After a very silly conversation about our biggest TV crushes on this week’s episode of the Vulture TV Podcast, we turned to an exceptionally great question from one of our listeners, Diana, who asked:
What TV show have you flipped opinions on as you have aged? For example, when I first saw Freaks and Geeks as a teenager, I was really rooting for Lindsay. Now, as a 32-year-old mom, I’m furious at her for not going to math camp. Similarly, I now realize that Emily Gilmore is always right and the real heroine of the show.
Listen to our conversation on shows and characters we’ve flipped on, from Girls to Twin Peaks, and read a part of the discussion below. Plus, stay tuned for an interview with TV’s female president, Elizabeth Marvel.
Gazelle Emami: So one reason you might change your mind about a show or a character is the show’s politics, and how you start to see the political undertones of the shows that you watched when you were young, as you get older.
Matt Zoller Seitz: Right. There’s a certain amount of received wisdom that’s build into a lot of TV shows. And a lot of it comes down to the fact that the structure of episodic television always begins with order, an element of chaos or disorder is introduced, and by the end order is reasserted, and it’s reasserted by the main characters. On a lot of these shows, the main characters are paternalistic white guys, you know? They’re cops, they’re lawyers, they’re judges, they’re detectives, whatever. And they’re always ultimately preserving the status quo. Maybe they make a minor adjustment at the end, like, “Let’s all be nice to each other from now on.” But the system itself is never challenged.
GE: For me, the things that I changed my mind on the most have often had to do with my own ingrained sexism from when I was watching these things when I was younger. It’s interesting re-watching things because when you’re a kid, these stereotypes, you’re being introduced to them for the first time. So you don’t even really realize that they’re stereotypes.
Alex Jung: Kind of baked into TV convention.
MZS: Yeah, pop culture generally.
GE: Yeah, and pop culture teaches you to watch it in a certain way. When you’re a kid, you’re not able to be like, “Oh that’s bad.” Because you’re just learning it for the first time. And when you’re older you’re like, “Wait, that’s obviously bad.”
MZS: I’ve got a generalized example of that. The story in which the talented, iconoclast, flake, asshole character, often played in movies in the ‘80s by like, Bill Murray, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis — there’s always a scene where the bureaucrat or the rules-minded person comes in and chastises them for their maverick ways. And I used to respond, like a Pavlovian dog to these scenes. All the CSIs have characters like that. And almost every cop show has characters like that. “Your badge, your gun, my desk.” I’ve started to like those characters a little more.
Patch Adams, that horrible Robin Williams movie, was on cable not too long ago. And the late Philip Seymour Hoffman is in that movie, and he plays the “damn you, you can’t do that” character. There’s a scene in there where he tells them, “These patients are terminally ill, a lot of them, and some of them are children. And what we owe them as doctors is our medical knowledge, and our skill, and our dedication, not our comedy. We’re not comedians here.” I remember when I saw that in the theater and when Robin Williams tells him off, everybody laughs and cheers. And I’m listening to this guy going, “That’s the guy who should be running the hospital,” you know? Like, if I’ve got a tumor or something, I don’t want Robin Williams pretending he’s a clown. I want Philip Seymour Hoffman reading a freaking chart, you know?
AJ: American narratives are obsessed with individual exceptionalism. They try to celebrate that at every opportunity.
Jen Chaney: It’s funny, because our reader specifically mentioned watching something as a parent and having a different perspective on it. And the first thing I thought of was watching some of the John Hughes movies again as an adult. I wrote a piece for the Dissolve, a site that sadly no longer exists, about re-watching The Breakfast Club from the perspective of the principal and the parents, and seeing it totally differently than I did as a kid. You have a completely different window into something when you have a child and you’re watching the way these movies are framed — you’re always on the kid’s side, on the teen’s side. And they should be, because they’re for teenagers. But, I do think they did a good job of giving a little bit of nuance to the adults.
In terms of TV characters, I remember how annoyed I was by Sarah Palmer on Twin Peaks when I originally watched it. Especially in the early episodes, Grace Zabriskie’s performance is all crying and yelling, “Leland,” and clawing at her hair. Watching it now, I’m just like, my God, that is incredible work, first of all. And then watching it also when you actually know what happened to Laura Palmer gives you a totally different perspective on what it is she’s doing.
MZS: That’s also a case where I think the show is deeper than the people who think that they’re completely onto what the show is doing. I remember I saw that in college when it first came on, and when you see a show like that and you’re 21, 22 years old, when you see a character like Grace Zabriskie’s character, just being a big walking exposed nerve like that, you laugh. You laugh because it’s uncomfortable and you don’t know what else to do, or you laugh because you’ve never seen somebody act that way because you’re a stupid kid. But getting older, I’ve been her, and I’ve seen people in that situation before. Now it seems like documentary realism to me.
AJ: When you first told me about this question, the first show I thought of that I’ve had a personal evolution around is Girls. Because when it first aired, I was right around the characters’ ages. And I only watched the pilot, and I had deep problems with it. Part of it was, for me, it was one of the final scenes where she’s greeted by a homeless black guy who tells her to smile. And that scene really was like a needle to me, because it represented a lot of the problems I felt like the show had and a lot of the criticism that had been levied at the show very early on. Girls came on TV at a time when think pieces and Twitter were first gaining their eminence in pop culture and I feel like I got swept away in that, and it became a maelstrom that I couldn’t get out of. I couldn’t see past it. It became very difficult for me to care about the show or to watch it because of that. And then, Gaz is a total stan for Girls. And we went on a trip recently together.
GE: We went to Vermont.
AJ: And we watched the first season of Girls, and I loved it.
GE: It was one of the best moments of my life.
AJ: I think I had enough distance in some ways to actually watch the show the way it was meant to have been watched and to separate myself from my own emotional triggers around what I perceived as some of the flaws around the show. I think it’s brilliant. I think the first season is a brilliant piece of TV-making. And I recognize that it was really because of who I was at the time and how I was interpreting it through the lens of the internet.
JC: I love that we’re having this conversation, because I feel like think there’s this misperception sometimes that critics are very stubborn and they get ideas in their head and then they will never listen if somebody says something is good. And this whole conversation is emblematic of the fact that tastes change or your reaction to something changes over time, and that we’re all open-minded to that and revisiting our opinions.
GE: Speaking of Girls too, in re-watching it with Alex, I found myself liking Adam a lot more than I did initially.
AJ: I loved Adam.
GE: And part of it was, I think, you loved him so much. And I was like, “He is really great.” I had always seen him as kind of the worse one in the Hannah-Adam relationship.
AJ: He feels more honest about his emotions to me. Whereas Hannah will always hide, or lie to herself about how she’s feeling or what she wants and what she expects of him. Adam was always very clear about those things.
JC: I also think they started to write that character in a more effective way. Because I had a similar response in the first half of the first season, where I thought he was creepy. But as he evolved more and you got to know him better, he became my favorite character on the show.
AJ: That was actually really clever writing they did. You sort of saw Adam first through Hannah’s perspective. And then, in the latter half of the season, you shifted perspectives and pivoted to seeing him. Then you understood. It clarified the first half of the season, where you understood why he was acting the way he did.
GE: There’s an amazing line at the end of the first season, where, before he gets hit by the car, he’s like, “You’re a monster,” to Hannah. And it’s so true. I really felt for him in that moment. And it was the turning point for me.
MZS: I love that this segment has become a referendum on Girls. I think it speaks highly of the show.
AJ: It’s a show of our time.
MZS: I don’t know how many shows like Girls are going to be green-lit during the Trump administration.
JC: Maybe lots.
Tune in to the Vulture TV Podcast, produced by the Slate Group’s Panoply, every Tuesday, on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. And please send us your burning TV questions! Tweet us @Vulture, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave us a voice-mail at 646-504-7673.