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Posted: Mon Oct 05, 2009 2:27 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 26 Aug 2009 Posts: 155
[img]http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2009/09/30/that-70s-show-uk-style-electric-dreams-forces-family-to-rough-it-with-a-typewriter/[/img]
In Britain, a reality show is going back in time.

The premise of BBC 4’s “Electric Dreams“– take a modern British family and plop them back into the 1970s — is pretty clever. You take away their modern kitchen appliances, their computers and cellphones, their color televisions, even their electricity, and then see how they cope. For an added twist, advance the family’s life by a specific year each day, with That 70s show [spam] set’s tech team dropping off new gadgets to keep them up to date. (Later episodes will tackle the 1980s and 1990s.)

The result is a show that feels like a mashup of “Nova,” “Colonial House” and “Back to the Future,” with some “Mythbusters” geekery thrown in. As the episodes progress, several major themes emerge: how much less freedom kids (and to some extent, their parents) have today, and what an utter pain — and how surprisingly dull — That 70s show [spam] set were, when viewed through modern eyes.

The Sullivan-Barnes family, consisting of parents Adam and Georgie, and their four kids–13-year-old Hamish, 12-year-olds Ellie and Steffi and toddler Jude–are the lucky participants who volunteered to have their lives turned upside down.

At the start of the three-part series, which started last night on BBC 4 in the U.K., the clan returns home one day and finds their house has been aesthetically and electronically set back 40 years. Nineteen-seventies decor and color palettes adorn the walls, and rooms (or parts of rooms) have been blocked off to emulate the smaller square footage of the era. There’s no central heating–as the narrator tells us, only 25% of homes had central heating in 1970–so the house has heavy drawn curtains to save energy, making the house feel even more crowded and claustrophobic. The Sullivan-Barnes’ cars are gone too, replaced by a lone clunker with no sideview mirrors and a sticky second gear that dad will now use to commute to work. That 70s show [spam] set

The girls, however, are thrilled to share a room in their now-smaller house, and ooh and ahh at the house’s new look, while mom and dad less happily realize that they will now have to share a single bathroom with their kids. Son Hamish is a good sport, but clearly isn’t pleased about being stripped of his electronics. He also provides some drama when he takes his 1970s-era bike into town and, with no cellphone to stay in touch, and instead types out a note (on a typewriter!) explaining where he is going to be. When he still isn’t home by dinner, angry mom notes that if this was really the 1970s, “I’d smack him,” given the era’s more liberal judgments on corporal punishment. Instead, she sends him to his room on an empty stomach — which she figures, absent his 2009-era Playstation and computer, is a pretty stiff punishment.

Meanwhile, Britain’s labor disputes linger in the background. When the power goes out one evening, the family is told that “as a result of the miners’ industrial action, the power outage will last until morning.” They break out candles and board games.

The real treat, however, is watching the parents enjoy this flashback to their youth while having to cope with the hassles it creates. Dad gets misty when he finds a record player with Simon & Garfunkel on. He later shows Hamish how to put the needle between songs, as they try to make a mix tape out of a turntable-cassette player combo. After a scary drive to work (he’s an accountant) on snow-clogged roads, dad realizes he’s the only one there — everyone else, still in 2009, got the text message informing everyone not to come in. Making matters worse, the producers have replaced his modern work computer with an early Commodore from the late That 70s show [spam] set, loaded via cassette drive with a rudimentary finance program.

After adventures including the arrival of Pong in 1976, the calculator (remember spelling out “boobs” by flipping 58008 upside down?), and doing chores without the aid of microwaves or freezers, the show closes with friends invited over for a slideshow — the kind with Kodak slides and a carousel — of the decade, complete with fondue. Amid the celebration, son Hamish, deprived of his videogames, is a bit underwhelmed.”I don’t think I’ll miss the 70s. There wasn’t much to do in the 70s.” That 70s show [spam] set

The parents recall how much more freedom they themselves had as kids, before rampant fears of child kidnappers or disabling bike injuries, and the constant tether of cellphones. Part of this is certainly a cultural and technological shift–we can watch over our kids constantly now, so we do–but watching the show, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was just that parents back then were just too buried in housework and logistics to keep too close an eye on them. That 70s show [spam] set
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