Monday, February 1, 2016

I hope the Russians love their children too. We begin bombing in five minutes.

In HMOTD 013: Mike & Rob's Review, Part 2, Rob and I talked a little bit about how the podcast had changed, mutated, if you will, over the course of the first season. We knew from the very beginning this was going to be a "deep dive, history-nerd" podcast, but in the middle of the first season we slyly dropped the "rewatch" bit from our self-description. So many of you early adopters, folks who'd never even watched WKRP, asserted your surprise that you didn't need to have watched WKRP to enjoy the podcast. And that's great! We definitely want as many people as possible to enjoy both the podcast and perhaps be intrigued enough to watch WKRP for the first time. Our digressions into the politics of the WKRP period, the pop culture surrounding the show and its era, and the overall historical context entertained lots of you and proved a very deep well to draw from.

What we're discovering is that some episodes of the podcast are going to be like HMOTD 021: Huggable Herb last week, or even like HMOTD 015: Don't Hit It To Me, where we have lots of material to dive into about the show itself and its characters. Rob and I both have a lot of love for these characters, quirks and all, and looking at them 30+ years later with the benefit of maturity, experience, and a tiny bit of psychoanalysis has been fun. Some podcast episodes do lean more WKRP-heavy, and we enjoy those immensely.

But then we get a podcast episode like this week's.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with either "The Americanization of Ivan" or "Les's Groupie." They're both fairly solid episodes of WKRP. But they both offer much more grist for our pop culture and history mills. Especially "The Americanization of Ivan."

By now you've heard our story about the naming of our podcast; we wanted a piece of obscure WKRP-iana that would immediately make all the 'KRP superfans nod sagely and go "ohhh, I get it" while bewildering and befuddling everyone else, presumably into taking a flyer on the podcast. "Hold my order, terrible dresser" is such a piece of inside baseball about the checkered history of WKRP in syndication that it thrilled Rob and me to deploy it as our title. But we also had fond memories of this Season 2 episode itself, a quirky little quasi-espionage tale of Ivan Popasonaviski and his desire to defect to the West, embodied in the persons of Bailey Quarters and Elton John.

What was funny was how immediately and deeply "The Americanization of Ivan" tapped into Rob's and my very vivid (and sometimes even traumatic) memories of growing up in the midst of the peak of the second "heating up" of the Cold War in Ronald Reagan's first term. Endless scares about the realities of nuclear war, the citing of the Soviet Union as "the evil empire," the good vs. evil narrative that was central to so much American pop culture in the 1980s... granted, all that tension and fear and strife is a few years distant in 1980 when this fairly quaint little tale of defection aired.

But again, isn't that itself one of the theses of our podcast? In 1980, battered and bruised by numerous foreign policy embarrassments and the open provocation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter (who also shows up in a funny way in "The Americanization of Ivan," more by his absence than presence) was dealing with an America that desired domestic economic tranquility and a new-found respect (or maybe more accurately bluster) on the world stage. And America would get that wish, for good and for ill, in about 10 months' time.

So I hope you'll indulge Rob and me as we explain what it was like to grow up in that last gasp of superpower-related nuclear terror, as this week we both ask why "They Never Sent Me a Carter."

1 comment:

  1. Having lived through this time as a 13-year-old, I remember the consternation of the times regarding Russia. I also remember that this episode was broadcast shortly before the 1980 Winter Olympics, in which a proxy war between the USA and USSR was fought in the hockey rink. Like you, I believe WKRP was not only a product of its time, but almost a documentary of American mores and attitudes. As usual, great podcast!