The Essential Cult TV Reader
by David Lavery
Review by: Larry Tomas
Any self-respecting TV junkie has his or her list of all-time favorites, and likely has all the episodes on DVD. However, if you’ve lost touch with series television, or just want to refresh fond memories, you’ll want to read “The Essential Cult TV Reader,” edited by David Lavery, and published by The University Press of Kentucky in Lexington. Lavery has gathered writings by some thirty contributors as they look at, and try to explain what makes a cult TV show.
The genre is decidedly different from “classic” TV, which would include such hits at “I Love Lucy,” “Gunsmoke,” “Dragnet,” and “Ozzie and Harriet.” Many of the series essayed in “The Essential Cult TV Reader” are fairly recent, and some even had blazingly short screen time, but have managed an after-life through the efforts of fans.
Despite a fairly large appendix, the actual text still stretches over three hundred forty three pages, and covers shows from “Absolutely Fabulous” to “The X-Files” with most of the alphabet represented.
It’s probably safe to say that the rise of cult television came with the advent of cable and satellite broadcasting, and home video. Fans will tell you that a great cult TV program is definitely skewed from the normal, run-of-the-mill show. There needs to be some element of comedy, fantasy, action, or horror that would not be found in your average network fare.
A good example of this is “The Adventures of Briscoe County Junior,” which starred Bruce Campbell from Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD trilogy of movies. “Briscoe County” is a western, with overtones of sci-fi and alien beings mixed in with the usual western trappings of outlaws, shady ladies, and bounty hunters. It’s fast, funny, full of in-jokes, and seriously odd characters. The series had a brief run on the Fox network, but has since resurfaced on DVD in a box set of all the episodes.
Some of the series covered in the book are actually old enough to be considered classic television, but have the aforementioned required elements to allow them to attain cult status as well. From the 1960s, “The Avengers” offers spies, martial arts, leather jumpsuits, and dastardly deeds. Also from that decade, “Dark Shadows” was an afternoon soap opera about vampires. And who cannot give credit to “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” for having a major influence on comedy programs ever since.
There are chapters devoted to familiar titles like “The Twilight Zone,” “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” and the current favorites “24” and “Lost.” Also in the mix are shows that you may know nothing about: “Blake’s 7,” “Firefly,” “This Life,” or “Ultraviolet.”
That’s not to say that you will like everything about these shows, or even want to see them, but if you enjoy letting your mind wander and enjoy exploring the strange, the odd, and the imaginative, then this book, combined with the resource of DVDs might just open some new vistas for your television viewing. After all, as my wife is fond of saying: “How many episodes of ‘Law and Order’ can you possibly watch?”
“The Essential Cult TV Reader” was published in January, and is available from your favorite book vendor, or at a library near you.