Category: Uncategorized

TV Burnout

I spent the spring of 2008 studying abroad in London. It was an excellent semester, one of those life-changing experiences that taught me about the world, about myself, about growing up and surviving on my own, and I wouldn’t trade that semester for anything. It was also a three month period in which I allowed myself to be almost completely consumed by Doctor Who fandom.

This was in the fourth series of the show, the last full year with David Tennant and Russel T. Davies, with Catherine Tate as the Doctor’s (best?) companion Donna and periodic appearances by various ex-residents of the TARDIS, most notably Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, one of my all-time favorite television characters, whose tragic exit from the series at the end of its second year still leaves me a bit heart-achey. The show was having a truly fantastic season, and for the first time I could watch it on my TV every Saturday, in its first run, in its country of origin. This often involved acrobatic feats–to achieve anything resembling a clear picture I had to carry the antenna around the room, hoisting it into the air, balancing on one leg, standing on chairs and occasionally tables, and readjusting any time the wind changed, not to mention terrifying the relative strangers I called flatmates–but it was thrilling. My show. Live.

But by the time series 4 came to an end, late in July of that year, I had been home for a couple of months. The show was still excellent, and my love for it hadn’t changed, but the thrill of being right there was gone. After a particularly emotional finale I was drained. I couldn’t even think about the show. A friend diagnosed me with “fandom burnout.”

Even our hobbies–maybe especially our hobbies–can be exhausting. Caring about something with enthusiasm–which is, as you know, my modus operandi–requires effort, time, emotion. I may prefer the exhaustion of a marathon viewing or a long conversation about character motivation to the exhaustion of homework or a long night at the office, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t wear me out. It’s possible to burn out on the stuff that gives us pleasure.

So I was a little relieved as this latest TV season started to run down a few weeks ago. Sure there are still a couple episodes of Girls left, and Mad Men finishes its season this Sunday, but I’m not struggling to get through overloaded Thursday nights anymore. Keeping up with everything I watch, as much as I love it, can start to feel like a full-time job.

Now, though, it’s summer. There’s still television to watch–you already know how excited I am for Bunheads, and even more so now that I’ve seen the outstanding pilot–and I do plan on watching The Wire, continuing with a very slow O.C. rewatch I’ve been working on for months, and probably taking up some sort of project with my roommate–last year we rewatched all of Scrubs, but we haven’t yet made any decisions about this summer–but I also plan to step away from the screen a bit. Spend my evenings at the gym, or curled up with books. Use the weekends to explore the city a little more. I have plans for this summer and they don’t include spending all of my time awash in the artificial glow of the TV.

I think it’s good to take a break, even from the things you love. It’s healing, refreshing, and when you come back after some time away there’s a new enthusiasm. I will be thrilled when TV comes back in the fall, not just because I’m waiting to see how various cliff-hangers turn out, but because I genuinely love television, especially in that first rush of new episodes, new stories, new time-slots and series and characters that arrives each fall. Come September I’ll be burnt out on summer (and hopefully not too sun-burnt), ready to dive in with all new fall TV (spoiler alert: I’m going to be obsessed with The Mindy Project).

For now I’m going to relax a little. I’m going to listen to “Call Me Maybe” very loudly on repeat as I train my body to run more than a quarter-mile at a time, and I’m going to spend some sticky Saturday afternoons in Central Park with a book and a bottle of water. That seems like the best possible cure for TV burnout.

Guilty Pleasures.

Sometimes it seems like there’s an eternal debate taking place: what exactly is a “guilty pleasure”? And is it okay to call things guilty pleasures, or should we just admit that, if we like something, well, we like it, and can’t everyone just be okay with that thank you very much?

I’ve never really been sure of where I stand in this debate. To quote Community‘s Abed, “I just like liking things”–sometimes I think that’s my primary personality trait. But that doesn’t mean I never feel any guilt when I settle in with an episode of Gossip Girl, or when I plow through three “Teen Paranormal Romance” books over a 36 hour period.

I’m not talking about Edgar Allen Poe guilt; this isn’t going to torture me in the long term or give me an ulcer. But I spent last weekend sick in bed, and instead of reading a novel or catching up on season four of Breaking Bad, I chose to barrel through about 30 episodes of Pretty Little Liars. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, the show is equal measures fun and ridiculous, but there’s a little part of me that knows I had other options, probably better options, and I chose to watch a poorly scripted, teen-oriented ABC Family drama instead.

Scripted dramas are my acknowledged weakness. No matter how bad, I’ll watch pretty much anything so long as it’s not boring–and even sometimes if it is boring, I’ve stuck with Ringer all season, and for no good reason–and I’ll probably have a lot of fun. I realized, eight years ago, as the first season of One Tree Hill came to a close, that it was not a very good show and I should probably find something else to watch on Tuesdays after Gilmore Girls–a realization that lead me to Veronica Mars the following fall, and therefore the best realization I’ve ever had–but I’ve still seen every episode of the series, many of them more than once, and I can’t pretend I haven’t enjoyed this final, absurdist, almost unrecognizable season.

There are things I watch or have watched that other people might consider guilty pleasures: Psych and Vampire Diaries and The OC, among many many others, but they’re not shows I feel any regret over. Psych is fun and self-aware and best watched with my friends, the way we watched it in college; The OC is like a time capsule, not representative of my actual life, but of a time when I was evolving into myself–it ran for half of my high school years and half of my college years–and though its middle seasons were not especially strong, they’re the valley–get it, get it, The Valley–between two incredibly smart, incredibly funny, sometimes incredibly moving seasons of television to anyone willing to look past the soapy teen drama genre; and, at its best, I will stand by The Vampire Diaries as one of the strongest shows that’s currently airing: tightly plotted, well-acted, and sliding its characters back and forth along a carefully balanced morality scale.

When I talk about guilty pleasures I’m not talking about liking things “ironically,” I legitimately enjoy everything I’d list under the classification. And I’m not talking about liking things that are carving away at my (probably nonexistent anyway) indie cred–I don’t feel guilty over my undying love for Taylor Swift, for example. I’m not even talking about pleasures I wouldn’t want to admit to in public–it took two pints of cider and a great deal of prodding from my friends to get me to admit my greatest pop culture secret: I still watch Glee. (Though I wouldn’t exactly call that a pleasure. I don’t actual enjoy the viewing experience so much as the anger I feel over the show’s existence.) I’m talking more about the things that I enjoy with the full knowledge that they add nothing to my overall cultural experience.

Pretty Little Liars is fun. There’s a nice story about friendship at its core, and a couple of decent mysteries that keep on twisting out from under the audience–one of which could probably do to be properly solved already–but it’s not a show that makes me think all that much. It’s a show with a lot of potential that it’s probably never going to meet, much like Gossip Girl and Ringer. The writing, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to the premise.

And that’s not a bad thing, not really. Any story that can be enjoyed serves a purpose. But a guilty pleasure show is not unlike ice cream. No matter how good dinner tastes, there’s always the temptation to skip ahead to dessert and fill up on that. But, like sweets, a guilty pleasure show is best enjoyed in moderation, not by the tub-full.

Now someone remind me of that, please, before I start this marathon rewatch of One Tree Hill.

Normal.

I’m not really sure how “normal” people watch TV, let alone how they talk about it.

I am confused by co-workers who say they love The Office, but don’t know the actors’ names. Or worse, the characters’ names. I get irrationally angry with friends who watch things out of order, or in pieces, or who don’t feel the need to pay attention to every line. I can’t stand it when people talk through scenes or leave the room or fall asleep. And I embarrass myself when I do land in a conversation about television, struggling to find the line between a water-cooler chat about LOST and a Doc Jensen column. After all, it was fandom that taught me how to talk about TV.

As a result, I’m never comfortable having conversations about television with people I didn’t meet on the internet–or with people who I can’t trust to love me even after they have to listen to a fifteen minute rant about Amy Sherman-Palladino and character assassination on Gilmore Girls. I’m not even really comfortable discussing TV in public. I get overly verbose, overly emotional…perhaps this is an ironic statement from someone who has just started a blog about TV, but I often find words insufficient when I try to discuss television. I am reduced to flailage and capslocking and excessive use of !!!!!!!s (or whatever the verbal equivalents would be).

I suspect that the way I feel about television has affected the way those around me feel about television, or at least the way they watch it. Nearly all of my friends are involved in fandom to some extent, and a few of them were before we met, but would they all be fully functioning fangirls if we had never roomed together? Would my mother be able to participate in my rants about character assassination on Gilmore Girls if I weren’t her daughter, or would my sister be tumbling about her Dawson’s Creek rewatch, or would my father be lending me his DVDs of The Wire? How has my obsession with television affected the lives of those around me?

I know I’m not the only person whose heart wells up with so much passion for the medium, the internet has taught me this, but I also know that the average television viewer is more casual. Less inclined to perusing and parsing the text and subtext of a series. Not everyone has to watch everything in order. Not everyone has to keep track of the details.

What must the Emmys be like if you’re just a casual TV viewer? I find them ecstatic, entirely joyful–even when I’m watching my favorites lose–but every year I hear complaints that they’re boring and stale. What does a show like Breaking Bad look like if you haven’t seen every episode? Doesn’t it bother you to find that you’re missing information? Don’t you want all the pieces of the puzzle?

I doubt that I’ll ever be someone who can watch TV casually–I think at this point I’ve invested too much time and energy into it to give up or let go–but I do wonder what it’s like for the rest of the world, for the people who just decide to skip a week of Modern Family, or to only catch the second half of an episode of Parenthood. Maybe the people who can do that just don’t care…but I have to think they’re missing out on all the fun.