Gems of Nostalgia from Local Television’s Past That We Wish Could Be Revisited Online6 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
More than half a year on and the post-pandemic future still seems as unclear as when it started. It’s perhaps in today’s ever-uncertain environment where the coziness of nostalgia is most sought after. Couple the sentimentality with memories of huddling around the television in the pre-Internet age and it’s easy to see the appeal in revisiting past television series.
A treasure trove of Singapore cinema and television has recently arrived on Netflix with many more to come. Meanwhile, local on-demand service meWATCH has an even larger catalogue of local programmes and films that are mostly available for free. Both services include massively popular programmes such as The Noose, Phua Chu Kang, and The Unbeatables that are sure to send Singaporeans on a nostalgia trip.
However, there are still a selection of past gems that we just wish were available somewhere on the Internet. These programmes may not be as celebrated as the other big-name hits, yet they have somehow remained in the deep recesses of our mind, and are surely to spark some fond “oh!”s whenever mentioned.
Even if they aren’t exactly the pinnacle of entertainment as we remembered them to be, experiencing these programmes today would surely be an endearing way to look back at just how far local television has come since then.
Here are a few half-remembered programmes that the Sinema team is craving to revisit.
VR Man (1998)
Back when reading comic books would get you teased by friends, Singapore launched VR Man, featuring Singapore’s first (and hopefully not last) television superhero.
An accident leaves computer engineer and aspiring comic artist Alex, played by James Lye, with super speed and the superhuman ability to project virtual reality objects – think Green Lantern. The live-action series sees the crimefighter take on both petty criminals and the nefarious Click Click Man, all while navigating a love triangle and family drama.
Despite the series’s high viewership numbers, the superhero’s adventures would unfortunately be cut short after its initial 13 episode run. Much of the reason for its cancellation is shrouded in mystery. However, in one of his blog posts, Ong Su Mann, best known for his work on Phua Chu Kang, alludes to VR Man’s “painful” development process.
Since then, VR Man somewhat grew to become a local cult icon, making a cameo on The Noose and even having its own still-active Facebook fan page. The show’s campy tone and unconvincing special effects have made it a punchline amongst Singaporeans but it is undeniable that the superhero holds an endearing place in our hearts. Fans of the series are probably not holding their breath for a revival but it would definitely be a blast for anyone to re-experience the superhero’s adventures.
We Are R.E.M (2003 – 2008)
Not to be confused with the band that lost their religion, We Are R.E.M was Singapore’s ode to Nancy Drew. The series follows three preteen girls Rachel, Ee-Ching and Moe as they balance school life with their crime solving side gig.
Every episode presented a new mystery for the trio to investigate and crack, which made for an engaging yet familiar watch every week. The mysteries were usually innocuous, but recalling back, the show did take some dark turns. Later episodes would see Ee-Ching ‘disappear’ and be replaced by a boy. Similarly, the premise of the show’s follow-up We Are R.E.M: The Next Generation was that Rachel ‘disappeared’, leaving her sister to take up the mantle.
The decision to replace Ee-Ching was probably made to appeal to boys. However, similar to The Powerpuff Girls, We Are R.E.M was already a show that schoolboys were embarrassed to admit that they enjoyed.
While the children series does have the common pitfall of lacklustre acting and general campiness (right down to its theme song), the series’s time-tested formula may still be entertaining to children today. To the rest of us, the series is a potent time capsule that is sure to leave many reminiscing about simpler times in the 2000s.
Six Weeks (2004)
For a brief period of time, what we know now as Mediacorp was not the sole broadcaster in Singapore. In 2001, free-to-air licenses were granted to SPH Mediaworks, a subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings, and launched Channel U and Channel I. Both these channels were competitors to Mediacorp’s Channel 5 and Channel 8 respectively with their own set of programmes and roster of actors.
However, the duopoly would not last. Citing financial issues, MediaWorks would merge with MediaCorp at the end of 2004. While Channel U continued to operate under MediaCorp, Channel I would cease transmission on 1 January 2005. While I was too young to experience the full-scope of this competition, I will always remember Channel I’s last drama production, with its first episode aired six weeks before the channel shuttered.
Six Weeks stars Adrian Pang as David, who looks to amend the mistakes he has made to his family after finding out that he has only six weeks left to live. Each episode followed one week of David’s life as he races against time to repair a fractured family unit and find peace in his fate.
Despite being a kid not completely sure of what was going on, The series’s heartbreaking ending and Adrian Pang’s tearful performances will forever be seared in my memory. This, especially when the series coincided with the closure of an entire channel that I spent countless afternoons with – an end I had no idea about. Needless to say, I started my 2005 school year rather despaired.
Channel I’s local programmes have disappeared since then. Hardly any stills or clips can be found on the Internet. Making these lost programmes available on the Internet be vital in preserving an important part of Singapore’s broadcast history. Six Weeks, in particular, should be on the top of the list for perfectly matching the mood surrounding a local channel’s demise – an event that may never happen again in Singapore.
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