Maybe it’s because I go to Penn and I’m guilty of pre–professionalism, but when I arrived at the Kelly Writers House on Wednesday night for “Writing about TV: Real,” I expected some worldly alums to tell me how to become Shonda Rhimes—or at least land a spot fetching her coffee. The segment, planned by Dylan Leahy (C '16), instead featured six speakers, undergrads and grads, who discussed their favorite television shows.
Some read like comedy. Gabriel Ojeda–Sague (C '16) poked fun at Big Brother, which he described as a “CBS staple when nothing else is on.” Ojeda–Sague lovingly bashed the reality show in which housemates are periodically voted out, spotlighting the notorious brother of Ariana Grande, Frankie, who Ojeda–Sague called “the more famous and more talented” of the siblings. The shining moment of the talk came when, after detailing a ridiculous death mix–up featured on the show’s UK spinoff, with a straight face, Ojeda–Sague, concluded, “You can imagine the shock and pain they were both feeling.”
Maya Arthur (C '18) detailed her obsession with Chopped in similar spirits. While the high–pressure cooking show is Arthur's guilty pleasure, she explained she doesn't discriminate, and eating up most programs the Food Network stages (included the short–lived Kitchen Casino). She went on to crown Guy Fieri the Carrie Underwood of the channel, comparing his success post The Next Food Network Star to the country singer's American Idol honeymoon. Josh Herren, a third–grade teacher and Penn alum, talked about his loyalty to Real Housewives from the very first season, even trying his hand at original catchphrases. He was caught between, “I may be on a diet but I’ll eat you alive,” and, “I’m a home–wrecker, but I’m building a palace.”
The highlight of the night, however, was alum Mara Gordon’s reflection on the days she spent watching Grey’s Anatomy from her laptop in Tanzania. She was a post–grad clinging to the idea of medical school, spending her days struggling with the Swahili she wasn’t fluent in at a clinic at which she didn’t feel necessary. She admired the “certainty and morality” all the doctors seemed to possess on the show. Feeling like a “colonizer” in a strange place, she remembers wondering if “being a doctor might absolve me.” The show was a friend in unfamiliar times, setting a dream scape where “scrubs were tailored to cleavage” and doctors said things like, “It’s a beautiful day to save some lives.”
She thought of that line on a recent day at the hospital where she’s since become a doctor. She released a patient who visits frequently. He doesn’t have a home and stays mainly for a night of a clean sheets and towels. His girlfriend accompanies him. Gordon’s hair wasn’t blown out. She didn’t embrace a chiseled surgeon in a job–well–done kiss. She watched the man and his girlfriend leave. “It’s a beautiful day to save some lives,” she thought.
A tribute to The X–Files helped close the evening. Ali Katz, a Program Coordinator at The Kelly Writers House, talked about the show she remembers feeling “as real or more real than prom, graduation and five years of French.” For her, a youth who trolled fan fiction websites and watched religiously, The X–Files “never felt interchangeable.” It couldn’t have been Friends or Beverly Hills 90210. The night was for me what The X–Files was for Ali and what TV is for all of us: a laugh, a distraction, an escape. I’m happy the talk didn’t teach me how to get an internship. For an hour, I forgot that I needed one.