Recently, I was engaging in one of my favourite pastimes: Rewatching TV shows I loved when I was a kid. Thanks to the various streaming websites, it’s really, really easy to relive old passions without breaking the bank on DVD sets. (My god was it expensive to watch every episode of a show back when a season cost roughly the same amount as a car… provided that the show was even one of the special chosen ones to get a DVD release.)
The hair. The katana. It’s so ’90s. (Image: Highlander: The Series, CBS)
In this case, I decided to rewatch Highlander: The Series, which I love basically more than the any of the movies, including the first one. (Yes, really.) The show is objectively less good than that first movie. And its movies are some of the absolute worst things I have ever seen. But it still has a larger place in my heart.
I was shocked to discover that the TV show I loved is so dated that it becomes physically painful to watch. Dear the ’90s, why did every show need to use the slow-motion jittery zoom to convey a big moment? And why has it aged so badly? And how, how, had I not noticed it before?
The answer, of course, is fanfic.
I’ve read a lot more fanfic set in that world since the show went off the air then I have actually watched the show. And when I have gone back to watch the show, it’s been very specific episodes, the ones I have the fondest memories of. Trying to watch the whole thing over… didn’t work as well.
Fanfic gets a bad rap and it drives me crazy, because there are a lot of things that owe their continued fandom to it. For every long hiatus or bad season, fanfic is there to save you.
Let’s take my beloved Highlander: The Series as an example. Its central conceit — immortals — meant that you could do multiple period pieces and still keep the main characters. Also, the vastness of hundreds of years — thousands in the case of a character like Methos — meant that the show couldn’t explore everything, which let fanfic authors slot their stories into the whole. And fans suddenly saw a depth to the characters that, perhaps, the show didn’t have time to develop.
When a show goes off the rails, fanfic can keep people invested even if the show has lost them. I gave up on Sleepy Hollow because it decided to crap all over the fans for no reason. But there’s fanfic that has created an ending that everyone actually deserves, and its existence means I can still watch the good seasons without running into the street, blood streaming from my eyes, screaming for death.
Some shows are pretty fluffy, and it takes fanfic to explore the layers that are only hinted at onscreen. That’s the kind of fic that benefited the old blue sky USA Network shows. Some shows have premises that allow fans to let loose with creativity, such as Doctor Who, where all of time and space is a possibility. And when you have a show with a hiatus as long as Doctor Who‘s, it’s nice to have fanfic to keep telling stories in that universe. There’s also something about the written word — it ages a lot less than the effects or the camera shots of the original.
In these circumstances, the quality of the fic can outstrip the quality of the show. That is a good thing; it means that the show is inspiring, and that people care enough about the characters to want to tell stories. And it means that they are getting more out of it than was intended. A show with solid characters and a good premise lives on in fanfic even when the actual show may be floundering.
I have a list of shows like that — shows where I would say I’m a fan, but where I would also say I haven’t rewatched them in a while. What are yours?