Have you ever gone back to watch a TV show or film you enjoyed many years ago?
If not, I hope you'll try it -- and I hope you'll enjoy it the way I'm enjoying one of my first favorite TV series, "Flipper."
When I saw it recently in the weekend TV listings on an "All Classics" TV channel, I thought it would be worth a short look. I remembered that I'd liked watching it when I was very young, and that it was the story about two older boys growing up with their father, a park ranger in Florida, and their pet dolphin. Even if you were as young as I was when I first saw it, you could sing about the dolphin with me:
"They call him Flipper! Flipper! Faster than lightning! No one, you see, is smarter than he!"
Flipper himself hadn't changed a bit when I tuned in again as a "grownup." Sometimes his adventures consist of Flipper finding trouble and revealing it to his humans; other times, he gets in trouble and needs rescuing. (Being "faster than lightning," I guess, will get you into trouble that fast, too.)
What startles me now isn't just the good, basic storytelling -- adventure in and near the sea, no subplots need apply -- but how my attitudes have changed about Flipper's owners. I suppose I'd just have called them "the people characters" when I was young.
The family consists of Porter Ricks, single dad (for no reason I ever remember being mentioned) and park ranger; Sandy, his older son, who (on the episode I saw last) was described as a senior in high school; and Bud, his younger son, who is somewhere between 10 and 13 years old.
Bud gets an idea for an adventure, says "Come on, Flipper!" and gets a reply, in dolphin-ese, immediately. Now that I've known dogs who were less quick to reply, let alone obey, Flipper's answers strain credibility.
As for the family's adventures, I don't see many of them as "Wow! What fun!" the way I did. Oh, the occasional deep-sea dive is still beautiful -- especially as I sit cuddled under blankets against the onslaught of winter outside here. As the theme song also puts it,
"Flipper lives in a world full of wonder, flying out under, under the sea!"
But watching "older boys who get to do something" has shifted. Even "grown-up" big brother Sandy seems too young to be driving motorboats and helping his dad as much as he does, and seeing little brother Bud driving a boat with an outboard motor has become maddening. I'm likely to mutter "He's too young!" several times a show.
That brings me back to Porter, the authority figure as both dad and park ranger. My younger self would have found any explanation of why he's on his own impossibly sad, but also distracting. If it doesn't matter to the story, from poachers in park waters to the boys' grades in school (which I don't remember ever seeing them attend), it isn't part of the show. Who said we need all the explanations, after all?
Porter's character makes "Flipper" a sort of workplace adventure story, thanks to his workplace being a national park. I doubt that I ever noticed that as a child. The park was where Flipper lived, first and foremost. Porter just worked there. I wanted to learn about it as an excuse to watch dolphins.
So, all these decades later, I'm glad to have an excuse to watch dolphins again. In nature documentaries, I have trouble telling dolphins apart. But, involved in the story again, I can say as confidently as Bud and Sandy, "There's Flipper!" Once again, I'm distracted and delighted.
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