x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Observing life: Summer dreaming

Oliver Good: The greatest pleasure that I derive from watching sci-fi series from the past comes from imagining what American families in the mid-1960s would have thought.

As the oppressive summer heat descends upon the Emirates and residents ditch the beach for the box set, expect to hear friends debating the relative virtues of their favourite series with earth-shattering degrees of priority and significance. But mega-budget espionage thrillers and cutting-edge comedies won't be part of my viewing schedule this summer. I've become enchanted by the bizarre American shows that were made with the post-Second World War generation in mind. And although they were certainly not high-budget by today's standards, they were defiantly cutting-edge.

I'm talking about series such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and the original Star Trek. While these charming 1960s sci-fis will be familiar to readers of a certain age, many who, like me, were born in the 1980s, will be less well acquainted. Sure, Star Trek has only grown in recognition by successfully replicating itself over the decades, but the other shows are known best by my generation because of their influence, rather than the episodes themselves.

These programmes were so much more than excuses to dress actors in rubber alien costumes - particularly The Twilight Zone, which was usually more concerned with mystery than fantasy. With a completely new story and set of characters each week, the show was essentially a collection of 30-minute morality plays, based around simple "what if?" ideas. As well as being hugely imaginative, the episodes' brevity enforced some of the leanest, most highly distilled drama in TV history.

But the greatest pleasure that I derive from watching such series comes from imagining what American families in the mid-1960s would have thought, as they sat down to eat their meatloaf. Although these sci-fis clearly had the horrors of the early 20th century in mind - often focusing on paranoia and potential abuses of science - they also embodied a sense of wide-eyed optimism about the future of the human race.

Their writers seemed to believe that we could reach for the stars while simultaneously solving all of the world's ills - something that today feels naive at best and at worst, slightly tragic. Perhaps it's the recent challenges that western capitalism has suffered, or the feelings of futility that one can derive from current events, that make me so nostalgic for an era that I never even experienced - a time when anything seemed possible. But just because the decades that followed these shows did not bring world peace or prosperity for all, it doesn't mean that sense of optimism is not worth reliving.