Staking Out Boundaries

Okay, so I tried explaining “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to my father.

It didn’t go so well, in that he never lost the bemused affection that suffuses his face when he’s listening to me go on about pop culture. When I was younger, that look drove me crazy to the point of turning red and refusing to speak. He loved that!

Now that I’m running headlong into 40, I can handle not being able to communicate my deeply held beliefs or loves clearly, especially when they involves vampire. There are some things you just can’t expect of a parent who finds most pop culture narcissistic and venal.

Also, Buffy has a twistiness that doesn’t lend itself to casual visitation. A teenage girl is chosen to protect the world from demons drawn to the Hellmouth, located just north of Los Angeles, underneath a high school. Also, she falls in love with a vampire with a soul but kills him, when he temporarily loses said soul, in order to save humanity from being sucked into a hell dimension. And so on. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief just to get past the bouncer at the door.

My father, while a dramatic fellow who appreciates a good adolescent emotion spike now and again, doesn’t enjoy entertainment that is poorly done, or done without the humor and intelligence that transcends generations. He has no interest in revisiting high school, and he doesn’t like soap opera, unless it is Mexican soap opera from the 1930s.

“One Tree Hill,” for example, he might watch after a hearty Thanksgiving meal at a tedious relative’s house in order to surf the mindless waves of shiny goop, but when the end credits flashed over an equally mushy soft rock number, he’d roll his eyes, say, “Pretty low,” and go hang out in the kitchen to eat peanut butter and raisins.

I don’t know how he’d take the fight scenes in “Buffy,” either. Her superpower manifests itself in a mystical blend of karate, jujitsu, capoeira and cool moves that look good on TV. The sound effects punch up the kicks and hits in the most delightfully visceral and goofy way, and there’s not much blood, surprisingly, but there are demon guts and vampires exploding into dust and the occasional expiring nubile girl.

I didn’t get into all this with Pop, not the fact that the show has a huge heart, a wicked sense of humor and, in the early seasons at least, a full grounding in the reality of friendships and family and English class. Demons were evil, of course, but it was the variegations of the human soul, its hopes and failings, that drove the stories.

In our short Buffy talk, we did touch briefly on the groundbreaking fact of a fully realized female superhero, never duplicated since, but we were hungry and opted for leftover apple pie rather than a full exploration of the thesis.

I told him we’d watch an episode the next night. I sort of meant it. I mostly didn’t. When I was a teenager and younger adult, I’d bring home music or movies that I’d fallen in love with. Let’s watch! I’d insist. Listen to this!

It almost always ended in frustration for me. Pop was tolerant, for the most part, except he mocked “The English Patient” and was suspiciously silent about the Indigo Girls. (I ask you, what’s not to love?) Most of the time he asked a question or two then changed the subject, or moaned about his back, which moaning I now understand was perhaps a convenient excuse to keep from enduring any more singer-songwriters.

His lack of interest tarnished the music and shows for me. I tried to put his responses aside, but I was too young and too insecure, and I knew that, sans Indigo Girls, he was probably right. So much contemporary entertainment lacks the heart-centered value, the giddy imagination, that he and I both love. I was embarrassed to have betrayed my shallow sensibilities.

My boundaries are better now, as is my taste, and I have learned that I don’t need my dad or mom to like what I like in order for it to be valuable to me. Is this what they call maturity? It sure took a long time to show up.

Still, Buffy is dear to me. Maybe my dad would dig it, maybe not, but for now I’ll keep it to myself, this silly, great show filled with demons and teenage tears. There’s no need to explain.

Introducing Emily Owens, and quickly saying goodbye

I am right now watching the pilot episode of “Emily Owens, M.D.” This is the equivalent of a live blog, except, of course, that you’ll be reading it days after the event, possibly not even online. But does anyone follow live blogs, really? Yes, I did. I followed a live blog of the Emmys. It was a not-horrible way to pass the time while I waited for ravioli to boil.

Does the fact that I can write and watch this show at the same time reflect poorly on it? I don’t think so. Maybe. In its defense, it is on the CW, which doesn’t exactly produce can’t-look-away drama like “The Wire.” You are supposed to knit or cook dinner or tweet, for Pete’s sake, during a CW show, and the soundtrack will cue you to the important welling-up moments of great lesson-learning or loss. Am I right? Yes, I’m right.

This is not a slam against Emily Owens. So far, the good doctor has started her first day of residency at a big hospital in Denver. She was smart and unpopular in high school, tormented by her own anxious mind and the pretty girls, the “nefarious” ones, in Emily’s lexicon. One of her tormentors, Cassandra, is also a first-year resident at the same hospital. The attending physician is mean. Emily has a huge crush on a classmate from med school, also a resident. Patients unreasonably expect her to act like, you know, a doctor.

As TV is an entirely derivative art form, to steal an observation from Dan Harmon, Emily comes from a long line of insecure young doctors facing their demons and growing up while caring for the seriously ill and photogenic. J.D. on “Scrubs.” John Carter on “ER.” Everyone on “Grey’s Anatomy.” All the people on “St. Elsewhere” I don’t know because I never watched it. Even House on “House,” or the young doctors who worked for him.

Dr. Owens is most like J.D., brilliant despite total dorkiness, fond of the comic or pensive voiceover to dramatize inner struggle, and perpetually optimistic about the human condition. (For example, just now Dr. Owens helped convince a woman not to abandon her mother suffering advanced Alzheimer’s; encouraged a 12-year-old girl about to undergo heart surgery to tell the boy she likes that she likes him; and made temporary peace with nefarious Cassandra. The world is amazing, even in the pilot episode!)

They also, not that it really matters, both have large noses and big puppy dog eyes and look pretty good in blue scrubs.

Here’s the difference. J.D. earned his hopeful, goofy sincerity through the nuthouse-slapstick genius that made “Scrubs” unlike any other comedy I’ve seen. You can get away with learning lots of life lessons at the end of every 22 minutes if you have a pet taxidermied dog named Rowdy.

I’m not sure, watching Emily Owens right now both impress and annoy her attending physician in the O.R., how this show balances its well-articulated, conveniently-plotted heartfelt goop. Yes, I am sure. It doesn’t. This is a program that is easy to watch and easy to forget. It doesn’t ask anything of its audience, and it contributes nothing original or interesting to the canon of medical semi-dramas from which it comes.

That’s okay. I don’t mind fluff. The pace is brisk and the dialogue is straightforward, which is the right choice when you’re peddling heartstrings. I cannot say it is a bad show. Plus, Emily is played by Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter. It’s strange and sweet to see the mother’s exquisite cheekbones and lively eyes in the daughter’s face. Gummer is a warm, smart, physical presence on screen, clearly capable of more silliness and seriousness than presently asked of her.

I find a worse flaw, though, in “Emily Owens, M.D.,” and this one will likely keep me from watching more episodes. Emily’s big problem is that she’s insecure, that she feels like she’s back in high school even though she’s a doctor. Also, the boy she likes doesn’t like her back, and people think she’s odd-looking even though she is clearly gorgeous.

I really don’t see those problems as a reason to make a television series, even on the CW. Then again, who am I to judge? Would I even know a good reason if I saw one?

Yes, yes, I would. Get a load of this line from the recent season finale of “Warehouse 13,” spoken by the inimitable CCH Pounder as the mysterious Mrs. Frederick:

“The prophecy of the Astrolabe has come to pass.”

Now that keeps me watching TV.

Fred’s Song

I once worked at a summer camp where I played the guitar.

We sang a lot at Indian Brook — feminist anthems (yay Elizabeth Cady Stanton!), environmental ballads, protest dirges (“Today in Oklahoma, Karen Silkwood died …”), labor and civil rights rallying cries, goofy ditties, and pop songs rewritten with camp-centric verses, including Pat Benatar’s “We Belong”:

“When we say we belong to IB/We belong to each other/We belong to the sound of the bells/A spell we fall under …”

It was hilarious. Believe me.

My guitar specialty was melancholy contemporary folk songs in which love was wistful if not entirely lost. I fancied myself a performer. I was never a great player or singer, but I had presence, feeling, and an extremely generous audience.

I miss those gals, that place, the music. Nothing else in my life comes close to the out-of-time intensity, the delighted sense of purpose, and the flamboyant absurdity of my summer camp years.

Last week I pulled the old axe out of its dusty fabric case. I stopped playing in 2004, not long after I ended my camp-counseling career. Partly, my friends and I got serious jobs and babies so we had less time to sit around singing Dar Williams’ “Iowa.” Then my approach to music itself turned dull, just a few chords and a the same finger-picking pattern each time.

My dad had put new strings on during his last visit. They shone in the living room light. I used to dream hard on this guitar, playing it until my fingers ached in the solitary apartments I lived in between camp seasons. That girl, that driven girl who wrote lyrics in notebooks with red velvet covers, who recorded songs on a borrowed four-track, who played slide with the fat end of a butter knife, who proudly tapped her left hand calluses on the kitchen table — she was so lonely and so ignorant and so, so brave.

I don’t visit her often. Her hope is hard to bear.

Last week, though, I wanted to play a song I heard on TV back in the summer of 2010, when my husband and I were slogging through the last season of “Angel,” the Buffy spin-off starring the titular vampire with a soul.

The show wasn’t good. Genre TV shines only when the stories are attached to real life; when it veers into comic-book style mythology, it becomes as ornate and cloying as a Victorian lamp. Say you fall in love with a mortal woman who ascends to godhood only to be impregnated with the form of another goddess and meanwhile your son hates you because he got stuck for 14 years in a hell dimension called Quor’Toth. Somebody better still be thinking about the electric bill, or your audience is going to get really, really small.

“Angel,” set in Los Angeles, naturally, didn’t care about utilities or even about breakfast in its final season. We watched because we wanted a feeling of closure on the whole Buffy experience, and because, pre-baby, we enjoyed wasting time.

And there was Fred, Winifred Burkle, the tiny woman with the huge brown eyes and Southern drawl who joined the gang in season two. (Physics genius, accidentally transported to parallel world Pylea, saved by Angel, now crack demon hunter.) Played by Amy Acker, Fred was like a Shih Tzu with a flamethrower. She curled up to you, cuddly and soft, but she could cut you down.

Fred died because her soul was shredded to oblivion while an ancient god named Ilyria colonized her body. In her final episode, her lover, Wesley, held her helplessly. She shook with cold. “Wesley,” she whispered at last, “why can’t I stay?”

That was heartbreaking enough, but the next scenes flooded us with tears. Time jumped back to Fred’s childhood home in Texas, just as she was leaving for L.A. She packed up her room, hugged her parents, and hopped into an enormous brown station wagon, happy and naïve as a new daisy. Over it all, a slow, acoustic song played, Kim Richey’s “A Place Called Home.”

We cried and cried and cried. I’d heard the song before, in 2005 when I tried moving to Tucson for a few months and my brilliant friends there made me a Kim Richey mix tape. To lose Fred, to remember Tucson, to remember me walking the bleached sidewalks and stark canyons, making fish tacos and planting sage in the yard, a year gone from Indian Brook, why didn’t I stay —

Last week, I thought of the song again. I wanted to play it on the guitar.

My left fingertips hurt. I turned off the lights and sang into the dark living room, my husband listening while he read in bed. Our son and dog slept. I sang as I used to sing, in winter alone in my apartment, in summer to friends on the Indian Brook gazebo, fireflies coloring the hills.

Passions do die. I think so. Camp ends. But the music rings and rings.

TV Talk

My Aunt Marlene is tall and thin, with large light eyes and a big, easy smile. She is one of the great talkers in our family, able to discourse at length about gardening; the weather; the best coffee; flying from Boston to Florida; children’s toys; shoes; ocean tides; herbal remedies; family histories going back three generations; dinner; and so on.

She cooks meals out of Mayberry, steaks and sweet potatoes and grilled fish. She predicts needs for fresh towels, glasses of water, extra pairs of socks, beach chairs. She cared for her disabled son all of his life, and now, when she sees a butterfly dip and swim past her back porch, she says, bright and matter-of-fact, “Well, here’s Jim just saying hello.”

She is close with her equally tall and gorgeous daughter, Elaine. With my Uncle Jerry, her second husband, she became my grandmother’s caregiver and companion in the last years of her life, while also working full-time. In the best, most noble and loving way, Marlene keeps house, and she keeps her family warm.

She also loves zombies on television. She adores crime procedurals. Horror, bloodshed, cruelty, brutality on the small screen — she eats it right up. When my husband and I recently visited Marlene and Jerry at their cozy cottage in Woods Hole, Mass., we sat around the dining room table talking TV.

I have always turned to television to help me through conversations, even with people I dearly love. Some folks have the gift of nattering until a connection is made, or not, it doesn’t matter, because here’s another person to say lots of little nothings to again.

This is not me unless I’ve drunk several cups of coffee and my neurons are firing faster than my self-consciousness can police them. Generally I am stiff and over-smiley, tetchy and bored but only because I cannot for the life of my imagination think of the next right thing to say.

The introduction of “The Simpsons” or “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” or “General Hospital” or any show is a tremendous relief. My now-soulmate and I can chew over scenes, gossip about actors, reference movies that reference books that reference the shows. It’s a vast and fertile common ground, if unoriginal and crass, and it feels good to share unless we hit the “Real Housewives” series, and then once more I don’t have anything to say.

Marlene is both coolly confident and goofily eager when she talks about her shows. During dinner, we traded dirt on “Revenge,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Southland,” and “Modern Family.” (Both fans of the first two, neither fans of the last, split on the third.)

Jerry speared a piece of pre-chocolate-cake cantaloupe. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “Mar watches the foulest, most violent stuff on TV. Such a gentle person, and she’ll watch a person stab a zombie in the heart.”

No, Jer,” Marlene said, waving away his words. “You kill a zombie by chopping off its head or shooting it in the brain. Or burning, I suppose. You could put it through a wood chipper.”

Jerry and Elaine, who had joined us for dessert, looked at her with familiar bewilderment and laughed. Some conversations are easy, the scripts long ago hammered out, the jokes as comforting as they are old.

“The gentlest person,” said Elaine. “And she’ll watch anything with blood spurting from wounds.”

Marlene crossed her long arms and legs against the night chill. “I love ‘The Walking Dead.’”

Bob bounced our baby on his lap and fed him a bit of melon. “Yeah, I didn’t warm so much to it. ‘Falling Skies,’ now that was awesome.” He looked at me, reading from our own script. “Becky doesn’t like that one”

I shook my head. “I don’t go for the aliens and guns.”

Marlene slapped the table. “Yes, I love ‘Falling Skies.’ Can you believe we have to wait another year for the next season?”

She and Bob started riffing on the show. I held his hand. I was happy to listen. Jerry finished his melon and Elaine played with the baby and his wooden hedgehog toy. The talk wound to the movie “Zombieland,” to “Criminal Intent,” to “Sons of Anarchy.” It was a terrifically comfortable time.

My grandmother lived in this cottage until she died in 2010. She moved there year-round in 1994, after my grandfather’s death; before that, the house was their summer haven. Grandpa would work at the Marine Biological Laboratory in town and Gram would worry and feed the visiting grandchildren animal crackers.

In the years of her widowhood, I tried to visit once a month. After dinner, when each of us had changed into pajamas, I’d knock on her door and climb into bed with her for an hour or two of television.

We would start with Turner Classic movies or PBS documentaries, but Gram was always drawn to crime shows, inevitably with big sex scenes, and I’d try to read a page or two of the book I brought as refuge until the commercial break.

“Want to watch something else?” she would ask, her thumb hovering over the remote control buttons. She liked the volume high.

“Sure, Gram.” Each time she flipped to another blasting crime show.

“I’m so glad you’re here, darling,” she would say. “This is cozy, isn’t it?”

“It is,” I’d say. She sometimes fell asleep holding my hand. Those were my favorite conversations.

Follow that bliss

I know Laura Dern is very famous, with famous parents and movie credits and a long loose frame and a famous ex-husband.

I know she’s starred in some interesting things, like “Citizen Ruth” and “Recount,” in which she played Katherine Harris of the 2008 presidential election debacle in Florida.

She starred in “Blue Velvet” and “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic Park II” and about 50 other movies. Plus she was Ellen DeGeneres’ first female love interest on “Ellen” back in 1997. She’s a little out there, I think, not in a crazy Hollywood narcissist way, more like an I-don’t-need-to-care-what-you-think-of-me way.

I guess I’d say that Laura Dern is like a distant cousin from the glamorous side of the family, whom you see at the reunion and think, “Wow, she’s tall,” and then forget in your search for more sour cream and onion dip.

Last week, while noodling around a website that lets you watch a million different American TV shows via European and Russian satellite (don’t worry, I pay for content on Hulu and Netflix, so I’m not being baldly unethical, just receding hairline with mullet weave unethical), I decided to watch an episode of “Enlightened.”

I usually stick with beloved reruns, being lazy and very tired when I have a moment to fritter, and from the few reviews and interviews I’d seen, I knew this wasn’t going to be a hamburger-and-French-fries kind of show. “Enlightened” held the dour possibility of making me feel upset and tarnished, as I often do when I settle down for an evening of Serious TV.

Sometimes, a show about bad people turns the world into a pre-apocalyptic farce drenched in cynicism and desperately sad if athletic sex. Or it’s just tiresome to endure people living their lives without much humor or imagination, which is my main beef with the ten minutes of “Mad Men” I managed to watch.

“Enlightened,” though, was co-created by Dern, who stars in it, and Mike White, who wrote all the scripts. Mike White wrote “School of Rock,” those 90 minutes of earnest Jack Black awesomeness. He wrote “The Good Girl,” in which Jennifer Aniston was pretty good. (By the bye, I read that she prepared for the role by wearing clothes with weights sewn into the cuffs and hems to give her a sensory experience of depression. Really? There are people in modern America who still don’t know that depression makes you slump?)

Mike White was a writer and producer on the scintillatingly perfect “Freaks and Geeks.” He directed or co-directed a handful of well-regarded indie films. He wrote “Nacho Libre”! This is one interesting mind.

And he went to Wesleyan University. I went there. I had a fairly terrible time, but our shared alma mater would grant us 2.5 seconds of conversation were we ever to meet.

So I said da to “Enlightened” and clicked Aleosha Petrenko’s link.

In the first scene, Laura Dern’s character, Amy Jellicoe, is going insane in her fancy corporate workplace, at her boss, with mascara blotching her eyes and streaking her cheeks like war paint. She shrieks and screams.

Her rage is so big, so uncontrollable, so humiliating and so sad that her body, already long, seems monstrous, with sentient whip cords flailing out like a mad Doc Oc in heels.

It’s discomfiting to watch, but the next scenes are almost squirmier. Time jumps forward to the end of Amy’s stay at a New Age-y rehab center in Hawaii called Open Air. We see her meditating and doing yoga, sitting around a campfire on the beach, full-body hugging her friends and healers goodbye as she leaves to go back home.

Her accompanying voiceover is measured and somnolent with the modulated ecstasy of the blissed-out. Her hair is long and wavy and her smile is beatific. Her bags are filled with spiritual self-help books. She believes she has found the key to make all parts of her life well.

It reeks of cliché. There is an aggressive naivete in this portrayal of New Age healing, a willful insistence that if you just meditate enough, read enough Ekhart Tolle, the world will simply align itself to your vision for it. At 40, Amy is astoundingly immature. Though we learn over the ten episodes the reasons for it, at first her behavior is painful and her disappointment and rage and hope and entitlement unbearable in their largeness.

Did I mention “Enlightened” is a comedy?

I kept watching despite Amy’s impossible personality. I’m so glad I did. “Enlightened” is a fine thing.

Mike White and Laura Dern are not mocking Amy. Yes, she is humiliated and rejected, thwarted and betrayed. Yes, she is inconsiderate and selfish and she talks like a Valley Girl on homeopathic drugs, but my god, she is brave. She is intensely alive, kicking hard and then harder in her hero’s quest to be better person who can make a better world.

Mike White’s smart, layered scripts give Amy the tiniest successes. She lets an inscrutable friend go. She releases her ex-husband, momentarily anyway, from her unwanted attempts to save him. She covers her difficult mother with a blanket when she’s fallen asleep on the couch.

The triumphs are small, but they are delicious. They are earned. Because of them, the season finale is an explosive thrill.

I also now know that Laura Dern is an incredible actress with a face that twists and flattens and blossoms with feeling. Especially striking are the moments that shove her out of her New Age cloud into the anger and loneliness beneath it. Suddenly there is depth in those rich blue eyes. Her torso clenches or coils. Suddenly she is jangled and enraged; suddenly all those planes and angles settle into molten clarity. It’s fearless work. It is so cool.

Conversely, my favorite part of “Enlightened” is that Amy Jellicoe is deeply uncool. There is a lot of ugliness in her, and in the show generally, along with mock-worthy hopes and haircuts. Some people are pathetic jerks and some are powerful jerks.

But the series believes in people, in their capacity to change. It knows that it takes more than a Rumi poem and a group hug to grow, and that it doesn’t look anything like you thought.

In this case, it looks like crazy Amy Jellicoe, extraordinary Laura Dern, brilliant Mike White, and pirated HBO. Следует, что блаженство!

Thank you, Doctor

I wrote the second fan letter of my life in the fall of 2009.

I lived in a loft apartment for most of that year, in a huge, brick, former textile factory that had been remodeled into shops and studios and industrial-chic lofts. I had one bank of windows, ten feet tall and 12 feet wide, that overlooked a well-lit parking lot and some gently generic hills. Even at night, light ricocheted around the long, high room. It spilled over the half-walls that made up the second-floor sleeping area and lunged through the galley kitchen until it radiated around the edges of the double hollow-core doors.

I’d slog up the four flights of enormous stairs, or slump into the freight elevator, frazzled and dimmed from another day at my job. Halfway down the gargantuan hallway, I’d slide my key into the lock of number 448, turn the tumblers and push open the flimsy doors.

The pleasure of being the only consciousness in the room rushed up my body in pearly waves. It wasn’t much to look at, but on the inside, my loft felt as big as the world.

This, I imagine, is how the Doctor of “Doctor Who” feels when he returns to the TARDIS, his time-traveling spaceship. On the outside, the ship is shaped like a bright blue police box circa 1960 London. On the inside, it is vast and ridiculous, big enough for a swimming pool and several packed dressing rooms, which the Doctor needs, as he can regenerate after death — same abilities, same memories, but different body and personality. He can do this, of course, because he is a Time Lord.

If you know about the Doctor already, congratulations! Hooray for wacky genre television! If not, let me sum up: “Doctor Who” is a British TV series that started in 1963, ran until 1989, then lay dormant until 2005 when the audacious Russell T. Davies rebooted it. The show will start its seventh, or thirty-third, season this fall.

The main character is the Doctor, the last of the Time Lords, a time-traveling, god-like alien race from the planet Gallifrey. The last of his people, he restlessly roams the galaxies and eons in the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension in Space), a sentient machine that flies through the time vortex, usually with a human companion from the British Isles who always leaves the Doctor in the end.

The whole thing is preposterous. I love it.

There’s a lot of Whovian love in the States these days. Apparently, once the show started airing regularly on BBC America, viewership exploded. “Community” features a running, loving Who spoof called Inspector Spacetime. Shonda Rimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy,” is an avowed fan. I’m sure Congress can’t pass bills because our legislators are too busy watching old episodes and arguing over whether Tom Baker (#4) or Christopher Eccleston (#9) is the best Doctor.

I enjoy the newest incarnation of “Doctor Who,” and I’ll certainly watch the new season come fall, but I’m not writing any fan notes. My giddy Who obsession did not regenerate past David Tennant, Doctor #10.

He was the second Doctor in the rebooted series. Thin as a sunflower stalk, with a gelled mop of brown hair over a delicate face that hovered between smirking and sadness, this Doctor announced his presence by falling into a regeneration coma until he was revived by an infusion of black tea. Then, wearing pajamas, bedroom slippers and a robe, he dueled the lying leader of the Sycorax with a broadsword. He won.

Alone in my luscious, nearly empty loft, I’d curl into a corner of my secondhand couch and watch episode after episode, like the one when the Doctor takes companion Rose Tyler to New New York on New Earth where they liberate thousands of clones created and poisoned for medical research.

Or: the Doctor races to save his new companion, Martha Jones, who has been kidnapped by a couple needing a third person in their hovercraft in order to use the express lane, which will cut their journey through gridlocked traffic down to five years, if the monster down below doesn’t eat them.

Or: the Doctor and his new new companion, Donna Noble, travel to Pompeii and discover that it is Volcano Day and that they must cause the explosion in order to vanquish the Pyroviles living in the volcano who intend to colonize the planet.

My goodness, sci-fi TV is fun.

It snowed a lot the year I watched David Tennant as Doctor Who. The drifts and bluffs held me ever more cozily in that loft sanctuary while I traveled the galaxies and eons with him. I loved the Doctor, loved Tennant, his antics and genius and terrible loneliness and big brown eyes, but I was Rose and Martha and Donna. The heart of the show was, like the best genre TV, human: the story of women stuck in flat jobs or messy families or, most painfully, limited understandings of themselves.

Through their fantastical journeys with the Doctor, Rose and Martha and Donna came into their own power, discovered their own great imaginations. There was always a heartbreaking and unfair cost, but no companion would ever trade the wounds and richness of her travels for the small safety left behind.

This is why the companions left the Doctor, though they wanted to stay with him forever. They didn’t or couldn’t need him anymore. (Except for Rose, but the writers resolved her dilemma in the finale of season four.)

So I watched and watched until spring came to my loft, and with it light that was too fresh and bright to allow long television trips inside. That summer, I fell in love. I moved north to my new companion in the fall.

I wrote to David Tennant to say thank you for his Doctoring. He didn’t write back, of course. In the heady year that followed, I stopped watching as much “Who,” certainly stopped talking about it so much.

It was okay. The lonely Doctor would have been proud. By that time, I had discovered, courtesy of my husband-to-be, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which is to say, I had finally become the hero of my life.

Oh Mama

I’ve been thinking about mamas in TV comedies, who they are, what they look like, how they talk to their kids. Not having watched every show in television history, I lack a complete database of screen moms, but of the ones I know, I declare that none of them look like me.

Nor do they look like any mother I’ve ever met, most definitely including my own. Of course, I don’t expect us in the non-scripted and inconsistently lit world to hit the ribald twang of Roseanne or the poised warmth of Claire Huxtable. The point of most television isn’t to mimic us minutely, but with careful, smart artifice to exaggerate and distill real life so that we recognize aspects of ourselves that otherwise lie mute beneath hours of hauling dirty laundry to the washing machine. Look at a a show as featherweight and glossy as “Friends”: even there a viewer can find truth about the strength and hassle of the chosen family. Or take “Parks & Recreation,” for a cleverer example, and find the sacrifice and thrill of meaningful work.

But mamas and motherhood? There’s nothing to find. Less than nothing if we consider how bizarrely unreal all television depictions of child labor are. Let’s take a moment here to dispatch the most bafflingly stupid stereotypes of birth perpetuated on TV:

Most babies are not born within three minutes of the pregnant lady’s water breaking.

Women do not in general threaten nurses or partners with bodily harm or pull goofy but appealing faces in their snarling quest to receive epidural drugs.

Not all mothers weep ecstatically when their new little floppy toads are laid upon their chests.

Immediately new newborns resemble floppy purple toads more often than they resemble babies.

A woman in the throes of deep labor generally does not care if in the course of intense pushing she poops in front of everybody.

In an uncomplicated birth, the doctor is rarely heroically directing the action, telling the laboring woman when her contractions are happening and when she needs to push. As wise Abed Nadir said in a moment of straight-up birth reality during the season two finale of “Community,” “at this point, the bus pretty much drives itself.” Believe me, in an uncomplicated birth, the mama knows when contractions are happening, and they do an excellent job of cluing her in on when to push.

Finally, and contrary to most screen births, a laboring woman is not categorically fragile, bewildered or dim. She’s working really hard.

So, okay, labor on television is ridiculous. Once the baby shows up and actual child-rearing begins, though, the situation turns psychotically lame, because television children don’t exist in any way known to womankind.

Do you remember Emma, Rachel Green’s daughter on “Friends”? Neither do I, because her presence affected nothing. Rachel, now mother to a very young child, remained crackingly alert and quippy and well dressed. And she was hardly an exception. Mamas on TV have vast, clean homes. They are thin; they wear eyeshadow to bed. They have great skin. Their lives as mothers are nothing more than props lending poor verisimilitude to the hi-jinks and hinky-pinky of the children, partners and buddies at the center of the screen.

To be fair, a few TV mothers have some grounding in reality. Roseanne, for all her quick quips, was probably the truest television mom I can think of. The low-to-stratospheric-level desperation and the absurdist dark humor that accompany caring for young children were part of the show’s DNA, part of what gave the half-hour plots their snap.Her experience as a mother was central to the comedy of the show, and her cranky neglect and pestering anxiousness felt like a real if nutty mom’s love.

Marge Simpson is another realish mama. Yes, she is two-dimensional and has blue hair, but she’s got the rooted, practical fierceness that child rearing requires. It’s stunningly strange to write the following about a cartoon, but Marge’s work as a mother is part of who she is as a character.

Motherhood knocks you around; it wipes you out and rockets you into galaxies of feeling. It needn’t be a person’s exclusive identity — for many, that way trouble lies — but it does demand significant effort and change. TV moms who remain blithe and sexy, from Carol Brady to Rachel Green, are just plain getting it wrong.

I see here that this meditation on television mothers has turned into a rant, which is often a desire spoken at high volume. I want there to be a show about mamas and papas and partners with babies and little kids. A good show. A show that is not real life but makes me feel more real.

Could such a show be funny? Could it tap into the realities of a situation that involves a lot of repetition, daily challenges of little import and women whose sexiest outfits are old maternity tops that hang too low?

Yes. The answer is yes. Caring for little ones is equal parts shivery joy, humiliation and exhaustion. It is florid with funny.

All we need now is someone to write a pilot (I’m looking to you, mama of the blog Bad Parenting Moments) and then a network to produce it and then people to like it enough to get 100 more episodes made. Easy!

I’m waiting. I’ll watch it. I need it. There are days this new mama could really use a laugh.

Cheer up, you melancholy Dane

I was in Boston at the time, lonely and angry, in a graduate school program that was both underwhelming and expensive. I’d gone there with enormous, gauzy hopes and discovered an indifferent city with iPhone earbuds dangling from every person’s head.

I had few friends, an allergic reaction (crying, wheezing, spiritual despair) to graduate student parties, and no affection for Beantown. Not the Charles, not the tired bike paths, not greasy Harvard Square, not the subway cars filled with Red Sox jersey-wearing fans on game nights.

What good there was in the city, what history and intellect, what music and strangeness, I couldn’t let in. I know it existed. I saw other people living it. But it was separate from me, and I could not find any way to belong.

One of my housemates, though, had a fancy computer with a very fast Internet connection — and a Netflix account.

I blasted through the early seasons of “House,” watched all of “Freaks and Geeks,” dipped in old episodes of “Happy Days.” Television became my comfort and companion, a private relationship with a fictive world that felt as piercing and important as the real one.

No, it was richer, more powerful, than my physical life in Boston. I cried watching those shows. I dreamed about the characters. I flinched at fights and cringed at humiliations. I wrote one of two fan notes I’ve ever written in my life, this one to Martin Starr, who played Bill Haverchuck on “Freaks and Geeks.” (He didn’t write back.)

My television watching was emotional and it was analgesic. TV can make you feel things when you otherwise can’t; TV can numb you to the feelings that are happening outside it.

I have seen this kind of relationship to TV before. My grandmother watched it every night in bed after my grandfather died. She preferred PBS specials and old movies, but in the last year of her life, she got hooked on incendiary cable news. It makes sense now that I remember her sudden angers and injustices. She raged that final year, and she was scared.

And I remember visiting a high school friend at her home. Her mother, an intellectual woman, round in body and face, with Benjamin Franklin glasses and gray hair tied back in a low ponytail, had built a veritable nest six or so feet from a large television.

The chair seat had formed perfect hollows where she sat. One armrest held an ashtray and the other a glass of water. I thumbed through her copy of “TV Guide.” She’d highlighted a month’s worth of programs to view.

She turned on the television as we left the house, and I felt her hunger for the screen. I recognized it. I think she might have been an angry person too.

Most media, I think, have the potential to enrich our fantasy lives while removing us from the direct experience of our bodies and minds. Television is so immediate and personal, and above all, so easy to consume, that it must be more powerful than all the novels and crossword puzzles combined, at least to those of us susceptible to its charms.

I cannot, however, claim that TV is evil or corrupting. I want to; I think I would be a more productive person if I believed that; but I don’t. TV’s hold on my imagination, and my yearning for the displacement of pain that it provides, disturb me, but they instruct me, too. My relationship to television, that blue-glowing beast, is one of the clearest bellwethers I have for how well or poorly I am living my life.

When I look back at Boston, I can see when the tumblers of the lock on health and happiness began to shift. Toward the end of that dreadful year, I stumbled onto a Canadian series called “Slings & Arrows” that ran for three seasons in the mid-2000s. It follows, as the title suggests, the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” befalling the New Burbage Festival, loosely based on the renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario.

The show starts with the black-humored death of the festival’s artistic director, Oliver Welles, and his immediate return as a ghost that only Geoffrey Tennant, Oliver’s former protege and now the possibly mad interim director of the festival, can see. In the midst of this Geoffrey directs “Hamlet” with unsolicited advice from Oliver.

Oh, I loved this show, from the opening shot of a clogged toilet to the rollicking theme song that exhorted Hamlet to “cheer up, you melancholy Dane!” to the shabby, fantastical enactment of the opening storm of “The Tempest.” I still feel magical, invited to a party I actually want to attend, when I catch an episode. Maybe I’m really Canadian.

But here’s the blessed rub. After I left the city for Western Massachusetts, I bought the DVDs and sent them to my dad. He went crazy. After each new episode, he’d call me and we’d talk it through scene by scene, crowing over our favorite parts, reciting lines and analyzing characters.

Our conversations were delicious. They happened in real time, in real space. They were made of our breath, from our own minds.

TV gave us substance. We turned it into us. At last, loneliness was not more powerful than love.

O, Olympics

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the dearth of widely shared television events in this country. I figured the Superbowl and the World Cup and national election coverage were our best bets for communal, real-time emotion.

Well, color me red in a sparkly leotard, I forgot all about the Olympics.

It seems that each night close to 40 million people are watching–at the same time–the big events in London this year. Gymnastics, swimming, diving, probably track and field next week are what we want to watch, a lot of us, even with the commentators and commercials.

I see it on Facebook, too, and I hear it in grocery store chatter. We are into these games.

I remember 2008. Michael Phelps won a lot of medals and said he thought Lindsay Lohan was hot. Lindsay Lohan was still hot. The opening ceremonies were outstanding and slightly scary, so many human beings so synchronized.

This year feels different. Who knows why–probably because I have a baby now and all of life is more tender and interesting. Whatever the reason, I am glad we’re having a national, probably even a decent-sized international, moment together, watching those tiny girls flip through the air.

Summer TV

When I was a kid, television pretty much stopped in the summer. This was­n’t because my parents insisted on a screen-free season, or because my fam­ily decamped to a private island para­dise off the coast of North Carolina. My brothers and I didn’t watch television because in the sum­mer there was noth­ing on.

This was the 1980s, when ABC, CBS, NBC and darling earnest PBS were our only choices.

What did they broad­cast from June to September? I have no idea. I think they figured it didn’t matter unless it was an Olympics year. Everyone was on vaca­tion, network executives included.

Then came cable and the Internet and “The Bachelor.” Suddenly television had the need, or just the option, to entertain us every single second of every day. The downside to this satura­tion is, of course, the pernicious and irresistible stench of vanity and non­sense and shouting. The upside? “Warehouse 13.” “Falling Skies.” “Rizzoli & Isles.” “Louie.” “Web Therapy.” Original shows — funny, silly, smart, smart-alecky, sincere, odd shows — smack in the heat of summer.

I’m partial to “Warehouse 13,” which mixes the supernatural spooki­ness of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with the swashbuckling goofiness of Indiana Jones. My husband, an old school sci-fi fan, likes “Falling Skies” (too many guns and alien tentacles for me).

The summer show I’m most excited about, though, is “Bunheads,” airing Mondays at 9 p.m. on ABC Family. It stars two-time Tony winner Sutton Fos­ter as Michelle, a ballet-trained, unhap­py, aging Vegas showgirl who drunken­ly marries a devoted admirer, named Hubbell Flowers, and ends up living with his mother, Fanny, a former balle­rina who runs a ballet school, on the California coast in a house aggressively festooned with kitsch.

Not the most accessible of premises, perhaps. But the co-creator of “Bun­heads” is Amy Sherman-Palladino, cre­ator of the late, great “Gilmore Girls,” and I’ll follow her anywhere.

Sherman-Palladino’s voice and vision utterly define this new show. Like “Gilmore Girls,” the characters are smart, wordy and quirky. They talk fast and quip hard. Most of them are women, and the central relationships are between women — Michelle and Fanny; Michelle and four of the ballet students (sullen Sasha, eager Boo, flibberdigib­bet Melanie and neurotic Ginny); Michelle and the town, which seems to be populated largely by women. Every­one is a lot or a little desperate, and funny about it.

It isn’t exactly easy to like “Bunheads” at first. As an ABC Family show, it’s packaged as a sweet wisp of summer nothing, which is true, but the gauzy credit sequences and showy promos hide its authentic intelligence and feel­ing. Someone made the editing decision to have commercial breaks fade to black, which feels antiquated and clum­sy given the masterful pacing of the scenes.

As for characters, there are more than a few kooky Californians, like the ex-Wiccan artist who makes life-size nude sculptures but only from found objects, or the stoned surfer bartender and his stoned whiny wife. The ballet students are so far just sketches of real teenagers, and the young actresses don’t yet have their music as a group.

Most jarring, the tone of the show wil­lows from broad silliness to aggressive whimsy to knowing jokiness, and then suddenly spirals out with genuine, heart-stopping, tear-jerking emotion, humor and connection. It can be hard to keep up.

But I think this must be what Sher­man- Palladino has in mind, this odd rhythm, this beach-read/literary gem of a television program. And it’s all grounded most wonderfully in the fact that the show is also about dance, and that Sutton Foster is an outstandingly expressive dancer, as well as a vibrant­ly alive actress. When she moves, the TV screen turns into a Broadway stage.

The season is only a few episodes in, so I’m hopeful that “Bunheads” will deliver on its loopy, heartfelt promise.

After all, if I’m going to be inside watching television on a perfect sum­mer night, it really ought to be good.