Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s new TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons will answer your questions about what to watch, when to watch it, and how to feel about the whole thing.
A few months ago, I started Breaking Bad and got to season three in two weeks. However, it just became boring for me and I gave up and moved onto different shows. Should I try to pick up Breaking Bad again because everyone is telling me it gets really, really good towards the end? Or should I give up and start a new show? Here are the new shows I would be picking from if I decide to forfeit my Breaking Bad binge: Community, Parks and Recreation, or Suits. —Haley
[This reply contains information about Breaking Bad, but not meaningful spoilers. Don’t worry if you haven’t watched yet, except that you should get on that.] If you don’t like Breaking Bad, you don’t like Breaking Bad. There’s no real virtue in watching something you don’t enjoy. But! If you think you might get something out of it, I’d strongly encourage you to give it another go. I was not a BB fan at the start, and when I recommend the show to newbies now, I do so with the caveat that the first few episodes are really depressing and ultimately not representative of the series as a whole. The story of Walt as a man to whom bad things happen? I agree — that does not wholly hold my interest. But once he flips, and he’s the guy who causes the bad things and perpetuates and exacerbates those bad things, that’s when the show really takes off. Yeah, he does bad stuff from the get-go, but for my money that last drop of humanity gets erased in “Phoenix,” the penultimate episode of season two, with Jane. Season three is all kinds of crazy tension (including my favorite episode, “One Minute”); season four has the clearest split between Walt and Jesse; and then season five — both halves — is a combination of intense action and staggering spiritual rot. Breaking Bad’s a show that’s worth two tries. Yes, it’s a dark, dark, dark show, but watching it and thinking about it and writing about it brought and continues to bring me tremendous joy. Watch Parks and Rec as a chaser, though.
After getting caught up with all six seasons, I’ve come to the conclusion that Sons of Anarchy is a soap opera disguised as Serious Drama. Thoughts? —Anne
It’s not much of a disguise. That show is definitely soapy. But soap opera isn’t a bad word, and just because something is soapy doesn’t mean it’s stupid. I’m very comfortable calling Scandal a primetime soap, and I’d also call it a good show (and in season two, a great show). If I had to guess, it sounds like your vague beef is that SOA started out not very soapy at all and then got progressively soapier as the seasons went on, and I think that is a valid beef. SOA is not a show that’s familiar with the concept of “enough,” so each season is just more and more and more and more. It’s not the soapiness-qua-soapiness, but rather the lack of restraint in general.
Over this past weekend, I was sick in bed but didn’t mind, thanks to mainlining the first three seasons of Awkward. on a friend’s suggestion. As much as I enjoyed it and appreciated the comfort it gave the sick, there was a lot I didn’t like about it: the ludicrous guidance counselor, the one-note delivery by the actress playing Sadie (a funny note, though – you’re welcome), the sometimes shocking racism related to the Chinese Mafia plots. What are your thoughts on shows with high highs and low lows? What are some others whose strengths keep you watching even as their weaknesses don’t go away? Are there shows that have resolved these egregious errors and became mostly perfect? And what shows have been sunk by those weak areas? —Nicole
Very, very few shows attain anything like perfection. I agree about Awkward.’s high highs and low lows — I spend half my time loving that show and half of it wishing a giant fireball would eat all the characters, starting with Tamara. (Can someone please, please, please tell the actress who plays Sadie that she doesn’t need to move her head willy-nilly on every single line?) This is how I felt about Nurse Jackie for a long time, that the show’s strengths were profound but its weaknesses were excruciating — and then this season, the show was stunningly great. On the other side of things, I loved Drop Dead Diva for ages, but eventually the dumbness of the lawyering outpaced my affection for the characters. Parenthood is joy … most of the time, and then some of the time I realize that I can hear screaming families on the bus whenever I like. My general policy is to endure the low lows if you feel like the high highs are giving you something you can’t get elsewhere. I stick with Awkward. because I really like the Jenna character, and I like shows that are explicitly about women and girls. I can’t just watch a different teen-heroine comedy, so if that means fast-forwarding through the soul-withering guidance counselor scenes, so be it. I don’t remember exactly when I stopped watching Glee, but my guess is it was around the time Awkward. started filling the poppy-talk high-school-series hole in my heart. I gave up on Once Upon a Time’s fun romances and adventure stories when I started watching Orphan Black, because Orphan is wonderful while Once has horrendous production values, listless dialogue, and a strange anti-adoption bent. I don’t miss it.
What Netflix-y detective drama will fill my Fargo hole? (I’ve seen Luther, and The Fall made me The Fall asleep.) —@snowak
This will depend on what part of Fargo exactly you miss, but a few suggestions: If you really want a murder show, it’s hard to top Hannibal (season one is available on Vudu), which is both a very good show and hella murder-y. Real, real murder-y. If you want something intriguing but in a slightly tweaked universe, I love The Bletchley Circle (available on Netflix), which is sort of like a cross between Call the Midwife — it’s about a group of women in post–World War II England — and your more traditional serial-killer shows, because they, you know, catch a serial killer. It’s not as dark as most other murder shows, but there’s still plenty of investigative work. For something more akin to Luther, try Broen/Bron, the Scandinavian original version of The Bridge (on Hulu Plus); dark and moody, definitely, but also tense and scary enough that I wondered if perhaps I shouldn’t watch it alone. I can’t remember another recent cop show that surprised me as often as Broen/Bron did. There’s also the American version of The Bridge (also on Hulu Plus), and that’s good too, though not quite as good as the original. If what you miss about Fargo is more of the small-town vibes, the U.K.’s Broadchurch (Vudu again) is the way to go. That’s going to have an American remake this fall, Gracepoint, though Fox claims the ending will be different. Finally, if what you liked about Fargo was the fact that it reminded you of filmmakers you like, Top of the Lake (available on Netflix, iTunes, and Vudu) is everything you’ve ever loved about Jane Campion, plus a riveting performance from Elisabeth Moss. I’m sort of reluctant to lump it in with other detective shows, since it’s much more meditative and ethereal than a traditional detective drama, but I can’t resist the opportunity to recommend it, since it is excellent. Enjoy all your nightmares.
There just wasn’t enough hooking up for me on Scandal OR The Good Wife this season. I’m still feeling disappointed and a little shortchanged. What’s a sure bet for some good, old-fashioned, overdramatic TV make-outs? —Susie
Is Masters of Sex too obvious here? I’m going with it anyway: There’s a lot of making out on that show, though almost all of it leads to explicit sex scenes, and I’m not sure it’s “overdramatic” so much as just “regular-dramatic.” Same goes for Looking, which is not as good as MOS, but does meet your smooching criteria. On a less explicit side of things, Being Mary Jane has a whole lot of hooking up, and is more in keeping with the steamy style of Scandal and TGW. Similarly steamy, though more youthful, is The Vampire Diaries, and Nashville sometimes has some good fooling around, too. (Though it often focuses too much on muscular backs. Nothing wrong with a muscular back but, like … show the kissing.) Finally, I’m very partial to the rom-commy make-outs on The Mindy Project.
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