This blog’s name is a direct reference to E.T., but it also represents the films and TV shows that emerged out of the shadow of that movie. You know the kind: ones where kids go on adventures, show their resourcefulness and save the day. Those movies prominently featured kids on bikes, but they were about much more than just that. They were about where those bicycles took the kids – literally and emotionally.
Following my introduction through E.T., this kind of fiction remained a passion of mine during my teen years, when I’d lap up shows like Eerie, Indiana, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Round the Twist, and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and it hasn’t gone away. Because of this fascination, I started watching the Amazon Original Series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, a sweet and charming show about three friends and the adventures they have in their early to mid-teens.
I tuned in out of mere interest because it seemed very much like a Kids Riding Bicycles kinda show. But as I finished the finale this week with tears in my eyes and a desperate yearning for the final episode to never end, I realised it had totally hooked me.
Gortimer is a delightful show. I could ramble on and on about its many incredible triumphs: the clever use of fantasy to heighten emotional crises, the bold and beautifully handled dramatic shift it takes at the end of the second season, the tough decisions and unfair problems it routinely hands its characters. I probably will return to those topics at some point, because there’s an awful lot to say about them, but for the here and now, I want to discuss something else: kindness.
Kindness seems unpopular at the moment. And that isn’t just a comment on the terrible times we live in. Even among seemingly level-headed, non-Trumpeteer people, being ‘nice’ or ‘kind’ is seen as something of an insult. Niceness is boring. Kindness is bland. Why would anyone want to be any of those things? Gortimer revels in niceness and kindness though. Indeed, towards the end of the third and final season, an entire episode is dedicated to characters talking about how good a person the lead is. (On paper, that sounds unbearable, but the show’s charm and the context surrounding it make it work.)
Every episode, Gortimer and his friends, Mel and Ranger, are presented with various emotional problems, which manifest themselves with fantastical dimensions. Ranger tries to help people too much and so ends up literally taking on the weight of the world, even developing his own gravitational pull. Mel is studying too hard for a test and crams her head so full of information that she forgets basic facts like what to call a pen. Gortimer helps out a shy student who dislikes the spotlight so much that literally nobody knows she exists.
None of these ideas are particularly new or revolutionary. Gortimer will not redefine TV or change any games, but that’s not a bad thing. We place such value on the concept that TV shows or films will completely alter the way we think about a story, medium or genre that we sometimes forget that a good story is a good story and that good characters are good characters. This will always remain, regardless of whether they have the seismic impact of a Game of Thrones or Mad Men.
By turning its attentions away from such things and focusing on a handful of kids on one street in a small suburban town, Gortimer gives its characters room to breathe and allows their decency to shine through. There are no battles between good and evil, no grand fantastical vistas or megalomaniacal supervillain plans. It’s just nice people doing nice things for other nice people. As in life, they fail, and stutter, and stumble. They’re frustrated by life and have life beat them down when least expected. But they always remain kind and there’s something strangely bold about that. There’s something rebellious about it.
I’d like to see more shows like Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street and much more coverage for them when they do arrive. We’ve become so accustomed to game-changing drama and shows driven by negativity that we’ve forgotten that good storytelling isn’t all about antagonism. Gortimer proves that kindness can generate great stories as well because kindness is something to aspire towards. Gortimer, Mel and Ranger are people to aspire towards. So if you haven’t seen Gortimer give it a go. It’ll charm you with its sincerity and leave you with the kind of warm glow that only kindness can generate.