Why I’m Not Watching the Best TV Shows in the Universe

Can I tell you how happy I am Alan Jacobs’ Text Patterns is back? When he retired it a ways back, I paid tribute. Happily, he couldn’t hold back his bloggery any longer.

Anyway, he’s in a similar position to me when it comes to a certain aspect of upper-middle-brow culture: He’s not seen any of Breaking Bad. Now, I have seen a couple of episodes, and I liked it just fine, but never stuck. I’ll get to why in a minute.

Here’s Jacobs’ first explanation:

Who am I kidding? I don’t have the time, or, rather, I’d prefer to spend the time I have in other ways, probably by reading books.

The big, sprawling multi-season dramatic series that have received the greatest commendation in recent years — from The Sopranos to The Wire to Deadwood to Mad Men to Breaking Bad — have never seemed to me to be worth the enormous investment of time they require. The one that I followed the most closely, The Wire, is really fantastic — but I have to say, if a genie emerged from the lamp and told me that I could have all the hours spent watching The Wire back, and my memories of the show completely erased, as long as I used that time to read books, I would certainly take that deal.

Now, I disagree wholeheartedly with the whole save-existential-hard-drive-space thing when it comes to The Wire, as that really was worth every minute. But I am on board with the gist of his point: there are only so many hours in this life, and giving them over to a television show, no matter how good, feels like a waste to me. I’d like to say I’m as prolific a reader as Jacobs, but I know for certain I’m not even close. (Sometimes I think I read vicariously through him as he writes about it. That sounds weird now that I’m typing it. Onward!)

My wife will get into a show, perhaps, and it’ll be on when I’m in the room, but I’ll either tune it out, or go on headphones, and do something else.

Later, Jacobs goes into more nuance about his abstinence:

. . . I think it’s worth noting that over time we all develop what I might call a default medium — that is, when looking for entertainment, each of us tends to gravitate towards one medium or medium-plus-genre as the first choice. (So not just “reading” but “mystery novels” or “newspaper journalism”; not just “TV” but “nature documentaries” or “dramatic series” or “sitcoms.”) Defaults can be overridden, of course, but they can be strong, and I suspect they get stronger with time.

That’s a good way to explain where I am. My default medium is the Web (which includes Twitter, Instapaper, and though one might quibble with their inclusion here, even podcasts and TWiT shows. Next is books. TV is somewhere, but far down the list.

But, to be clear, this is not because I think these particular shows are bad or a genuine waste of time. However, many of them share a particular trait: They are abysmally depressing. I did indeed watch the entirety of The Sopranos a few years ago, and I always, always, ended each show feeling incredibly shitty about humanity. It almost wasn’t worth it. The Wire could have done the same, but it also had moments of great uplift, great humor, and the writing was simply brilliant.

I thought, at least for my own amusement, tick off some of the recent-ish “good shows” of late, and talk about why I’m not watching or have not watched them.

  • Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Deadwood: I tried each of these on, and each one made me either miserable (lord, did I become despondent after a few episodes of Mad Men) or sick with angst. I will probably come back to Breaking Bad when I’m in a better place.

  • Game of Thrones: I did a whole season of this, enjoyed a lot of it, but became weary of its total objectification of most female characters, and each episode’s unwillingness to move the plot along more than by a handful of lines of dialogue. I’ll probably come back to this one, if only because I like swords and dragons and stuff.

  • Dexter: My wife and I adored this show for the first couple of seasons, but it fell off quickly for me after that. Characters began making choices that were just too stupid to be plausible, Dexter’s inner struggles became more and more abstract, and once the season with Julia Stiles showed that, once again, we’d have scene after scene of people not asking each other direct questions and being mysterious in attitude only, I dropped it.

  • House: This was my favorite show for three years or so. When the show became about whether or not House was capable of loving Cuddy, though, it became a childish soap opera. The side characters (or “cottages”) became more two-dminesional, and it stopped being worth my time.

  • Weeds: I thought this show was stupid. She sells pot. Who cares?

  • Oh, and there are people ,including my wife, who think that show Bones is really good. Wow, do I not understand that. That show is awful.

I’ve been more tolerant of comedies, as they’re usually shorter, and demand less of me emotionally. My wife and I both sit and watch, delightedly, old episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun, As Time Goes By, Frasier, Cheers, and The IT Crowd. I’m trying to get her into Black Adder. (Arrested Development‘s latest offerings have failed to impress.) Or we’ll take in a standup special. We watch Louie as well, as it’s amazing, but it’s also similar to many of the dramas I have eschewed, because it can be so dark and hit home so hard with its sadder aspects.

Perhaps I’ll update as I think of more. I imagine some of my thumbs-down selections have upset you, because for some reason people get really prickly when you don’t like the same shows they do. But just remember, if I were watching more TV, I wouldn’t be writing this post now, would I? Hooray for the free hours.

  • Update: My wife would like to clarify that I have overstated her appreciation of Bones, and that she has “only seen like 6 episodes.” My apologies to her.
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