A TV Addict’s Guide to Watching TV

I am a TV addict. Always have been. Always will be.

My job involves a lot of reading. So when I get home, I don’t want to open a book, I want to escape to another place. And TV offers escapism in the easiest form possible. But for every episode of Breaking Bad and Twin Peaks that I have watched, I’ve seen just as many episodes of Real Housewives, Top Chef and Survivor. Yin and yang, sweet and sour, highbrow and lowbrow, black and white — the best combinations in life are at opposite spectrums. And the same goes for my TV viewing.

Screentime Banter

“Shall we watch just one more episode?” is the new refrain in living rooms across the world. These days, binge watching multiple TV programmes seems completely normal. When talking with friends, families and colleagues, the question “What are you watching?” has now become more common than “What are you doing this weekend?” There’s even a TV show called Gogglebox, a TV show about people watching TV shows.

So here is a sample of recent conversations overhead in the John Brown Novus office:

  • “Oh, The Night Manager is worth watching, is it?” Okay, I’ll add that to my list.”
  • “How good is Jesse Plemons in Fargo?” “Almost as good as Kirsten Dunst.”
  • “I loved Dr Foster. But you must watch it in one night as every episode is a cliffhanger.”
  • “What, you’ve never seen Orphan Black?! Well you’ll have time to watch the first three seasons if you start now; the fourth season has just started!”

For some shows I was ahead of the curve and watched them in real-time rather than the ever-popular after-the-fact binge-watch. For instance, I watched Breaking Bad and Mad Men every week in sequence as they aired. Clearly, I’m one of those annoying “real” fans, not one of these jump-on-the-bandwagon fans. (Maybe I am a TV snob?)

Yes, I could have been reading Dostoyevsky instead of eyeballing vacuous nobodies handing out red roses and crying over group dates. But where’s the fun in that?"

Then there are the hugely popular shows that I’ve given up on after a few episodes. Game of Thrones being one. Just not my bag.

My Passions and Peeves

The shows with incredible first seasons and truly terrible second seasons are the worst. True Detective and Broadchurch, I’m looking at you. And the TV shows that run out of steam and become so far-fetched to be ridiculous really annoy me — Sons of Anarchy and The Good Wife, hang your heads in shame.

For every new show, there is a hidden gem waiting to be re-discovered, in the form of TV shows inexplicably missed the first time around. The Wire, Peaky Blinders and Friday Night Lights somehow passed me by when they first aired. But when I did find them, I whizzed through them at record speed. Sadly there are still a number of shows on that list (The Sopranos, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Spooks, Orange is the New Black and more). But I’ll get to them eventually.

In fact, I have earmarked The Wire for a particular honour — it will be the first series that I intend to re-watch from beginning to end (well, apart from Sex and the City). It’s been eight years since I first watched the five seasons in a frenzy, and I’m desperate to re-watch it — it’s really that good! In fact, US President Barack Obama recently said, "I'm a huge fan," when he invited creator David Simon to the White House. "I think it's one of the greatest, not just television shows, but pieces of art in the last couple of decades." High praise indeed.

But when will I find the time? There are, alas, too many new shows to watch.

TV’s Killing Hollywood

Vanity Fair writer James Wolcott wrote about this phenomenon earlier this year in the article, “There’s Too Much Television”, citing the figure of 400 original scripted TV series being produced in 2016 alone. “Are we reaching maximum eyeball overload?” he asked. I would say yes. It feels like so much TV is being produced now that it’s hard to keep up. And when you’re a TV addict like me, that’s saying something.

It’s got to the point where my metaphorical TV dance card is full. I’m now stockpiling shows to binge watch in batches. Next on my list: Vinyl, Follow the Money and The Leftovers. I simply don’t have time to waste on just one measly episode per week. It’s all about maximum impact. I enjoy the diversity; jumping from the dark family drama Bloodline, set deep in the Florida Keys, to the London anti-corruption police unit in Line of Duty, then back to The Americans with its Russian sleeper spies in ’80s era Washington DC.

There was once a pecking order in entertainment: movies were top tier and television was less prestigious. But not any more. Television is experiencing somewhat of a “moment”. It’s been slowly building for the past decade, with brilliantly crafted TV series being produced with powerful story arcs and knockout performances. Award-winning stars, writers and directors are flocking to the small screen. Think Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, Matthew McConaughey in True Detective and Paul Giamatti in Billions.

The other way my TV viewing habits have changed is that I no longer mindlessly “flick” between channels. I’m ruthlessly efficient with my time and don’t have time for ad breaks and fluff. Alas, Fashion Police and Keeping Up with the Kardashians seem to be the only exception to that rule. And if I hear that “dum-dum” from the opening credits of Law and Order, I’m a goner.

Loving the Lowbrow

Which brings me swiftly to my lowbrow viewing. For the record, these shows are just as beloved as all my highbrow shows. You see, trash TV is essential to my life (and my friends, for we all watch the same ones!). For every well-crafted drama, there’s a Real Housewives franchise teasing us. I most certainly watch those too (secretly on Monday nights when my husband is at running training and the kids are safely tucked up in bed. Shhhh!). Yes, these shows are scripted reality and totally banal, but isn’t that the point?

While my husband despairs at my lowbrow viewing — “I can hear your brain cells popping” — he understands my addiction to inane dating shows like The Bachelor. And yes, I have watched 20 seasons of the latter. And all its spin-offs. Yes, I could have been reading Dostoyevsky instead of eyeballing vacuous nobodies handing out red roses and crying over group dates. But where’s the fun in that? Yin and yang, sweet and sour, remember.

What are your favourite TV shows? Do you have any TV watching strategies?

The Dos and Don’ts of TV

DO ask your friends, family and colleagues “What are you watching?” for new TV show recommendations. And if they don’t like what you like, feel free to unfriend them (quietly but ruthlessly).

DON’T judge someone because they watch Dance Moms. Well, maybe just a little bit.

DO resist the urge to keep watching a bad TV show because you think you should. I knew True Detective season two was a dud from the first episode, so why did I torture myself with four more episodes before giving up on that complicated garbage?

DON’T think you’ve missed the boat. Yes, there have been four seasons of House of Cards, but if you’ve not yet watched a single episode, you must start from the beginning. In fact, you might enjoy it more as you can binge watch a total of 52 sweet, sweet episodes in a row.

DO switch up your viewing habits. British shows usually have shorter seasons, say six episodes, compared to a US show with 13 to 20 shows per season. In many cases, it’s quality over quantity, resulting in tighter plots and scripts. Think The Night Manager and Peaky Blinders.

DON’T trust anyone that has not watched Breaking Bad.