A strange phenomenon has been happening to me for some time now, and I’ve been too ashamed to confess it. I can’t get into new TV shows. In the last few years, it has become increasingly rare to get captivated by new TV. This goes for all “new” things—as in, things I haven’t seen before—but especially things others tell me I should be watching.
I have seen three episodes of Derry Girls, it’s there sitting on my “continue watching” list. I know it’s good, I liked it, but I just don’t feel like watching it whenever I open Netflix. There’s also Anne with an E on that list with only two episodes consumed, as well as Breaking Bad…somewhere in its first season. What should I watch? What do I want to watch? Those two questions dance around in my head until I don’t know what’s what anymore and I just play on an old episode of Wynonna Earp.
But then get this: the whole time I’m watching Wynonna kick butt, I’m feeling guilty because why am I wasting my time watching something I’ve seen before with so much brilliant TV available?
Listen, I know how pedantic this sounds. It is the definition of a first-world problem (even though I technically don’t live there). I’m rolling my eyes just as I write this. That’s why I’ve been ashamed to express this woe for so long. In so many ways, it’s just so silly. There are so many other more important problems in the world and, hell, even in my life. But I just can’t shake it.
It saddens me because I love television. It is my absolute favorite storytelling medium. I went into screenwriting school aiming for television writing. I have been a voracious consumer of TV for as long as I can remember. I am the girl who’s willing to give practically anything a shot. Soapy doctor drama? Ok. Police procedural? Not my favorite, but I’ll do it. Sci-Fi, Fantasy? Bring it on. Crime? Anime? Grim and historical? Confusing? Yes, yes and yes. Over the top melodrama? I’ll do it. Oh, it’s about teenagers? Even better.
But lately I’m just… eh.
It’s gotten so bad that I’ll cling to anything that can retain my attention with a vice grip. Which of course then leads to me binging and finishing those things way too fast. I know a lot of these things are good, but I just can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm. It’s almost like I have TV depression in a way.
However, lately I’ve heard from more and more people who feel this way, which is why I decided to write about it. If many of us feel it, perhaps there is a common denominator to be found, the we fix it and we can all go back to enjoying our TV.
I usually chalk up my feelings about this to my line of work. I chose to go into the study of media production and later screenwriting. That inevitably has a cost on your enjoyment of media. Once you know how the inner cogs and screws of any industry work—be it the artistic or business side—you just can’t help but hear them grind.
For me, consuming media has felt like homework for a long time. Watching TV is about analyzing and investigating it. It is about knowing the state of the art and at the very least coming up with article ideas. Everyone gets tired of homework at some point, even if it’s the fun kind. I’ve always experienced dry spells in my loving relationship with television narrative, especially when I’m watching things I don’t necessarily like because I must.
Breaking Bad, for example, is a reference for TV writing and, in fact, screenwriting in general. It is a masterclass on the subject. The show is one of those things that is undeniably, objectively well-written. And I just. Don’t. Like it.
Years, it has taken me years to watch it, and I still haven’t been able to finish the first season in order. For this, though, I know the reason: I hate all the characters. Not liking Breaking Bad in fact led to me discovering that the obsession I get with certain characters in shows, which leads me to over-analyzing, is a huge part of my enjoyment of TV. As frustrating as my experience with it has been, there is a certain peace in knowing why.
You turn a hobby into a career and it will stop being a hobby. So, it’s normal for TV to feel like a chore when there are literal authorities in a field dictating what you should be watching or not, as opposed to the ethereal collective voice of ~The ~Internet.
But what happens when even TV you enjoy feels like a chore?
I liked, nay, I loved Derry Girls since the first episode, which I watched when it first came out… So why don’t I feel like continuing?
I know it’s normal not to click with a good TV show in certain moments of your life. It’s a very subjective and personal thing. Like I watched the first episode of Chernobyl recently and quickly realized this just may not be the best time to get into it, lest I damage my already fragile emotional state, given the world’s circumstances.
Still, I haven’t figured out how to enjoy good quality television that I actually want to see.
After talking to some people and going down a spiral of online articles, there are two things I can glean from this:
One, there is just too much of it
The sheer amount of available content out there is overwhelming even to the most unoccupied of people (think rich kid taking a sabbatical). Even if you just count one or two of the biggest streaming services plus, you know… actual television, it is just impossible to be on top of it.
One has to make choices. Which streaming service to pay is a big one, and inevitably once you choose something, you’re giving up something else. If you go for Stranger Things, you can’t have The Mandalorian. If you go for The Morning Show, you give up The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. You could go wild and just pay for something different each month, but I don’t know anyone who’s gone that bananas with it, et.
FOMO is real in this “Golden Age”. While I sit watching Derry Girls the next ten critical darling global phenomenon could pop up. So much content, so little time. And if it’s anything, TV is incredibly time consuming.
Two, what we expect from TV
We live in an era of top-quality television. Thus, the expectations for the next big thing are sky-high. Any new thing that comes along should, logically, one-up the last big thing in some way, right? Be it quality of writing, diversity, wholesomeness or wretchedness, depending on the side of the spectrum.
New things must also be surprising (if not shocking). But audiences today have seen it all, and it becomes harder and harder to surprise them every day.
I don’t want this all to get to me. I do my best to not let it. I tell myself that I value quality over novelty, and that nothing can be perfect. Still, I can’t lie and say I don’t wish for something so shiny, so new that I can’t resist it. To see something no one’s ever done before on screen is a special kind of trip. Fleabag is the most famous recent example. But a Fleabag comes once every very unpredictable while. Not all of them can be Fleabag or The Good Place.
The bar is so high right now that some of us expect, subconsciously, every new thing we watch to be the new paragon of TV perfection. The truth is… most of it just isn’t. But when did I stop being able to just enjoy the good things in it?
And three, the powers that be
Even if I wrote it jokingly earlier, there is power in the ethereal collective voice of The Internet.
There is certainly a something when it comes to the Internet that makes us compelled to command upon others what they should be enjoying.
“What are you doing with your life if you’re not watching______!”
I don’t know, Phil, okay? I don’t know what I’m doing. This is where I get into the FOMO again. I listen to one Twitter critic who says “See This” one day, and the next day I see a headline that says “That is like This but better”.
Again, one would think strangers’ voices on the internet would be meaningless. I thought I was not affected by them… and yet.
There must be a sign in the fact that the only thing I’ve actually truly enjoyed watching lately—besides my favorite episodes of old shows—has been The CW’s Dynasty.
It is soapy and completely over the top, almost all characters are terrible people who are just entertaining to watch never really evolve. It’s a show that won’t leave me with a melted brain due to the mastery of the form like Fleabag or contemplating the true difference between good and evil like The Good Place. It’s not wholesome, it’s not deep. It’s just fun.
Weirdly it has been in Dynasty that I have found the only part of the answer I’ve been able to glean from my prolonged fatigue with television. I really did forget to just take things as they are and enjoy them. Without big expectations for it to be a writing masterclass or get Internet brownie points for being into it.
Just, going on a journey with some characters who get into whacky situations. I know I won’t get something profound from it, and I don’t expect to. I just let the heightened emotions get to me and find myself rooting for different people at different times. Admiring the outfits, rewinding to repeat hilarious one-liners. Just. The fun of it is such a big part of why I love this medium so much… and I just forgot it, for a while.
I don’t know how to get that spark back, yet. I do know it won’t be trying to force myself to watch something just because I think I should. I simply refuse. Derry Girls can wait until I am able to fully enjoy it. And who knows, maybe sometime in the next five-ish years I’ll bring myself to finish Breaking Bad.