach the weird stuff she finds with a mix of skepticism and curiosity.

Even though each episode is fairly self-contained, there is an overarching story line throughout the first two seasons. Halfway through season 2, Molly tells Fi that her dad was into the same paranormal things she is. Molly never said anything before because she constantly worried about her husband and, somewhere in the back of her mind, probably thought that if Fi knew the truth about her dad, her love for the paranormal would increase tenfold -- and she might end up doing something dangerous. It does sort of explain why all of these strange things just happen to fall into Fi's lap, so to speak. And Fi later learns that the paranormal creatures her dad was chasing ended up chasing him -- and may have even caused his death.

A few observations as I watched:
1. Even if you're not into paranormal stuff, the show is a great model for writers. Some of the paranormal activity is a bit out there (a mad scientist turning people into dogs -- who comes up with this stuff?). But the actors and character dynamics are all excellent -- especially the relationship between Fi, lover of all things weird, and Jack who, despite his incessant skepticism, will always look out for his little sister.
2. The show first aired in 1999, when home computers and the internet were just starting to be a big thing. Wi-fi was practically unheard of, but Fi utilizes it pretty well. She runs her own website devoted to the paranormal, frequently uses e-mail and chat rooms to keep in touch with friends while on the road, and researches the weird stuff she finds through a generic search engine. Chat rooms and search engines are old news now. But back then, all the cool kids were doing it. Or wished they could do it.
3. On a similar note, I watched the show thanks to a wonderful YouTube user (thanks, SoWeirdTV!) who uploaded every episode. When I first watched the show way back in '99, I recorded every episode on VHS and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. This weekend, I watched the episodes on YouTube via an app on my blu ray player. If you had told 10-year-old me that I would one day be watching my then-favorite show on a YouTube via a blu ray player, I'd have thought you were insane.
4. Another Disney Channel feature I loved at that age was Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. The movie was made in 1999 and takes place in 2049; if you're bad at math, that's 50 years in the future (I may or may not have used a calculator for that one). The teenage characters in the movie communicate via a device called DataZap, in which they talk to each other via a tiny computer screen. Don't we have something like that now? Oh yeah, Skype. And Face Time.
Did you read that right? Moviemakers thought communicating face to face via a computer screen would be modern 50 years from now, and we already have devices 14 years later that can do that and much more. With such a rapid progression of technology, it's no wonder I already feel like an old woman at 25.

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