PRIMETIME TRAINERS 1991-1992
This week I was fairly excited to see Questlove enthusiastically Tweeting about the Complex piece on films and shoes that I wrote last year and was pretty pleased with, despite a muted response. At the same time I put that together, I started drafting a top TV moments list, but I got rid of it, because for all my ‘Seinfeld’ love, my favourite TV and trainer moments are a little more localised, and they’d just make people agitated. While kids are queuing and getting angry with each other on YouTube over sports footwear in 2012, back in the early 1990s, as prices rocketed and technology got increasingly stupid, there were a spate of footwear plots on shows that were big in the UK, On the more populist front, I like the fact the Assassin shoe in the 1991 ‘Simpsons’ episode (with a fictional price tag of $125) that key influencer Ned Flanders inspires Homer into buying. I especially like the way it evokes the impending Yeezy 2 in its shape and applications. Neddy was ahead of the curve. But that doesn’t touch two rarely discussed storylines that worked in the deadly serious subject of basketball shoe theft on BBC1 during the 5pm to 6pm slot via ‘Grange Hill’ and ‘Neighbours.’
In winter 1990, a scriptwriter on the other side of the world got bored and began concocting a footwear-themed plot, that was transmitted on UK TV in December 1991, a year after it screened in Australia, making it out-of-date straight away. The May 1990 ‘Sneakers or Your Life’ story from ‘Sports Illustrated’ indicated a Stateside spate of shoe crimes, but, as proof of the epidemic nature of both crime and fashion, it reached sleepy Erinsborough too. Commencing with the show’s resident moody teen, Todd Landers (played by Kristian Schmid who I last saw leading a party on Sydney Harbour Bridge as an instructor, but has apparently had a TV comeback), flossing with his new shoes at Daphne’s to impress the girls and crowing on about their $190 price tag, despite them being a pair of Hi-Tec monstrosities that would barely sell for more than £30 UK pounds at the time to the unfortunates with parents who wouldn’t heed their warnings of playground mockery.
In Erinsborough, basketball boots are called ‘runners” just as we Brits call any form of sports footwear a “trainer” and a bruised and battered Todd has to explain to Helen and Jim that he was robbed for his kicks by local goons and that he’s practising kung-fu in order to settle the score. You know you’re in the sticks when kids are robbing Hi-Tecs. A couple of episodes later, he and his buddy Josh attempt an entrapment and retaliation by borrowing Paul Robinson’s adidas Torsions (they look like Bank Shots — Stefan Dennis, the actor who played Paul rocked an assortment of expensive late 1980’s adidas during his brief, terrible singing career, including the astronomically costly ‘Best of Times’ leather jacket) that are a couple of sizes too big and using Josh as bully bait. As Todd and Josh approach a young thug on a BMX who, with his snapback perched atop his hair instead of over it, earrings and rucksack is a proto Streetwear Dave, he’s flanked by some goons who offer the threat, “I’ll give you a choice. Either I punch your head in, or you give me your treads.” Vicked. Josh loses a loose shoe during the scuffle, much to the fury of Paul, who purports to have paid $300 for those runners. It’s a deep plot indeed. There’s little more action after that, with the outcome serving as some kind of warning against shoe-related vigilantism.
This kid is rocking the Streetwear Dave look in late 1990
‘Grange Hill’ dropped some sports footwear knowledge during its 15th series in early 1992. For some reason, trainers were worked into pretty much the entire series, commencing with a young pupil amazing his fellow pupils so much with a pair of Jordan VIs, that they carry him into the class like a god and place him on the teacher’s desk to inspect their feet. For presumed legal reasons, the shoes are never referred to as Nike Jordans. Instead the kid crows about them being a brand called “Sportech” and that the shoes are $160 from the States and you can’t get them over here. He speaks enthusiastically of “roll bars” and “heel counters” on them but runs his mouth too much and gets them stolen from the changing rooms later that day. Loose lips sink ships bruv.
As a result, trainers are banned in Grange Hill, unless you’re a teacher, and a hapless character called Ray (played by an actor who I believe ended up DJing in my hometown for a while), wants to cop the same pair of shoes as the American temporary teacher who just started that term in an inexplicable bid to woo her by wearing women’s footwear. That leads to some outdoor sports store shots with Air Max 90s and Air Trainers in the mix, plus a couple of real brand names called out. Ray can’t afford any, so he’s inexplicably hoodwinked by a character called Maria, who goes into a sports shop and gawps at Reebok Twilight Zones before buying some sale stock from round the back and makes them into the worst custom shoes ever. I have little time for custom footwear, but these are especially bad. Somehow, via a sales pitch that they’re “exclusive” and “American” Ray buys them. Like a div. By the end of the series trainers are legalised in the Grange Hill halls again. Wasn’t this show about gritty real-life issues once upon a time?
Thank you YouTube for housing full episodes of the offending episodes too. Who sat and uploaded every ‘Grange Hill’ and ‘Neighbours’? That’s commitment to the cause. Whether the current boom leaches into popular entertainment like that remains to be seen, but it’s worth mentioning that neither early 1990s plot was as excruciating as that AF1 storyline in ‘Entourage’ or a single second of ‘How to Make It In America’ but it harks back to a time when everybody beneath the age of 25 seemed to be utterly obsessed with footwear, not just the condensed band of weirdos you see today. I’m looking forward to a subplot in ‘Eastenders’ where one of the stage school newbies drafted in to play some kind of urban cartoon character sees pound signs over a box of fake Foamposites. Maybe those episodes will be as etched into the brain of the new generation of viewers as these episodes stuck with me, in all their heavy handed, poorly acted glory.
On a footwear note, the Honeyee piece ‘Good Shoes, Good Style’ showcases some good footwear, like Jun’s pair of Danner River Grippers. I wish every feature on that site had an English translation though — the Hiroshi and Kim Jones conversation looks particularly interesting, but the Flash nature of the pieces means I can’t even get my Babelfish on. Maybe I just need to learn Japanese.