Category: Uncategorized

Hannah and Joshua.

Someone calls me Liz at least once a week, probably more. It’s a fine name, but it’s not my name, my name is Elizabeth, and the list of people that are allowed to call me anything else is extremely limited (it’s really just my sister, who mostly calls me Lizzie).
I find it infuriating when, for example, I answer a phone call with “This is Elizabeth,” and the person I’m talking to turns around immediately with a “Hi, Liz.” It tells me they’re not listening to me, and that they don’t have much respect for me. There are always people who don’t, or won’t, hear it when I correct them.
I kept thinking about this watching last night’s Girls, in which Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) spends a couple of days in the company of an attractive older man named Joshua (Patrick Wilson), a man she keeps calling Josh. Her inability to not call him by a nickname he clearly dislikes–he corrects her every time, his patience dwindling with the repeated mistake–is only one example of the way’s Hannah doesn’t listen to him over their time together, but it’s the one that resonated for me. It’s perhaps excusable that a Michigander who went to college in Ohio and lives in New York would confuse San Francisco for San Diego, or that Hannah would struggle to understand the difference between a divorce and a separation. It’s less excusable to repeatedly, almost insistently, call someone by the wrong name.
Hannah is not a character with much of a filter, it’s part of the reason I so often refer to her as my worst self. Things I might think and not say gallop out of Hannah’s mouth like they’re being chased. And over and over again, since the series began, we have watched Hannah trip herself up just by saying too much and going too far. It’s how she screwed up a job interview in season 1, and how she drove a wedge into her relationship with Marnie. In the second episode this season, Sandy ended things when Hannah pushed him too far, and last night Joshua shut down when Hannah broke down.
Hannah’s break down comes after she passes out in Joshua’s fancy steam room/shower. She comes to in his arms, wrapped in his bathrobe, warm and dry and safe, and the way she loses control of her emotions in that moment is unsurprising. Through her tears, she gives Joshua a speech about how all she wants is to be happy, but how her own attempts to have as many experiences as possible–for her writing–keep getting in the way.
In some ways Hannah’s speech is a demonstration of Hannah at her most self-aware. We’ve seen her trying to force experiences for the sake of the story before, whether she was propositioning her boss last season or trying cocaine a couple of weeks ago. What Hannah doesn’t seem to realize is that she’s too busy projecting her own expectations onto the world to see what’s actually going on around her. She should be an experiential sponge, but she’s got a shell up, and everything rolls right off of it. She never quite manages to learn anything.
In Joshua, Hannah sees a real adult, someone who has his life together. After all, he has a house so nice she didn’t think it could exist in her neighborhood, he buys steak to make for himself, not just guests. He has spare towels and fresh fruit. He reads the newspaper and complains about the rowdy kids next door. Hannah notices the outward trappings of a person who has their life together. What she doesn’t notice is that Joshua is more than just those outward trappings–that he’s sad about his wife’s departure, lonely in a neighborhood where he feels old and out of place, angry enough that someone at Grumpy’s has been usurping his garbage cans that he lashes out at Ray in the episode’s opening. When Joshua does try to open up to Hannah, she blows him off, but she also complains that he hasn’t told her anything about himself.
Last night’s Girls took a step back from the overall narrative arc of the show to spend some time focusing on who Hannah is, what Hannah wants, and how Hannah sees both herself and the world. I don’t know that Hannah necessarily came out of the episode looking any better or worse than she did going into it–neither the charactor, nor Lena Dunham, is going to win over any of their detractors with an episode like this–or that she learned anything from the experience (she clearly didn’t learn Joshua’s name), but she did come out of it a sharper character, her edges more clearly defined.

Top 10 TV Shows of 2012


Better late than never, here’s my run-down of my personal top 10 television shows of 2012. (This list was created on a weird, internal sliding scale between “best” and “favorite.”):

1. New Girl (FOX)
Around the middle of its first season, when New Girl finally figued out how to do what it had been trying to do, watching it became an almost transcendental weekly experience. What the writers (and Max Greenfield) had done for Schmidt since the beginning–reveling in his specificity–they figured out how to do with the rest of the cast. They gave Jess a platform to claim her own adorkability, to stand up and say, “I rock a lot of polka-dots.” They figured out how to work with Jake Johnson’s gift for grump, so that Nick’s prematurely old nature still fit with the rest of the ensemble. And they weirded Winston up a little more every week, showering him in bizarre anxieties and pairing him with characters that made him pop. By the time the show arrived at the Fancyman arc, the characters were well-defined enough that Jess wouldn’t get buried under the personality of an older boyfriend, and the roommates could spend most of an episode playing an incomprehensible drinking game without the show feeling shapeless.

I hope that, as New Girl goes forward, they’ll figure out how to tell more stories focused on Winston, and I’d like to see them expand the female cast a little–it was nice to see Jess’ friend Sadie return a couple of weeks ago, and my newfound non-hatred of Olivia Munn has made her a mostly welcome addition to the cast. But I am largely complaint-free when it comes to New Girl. (And honestly, any show offering the kind of chemistry that New Girl has with Nick and Jess–and it’s hitting Sam and Diane levels these days–would probably top my list. They’re electric.)

2. Breaking Bad (AMC)
Breaking Bad is the sort of tv that leaves me literally gasping for breath. It’s suspenseful, sometimes terrifying, often maddening, but it grounds itself in its most ordinary moments, letting the audience learn its characters as people, to make them that much more horrifying when they’re at their most monstrous. Breaking Bad works because it doesn’t just ask you to believe in its world, it shows you why you should. It takes a bumbling loser of a man out of a moment of desperation and, over the course of 5 seasons (though only one year in its internal time), turns him into an over-confident ruler of an already crumbling empire. It shouldn’t work, but it does, because Walter White has laid all the traps for himself, we’ve watched him do it, and he only trips them out of his own hubris.

3. Bunheads (ABC Family)
You’ve already heard me go on about my affection for Bunheads, for the warmth and charm and patter of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s latest creation, and I don’t have that much to add on the subject. Bunheads made this list (and made it so high) because it’s television that fills me up in the best possible way. It’s not an ooey-gooey sweetheart of a tv show (Sherman-Palladino’s creations are far too cynical for that), but it offers cultural sustenance. And surprising, delightful dance numbers.

4. Hart of Dixie (The CW)
Maybe the most appealing thing about Hart of Dixie is the way it takes the inner lives of its characters seriously, even when it doesn’t necessarily take itself all that seriously. I’ve described Hart of Dixie, again and again, as charmingly goofy, and that’s absolutely true, but it’s also got a bit of meat on its bones. The characters, particularly Zoe Hart, the confident, sex-positive, deeply flawed main character, and Wade Kinsella, who could so easily be written off as a clichéd bad boy, are richly imagined and well portrayed. The cast is talented, AND they all have CW good looks, and the town of Bluebell, though perhaps built from the wreckage of a handful of other little TV towns that came before it (it’s literally filmed on the old Stars Hollow sets), is fully realized.

Hart of Dixie, particularly in this second season, has become one of my favorite hours of the week, and while it may not be revolutionizing the television landscape, that’s worth something.

5. Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Parks and Recreation has done something impressive–it’s hit its fifth season without breaking stride. Most shows, at about this point, start to broaden. While Parks and Rec does occasionally wobble on the tightrope between character and caricature (usually when Eagleton is involved), it’s mostly kept its footing by refusing to fear change.

Parks was smart–it solidified its relationships early on, built them to be unbreakable, so that the show could be a workplace comedy that did not have to remain in the workplace. Sure these people all met through the Pawnee Parks department, and many of them do still work there, in some capacity, but they aren’t tied to their office. Leslie can venture into the wider world of government, Tom can set off on his own business venture again, with a little more wisdom and guidance this time, the characters can learn and grow and stretch their wings and they’ll still have a reason to spend time with each other. These aren’t people who are trapped together, waiting out their time in some office purgatory, they’re friends.

And Parks and Rec proved that repeatedly last spring with the campaign arc. It brought its characters together in a new venue, only tangentially related to the titular workplace, and told a story that resonated emotionally, without sacrificing comedy (the scene where most of the cast tries to make their way across an ice rink to a looped Gloria Estefan clip is simultaneously one of the sweetest and funniest scenes they put out in the fourth season). Season 5, meanwhile, has taken on long-distance relationships, new jobs, several storylines about various characters’ attempts to find themselves, and perhaps the best proposal I’ve ever seen on television.

6. Girls (HBO)
In my worst moments, as my worst self, I am Hannah Horvath, and her continued existence as a television character is immensely comforting.

Girls also offered up one of the most honest and authentic fights between two characters that I have ever seen on television when Hannah and Marnie “broke up.” It would have made this list just for that.

7. Mad Men (AMC)
There were times this season when Mad Men got a little too English-major-y even for me, and I’m a former English major, but the way Matthew Weiner and company built the tension across the fifth season to the point where some act of violence was inevitable was beautiful to watch, as was Roger Sterling’s discovery of LSD, Peggy’s resignation from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Sally’s quest for independence in go-go boots, and Ginsberg’s overconfidence. There were some misfires along the way–I love that Joan’s a partner, I hate the contrivance that got her there–but overall, the fifth season was a tour-de-force of storytelling.

8. Parenthood (NBC)
I’m not sure that there’s a better ensemble on television than the one that makes up Parenthood. Even when the story hits snags, as it has at various points along the way, the cast is so strong that they’ve managed to overcome anything that’s been thrown at them. Lauren Graham, Peter Krause and Mae Whitman have always been the acting powerhouses, but this season Monica Potter has shone especially bright in a cancer storyline that has mostly avoided the trite clichés (though it has still made me cry on an almost weekly basis), and Ray Romano has joined the cast to do what Ray Romano does, and well. I can already see the angry blog posts six months from now when the cast is overlooked by the Academy once again.

9. Community (NBC)
Much of the second half of Community’s third season, the half we awaited so anxiously during the unexpected mid-season hiatus that kept it off the air for a mere six months last winter (it’s now entering its eighth month in the much longer wait for season four), is a kind of hazy blur. There was a Law and Order episode, the study group got expelled from Greendale, Abed and Troy went to war with each other in a Ken Burns documentary…the details have gone fuzzy around the edges. But it’s a good sort of hazy blur, the kind you think back on fondly. I miss Community so much because I love Community so much, and I’m eagerly awaiting its return.

10. The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
The Vampire Diaries did something really gutsy at the end of its third season: it killed off the main character. Of course, Elena’s death doesn’t mean the end of Elena as a character–this show is about vampires, after all–but that didn’t make her loss any less sad. In its first three seasons, Vampire Diaries did enough to establish its characters and its mythology that when Elena woke up on a coroner’s slab in the season premiere you knew she wasn’t going to be quite the same person, and you knew she was on a path that she never wanted.

The fourth season of Vampire Diaries hasn’t been as strong as the first three were. Elena lost a lot of her agency in the transition, and when the season arc was introduced as a possible cure for vampirism it was hard not to roll my eyes. But the way the show packs in plot has always been impressive, and that’s still true. Vampire Diaries turned a questionable arc on its head in the second season–the strongest season to date–and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be able to do that again. And while not every episode this season has been a winner, a couple have been outstanding. “Memorial,” early on, gave the characters a chance to breathe for the first time in awhile, and offered an incredibly moving tribute to the loved ones that have been lost over the years, and the final episode of 2012, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” had one of the show’s most elegant…slaughters. If they can maintain the quality of that episode, there’s no reason to believe they won’t have an outstanding 2013.

On Loving Things Beyond Their Prime.


The thing with a lot of beloved shows–and I’m not talking about those critical darlings that get canceled after a season or two, I’m talking about the shows you live with, that settle into the warm wet caverns of your heart–is that they tend to outstay their welcome. Every show is going to come up empty someday, it’ll run out of story or its universe will expand past a manageable point or the comedy that once danced across the screen en pointe will broaden until it’s thudding about in combat boots. But because they’re beloved, they often keep going past the point where they should be let go. 

Over my life of watching really quite a lot of television, I’ve seen this happen to a lot of shows. Gilmore Girls, The OC, Scrubs, Friends, and The West Wing, to name a few, and more recently The Office. It’s not always a drastic decline (the later seasons of Friends are still good, still funny, but they aren’t memorable the way those early seasons are. There’s no “The One With the Embryos,” no “The One Where Everybody Finds Out”), nor is it always permanent. The eighth season of Scrubs is actually kind of delightful (and I’ll come down in favor of season 9, too, though only when I think of it as a loopier spin-off), and The West Wing eventually figured out how to be a version of itself without Aaron Sorkin at the helm. The fourth season of The OC may actually be better than the first, though that might just be my feelings for Taylor Townsend talking.

One of the perks of being a completist such as myself (look, I’m the girl that watched all nine seasons of One Tree Hill. I still watch Glee.) is that, while you do see the descents into mediocrity, you’re also around for the final inning turn-around (is this a thing? Like a sports metaphor thing?). There’s something about a show with the finish line in sight that can bring about a creative resurgence. Maybe it has to do with the potential for rest once everything’s finished–I suspect that’s what’s brought about Tina Fey’s general aura of calm on 30 Rock this season–or maybe it’s having a goal to work toward, but time and again I’ve seen shows that are officially on their way out stick their landing, even after stumbling mid-routine. (Seriously, what’s with the sports metaphors?)

And though I’m hesitant to say it, for fear of a jinx or at least that I’ll be proved wrong, I think that may well be happening with The Office.

You know what I said above, about shows you live with? Well, The Office is a show I live with. I came in in the spring of 2006, during a spring break spent huddled beneath my comforter with my laptop and the painful love story of Jim and Pam. I’m the girl that gets defensive when you say The Office isn’t as good as it used to be. Even when I know you’re right. (And I’ve got nothing on my roommate, the die hard. When I say The Office is like a religion in our apartment, and that’s something I say a lot, I’m not kidding.)

But okay, The Office isn’t as good as it used to be. The cast has grown unwieldy, introducing new characters without saying goodbye to many old ones, and trying to service each of them in equal measure, with mixed results. Andy’s character seems to vary depending on what’s needed that week, and I hold by my opinion that Darryl should have taken over as Dunder Mifflin Scranton’s regional manager when Michael departed, though I do feel that he’s one of the few secondary characters that has been well-serviced in these later years, used sparingly enough to still have comedic impact, and maintaining the hopeful sadness that made The Office so good in the first place. The feeling that pervaded those first few seasons, that these were people stuck together trying to make it through each day on whatever joy they could find, that hasn’t really been a part of the show in awhile.

While there are specific things about these last few seasons that I flat-out love (Pam’s developing confidence manifesting as out-and-out dorkiness, the season-to-season evolution of Ryan Howard, the love story of Jim and Dwight, every single damn thing about Erin, also Gabe), I do miss the way The Office used to make me ache. The romanticized disappointment, the way everything from Jim’s pranks to the central conflict of any given episode seemed to exist on a smaller, more personal scale. There’s an episode in season 2 where everyone tries to cheer Kevin up while he waits for biopsy results, another episode where we get to see how each character responds to Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Back then everyone had bad hair, they talked about their weekend plans, they loved the receptionist from the other side of her desk. These were the people you might pass in the grocery store, and they happened to be followed around by a camera crew.

Especially so late in the show’s run, I think it’s easy to forget the importance of the documentary format to The Office. In the early seasons, the show took its format very seriously, and adhered to strict rules when it came to the way they filmed. These days those rules have relaxed a bit, and we’re also more used to the format, with shows like Parks and Recreation and Modern Family embracing mockumentary story-telling, and Community and Leverage mocking it fondly. The filmmakers on The Office are characters, too. We may not hear them speak, but they’re behind the story. When Jim flashes a look at the camera, or Pam asks for help with a spy mission, they are interacting with a person. Unless the camera is actively hidden from its subject(s), and there have been some notable occasions over the years when this was the case, any time a character is on screen, they have an awareness that the camera is there. Its presence helps to prescribe their actions. And any time any character sits down for a talking head interview, there’s another unseen character controlling the narrative–asking the questions and choosing how the answers are portrayed. I could probably count on one hand the number of times The Office has acknowledged those characters, though.

Which is maybe why it was so exciting to finally hear from one of the cameramen in this year’s premiere, to step back from a talking head to hear Pam and Jim interact with a man they see almost every day. And to get an answer as to why exactly the cameras are still there 9 years later. Of course Jim and Pam have always been the heart of the series, though they’ve been shifted off to the side since the whole wedding/baby thing (check out the deleted scenes from seasons 7 and 8. There are entire plot-lines of Jim/Pam stuff that got dropped along the way), but having someone behind the narrative announce that their story is what’s keeping the cameras around–that’s given The Office a center to cling to as it winds down this year.

We talk a lot about how reality tv is only loosely related to the actual real world, how it’s scripted and edited to heighten drama at the expense of actual events. I think you have to view The Office similarly. As someone who has spent probably too many hours pondering whether the whole Jim/Pam love story might have been crafted out of skilled editing–you know, before they became an actual couple, back when it was all longing looks and careful smiles (there’s a really charming web series called Dorm Life that did precisely that with it’s will-they-or-won’t-they romance)–I’m intrigued by this angle. Like any reality show, The Office‘s story is told in the editor’s booth.

So now that the filmmakers have essentially announced that they’re handing the narrative over to Jim and Pam, this season has a center that season 8, as it scrambled to make up for the loss of Michael Scott, never managed. With an end in sight, they can finally write Jim and Pam toward a long-overdue departure from Dunder Mifflin without having to worry about losing their actors, and they can give them a meaty story with actual stakes for the characters, both separately and together. And they can also use Jim and Pam as the foundation to tell stories about the rest of the office.

Over the last few seasons, The Office has tried really hard to make new couples work as the next Jim and Pam. They tried with Michael and Holly and they tried with Andy and Erin, and while both pairings had their charms, they never quite captured the combination of quiet angst and chemistry that made Jim and Pam so captivating, especially in those early seasons.

This season, though, as they bring the overall narrative full circle, they’ve introduced the idea that Andy may not be Erin’s Jim so much as her Roy. Erin’s become an increasingly nuanced character over the last few seasons, as they’ve fleshed out her backstory as a foster kid and pulled her past the dumb, earnest cliché to show how she’s growing up, how her emotional intelligence may be more developed than her book smarts, and how many of her decisions are motivated by a desire for love and family. Especially since the Florida arc last season, she’s grown into an actual person, rather than just another character around the office.

I said that The Office has suffered from its constantly expanding cast, but in introducing Pete and Clark this season, they’ve figured out how to reflect mirror images back at Jim and Dwight. Clark’s resemblance to Dwight is more physical than philosophical, but Pete–or Plop–doesn’t just look like Jim. From his work-related apathy to his sartorial style to his developing crush on the receptionist, Pete is a glimpse at the guy Jim used to be, back before he got the girl.

Thursday night’s episode, “The Boat,” was one of the best the show has turned out in awhile. The prank on Dwight was on the larger scale of these later seasons, but it was a nice show-case for Catherine Tate’s talents, used Darryl perfectly, and was ultimately not as mean-spirited as it could have been. The resolution of Dwight’s phone-call, with the entire office applauding him for saving the day, brought to mind the end of “Office Olympics,” in season 2, and Michael’s gold medal in condo-closing.

The Oscar-Kevin-Angela plot actively used the documentary format, played with the dynamics that have always existed in Dunder Mifflin’s accounting department, employed just the right amount of Toby’s sad-sack comedy, and ended in a fantastic talking head from Kevin. His sobbing laughter as he realized that Angela’s entire life was a sham was as dark as The Office has ever been.

But it was the episode’s tag that really got me. The conversation between Erin and Pete at the reception desk could have literally been a lost Jim/Pam scene from the early seasons, in fact it closely resembles a conversation that they had in the pilot where Jim invited Pam out to happy hour. And this idea that history is repeating itself kind of nails what The Office used to be about–the monotonous daily grind, the way life keeps pushing forward, and the way you find the small things that make you happy so you can make it through the day.

I don’t know what The Office will do with these final 16 episodes, but I do know that I’m excited by the show for the first time in awhile. I’m excited to see how the developing conflict between Jim and Pam plays out, to see what Oscar’s affair does to his relationship with Angela, to see if the writers can figure out what they’re doing with Andy, and to see what happens with Erin and Pete. I’ve been invested in this story since 2006, I want to see how it ends, and if it keeps going the way it’s been going, I have some pretty high hopes.

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.


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.