Am I Too Sensitive About Spoilers? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

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Photo: HBO, CBS and Nickelodeon

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Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture's TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email staytuned@nymag.com or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

I am the aunt to a large and growing gaggle of nieces and nephews. Are there any kids shows out there that won't make me want to stab out an eye? —JG

The problem with annoying kids' shows isn't that they're annoying. Everything is annoying; welcome to Earth. The problem is that you will see them several times a day, probably every day, for a good long while. Blue's Clues is perfectly innocuous — cute, even, when you watch it once. But that show airs the same episode every day for a week. The 1975 classic Really Rosie combines Carole King and Maurice Sendak and is wonderful — until you hear the "Alligators All Around" alphabet song a few hundred times, and suddenly the "exing X-es" as its X entry seems like a cruel cop-out. Exing X-es? What is that? B gets "bursting balloons," but X can't be, I don't know, xeroxing xenophobia? Lucky for me, X-ing exes is in my brain forever, so I'll never be without this source of irritation. I will die being annoyed by this lyric. I don't think it will be the cause of my death, but it could be.

Everyone's tolerance for these shows will vary, and as an aunt rather than a parent, you can probably push those bounds a little more, since you'll be experiencing these shows on a less-persistent basis. Like I said, Blue's Clues, not so bad. Daniel Tiger, not so bad. Doc McStuffins, definitely tolerable. A few of my parent friends recommended Peg + Cat, but I found it pretty irritating. Netflix's Larva has no actual dialogue, which eliminates the ear-worminess other shows have, and the segments are mercifully short, making a "just one more" negotiation pretty easy. The revived Electric Company is pretty tame, and part of the reason Sesame Street remains such an institution is that it's surprisingly watchable as an adult.

Those are little-kid shows. Slightly older-kid shows can be even more irritating; sure, it's hell to watch Dora say the same stuff over and over, but have you ever heard the tortured screams that count as the dialogue on iCarly? You'll be praying for Swiper's return. H2O: Just Add Water and its spinoff Mako Mermaids are both terrible shows, but they're extremely easy to tolerate as long as you can handle some really low-quality Australian teen acting. Phineas and Ferb is genuinely enjoyable. Adventure Time isn't really a kid show, but if you can persuade children to watch it, it's a gem that will probably improve everyone's lives.

Finally, try showing them things from your childhood that you enjoyed. Free to Be... You and Me, maybe The Muppet Show, whichever Batman cartoons you hold in highest regard, Powerpuff Girls — they might hate it, but that's the joy of knowing children: They might hate anything, at any time, for no reason whatsoever. Roll the dice!

I've watched both seasons of Under the Dome, but I really just hate-watched the entire second season. When I found out they were renewed for season three, I felt conflicted. Hate-watching provided me with some good laughs week-to-week, but when great shows like Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, and Terriers were cut too short with only one season, it doesn't seem right for me to actually watch a third season of this. Some advice on hate-watching? —JoAnna

Under the Dome didn't get Terriers canceled. It didn't get anything canceled. You should stop watching Under the Dome because it's spiritually worthless, not because it's somehow bad for other shows. I have no problem with hate-watching — hi, I've seen every episode of Smash — but UTD isn't even fun.

But okay, you want to hate watch UTD. Go for it. This does not harm anyone. Last summer, UTD aired opposite Mistresses, Murder in the First, American Ninja Warrior, and Teen Wolf. You're not "helping" by watching those shows instead. (And my guess is that you're not a Nielsen family, which means it doesn't matter to the TV industry what you watch, at all.) I mean, Teen Wolf is better, but that's a personal choice only you can make.

In general, the success of bad shows is not responsible for the failures of good shows. Terriers got canceled because people didn't watch it — and not because they were so busy watching America's Top Tire Fires or whatever, but because they just didn't encounter it or it didn't appeal to them. The end. People thought it was about dogs, or didn't get its style, and that's how the cookie crumbles. At the peak of its power, Idol couldn't snuff out, oh, NCIS, or Lost, or Law & Order. Or Veronica Mars. And that was in 2005, when Idol was pretty darn good! So even a good and super-popular show doesn't crush everything else, let alone a lousy and nowhere-near-as-powerful show. TV is an unpredictable ecosystem, and rarely is any one show to blame for anything other than its own shortcomings. Go forth and watch or hate-watch without guilt.

I'm pretty sensitive when it comes to what I consider a spoiler, i.e., if a friend knows I'm not as far along in Scandal and tells me bad things are going to happen to Olivia Pope, I consider that a spoiler. What do you consider the line between spoiler/non-spoiler, and am I being too sensitive? —Monica

In general, when one party is "too sensitive" and one party is "too [other thing]," my sympathies lie with the too sensitive: It's a lot easier to be nice for a second than it is to suddenly master imperviousness. I hate — hate, hate — anything scary, and it's a lot simpler for people just not to show me scary things than it is for me to somehow not be bothered by them. If "just stop caring" were one of the options, don't you think I would have tried that by now?

So you're very sensitive about spoilers. Unusually, inconveniently sensitive about them, it sounds like. When your sensitivities are that out of sync with the average, it's on you to make it clear to your friends and conversation partners that all discussion of TV you haven't seen is off limits, even if they think it's not a spoiler. Get used to saying things like "no TV talk around me — you know how I am about spoilers," or "I just really like go in with no information at all; let's talk about [topic of your choosing]." Be pleasant, but don't back off.

If this is your thing, it's your thing. But if you're interested in changing this spoiler phobia about yourself, here's what I generally think about when considering "spoilers": Is it specific? Does it pertain to a mystery or twist? Is it timely? If not, then the problem lies with the spoiled, not the spoiler.

First, is this a general description that could apply to any number of episodes? "Bad things happen to Olivia Pope" is an alternate title for Scandal. "Power imbalances lead to deadly showdowns" could work for any number of episodes of Game of Thrones. "Don reflects on his own mortality" is every episode of Mad Men. That's just what the show's about. None of those are spoilers to me, and if descriptions like that are making you upset, I have no idea how you even find out what shows are about. How do you even decide what to watch?

Second, does it relate to a mystery or a twist? If you knew when you started Friends that Monica and Chandler eventually got together, that would ruin things, while knowing that Ross and Rachel get together really wouldn't, since that is set up right in the pilot. If someone spoils a twist, you get to be mad at them.

Thirdly, there's a time limit on when things qualify as spoilers. Psycho? The Sixth Sense? Lost? Twin Peaks? If you are an adult human, you don't get to be salty if someone "ruins" these for you. "But I didn't get to it yet; they're on my list!" people say. I guess my response is … tough shit. If you get in the ring, you're gonna get punched; if you want to operate within a society whose members discuss pop culture, every once in a while, something might get spoiled. This is life. These things are part of the canon. In general chitchat among friends or peers, something that aired years ago is absolutely fair game.

That three-pronged approach is for meat-space interaction. Online, it's a different standard, and on social media, particularly Twitter, it's even more different. People — lots of people! — whine about tweets spoiling shows from last night, etc., and my advice to those people is avoid Twitter, or follow different people, or both. If you follow me, for example, occasionally you might see something you think is a spoiler. That's because I cover entertainment news, and also because I personally abhor vague headlines. Luckily, it's really easy not to follow me on Twitter. Literally billions of people are already not following me. Feel free to block me, so you never accidentally see a retweet. Twitter is all opt-in; don't follow people who spoil things for you, and unfollow anyone you think might do so again. You're your own best protector, etc.

Here are a couple of caveats: Spoiling a happy/good moment ("they kiss!") is less egregious than spoiling a sad/bad moment ("she dies!"). It's never okay to spoil Game of Thrones, and the excuse of "it's in the books!" is not acceptable. (That excuse is also unacceptable as it pertains to The Walking Dead, but that show's a lot harder to ruin, since it is so, so bad.) Lastly, it is not okay to spoil Harry Potter for children. In general, don't spoil things for children, but especially Harry Potter and Star Wars. Everyone has to learn in his or her own time that the world is cruel. R.I.P., Hedwig.

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