In these hot, humid nights, I’ve gone back to China Beach, the 1988-1991 TV series reated by William Broyles Jr. and John Sacret Young, and with Homicide, Life on the Streets, up there at the very top of the Olympus of my favorite TV shows.
I discovered China Beach by chance in 1994-95, when a second-tier network broadcast it in Italy.
I was serving in the Air Farce at the time, and it was surreal, being in a military compound, wearing fatigues, and watch a show about men and women in fatigues, in a military compound.
The series takes place in an evacuation hospital during the Vietnam War – the first season takes place in the autumn of ’67.
The reasons for going back to that old series were basically two – apart from the boredom and the heat and the insomnia:
On one hand, I had a chat with my friend Lucy, and she pointed out she can’t watch most 1980s and 1990s TV series because they were, quote, “pretty crap”, unquote.
Lucy, of course, is a movie buff, and yet I thought, hold it, there were some mighty damn fine series back then!
What brought back China Beach as a paramount example of definitely not crap TV show was another discussion I had on the same day, about that strange creature, the strong female character.
Now there is this asinine idea, that goes around among fantasy geeks with dreams of writing, that strong female character means big boobed chick with a big ax, kicking ass.
Which is an OK choice, I guess, but it is just one possible choice, and really, it’s been done to death, and beyond.
And indeed, a lot of the cheap, derivative, poorly-written, adolescent sexual fantasy sort of sword & sorcery I see perpetrated by many brain-dead proponents of the killakillakilla school of fantasy writing is starting to give me some serious problem.
So, no, sorry, strong female characters are something else.
Strong female characters are well-rounded, deep, believable characters, strong being an attribute of the writing, not a measure of the butt-kicking capabilities of the heroine.
In this sense, China Beach offered a catalogue of excellently written, beautifully acted, strong female characters, and if re-watching the old episodes caused a rekindling of my service-time crush for Dana Delany’s Lt. McMurphy, I was surprised by the depth and humanity of the character of Laurette Barber, portrayed by Chloe Webb in the first series.
And these are only two – Marg Helgenberger’s cynical and business-minded prostitute is certainly a very close third.
And so on.
But the whole cast – that today we should describe as “stellar” – was spectacular, and served by a first class writing.
There is no ass-kicking, no tough-talking, no men with tits called the She Wolf with a Sword or other such rubbish.
But there are stories, about people – not characters. And that’s the great thing.
Yes, it is no fantasy, it is not sword & sorcery.
But it is to me a good example of what I would like to do when I write (and what I’d like to read).