Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons will answer your questions about what to watch, when to watch it, whom to watch it with, and how to feel about the whole thing. To submit your own questions, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
People seem to go on and on (and on and on) about how amazing Twin Peaks is and how significant it was and how I can survive without having watched it, etc. I can’t seem to find motivation to start watching it, and I never really cared for David Lynch. (Sorry!) Is it really worth it? —Sophie
I saw a tremendous number of Simpsons episodes before I ever saw the classic films they were satirizing or using for inspiration; years later, there were a lot of a-ha moments. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the Simpsons episodes for themselves — I did and I continue to — but “Rosebud” is a lot funnier and richer after you’ve seen Citizen Kane. Once you watch Twin Peaks, you realize how often you’ve been seeing references to it, homages and style choices and subtle nods. (Including on The Simpsons, of course.) A lot of modern TV owes a little something to Twin Peaks.
Beyond rounding out your TV education, though, Twin Peaks is damn fine show. There’s a reason so many other shows copy it! I get people who aren’t into murder mysteries, or the supernatural, or “quirks” or whatever, or “Dead Girl Shows,” and I’d still argue there’s something they’d find to enjoy in Twin Peaks, at least in the first season. (I can’t vouch for the second in the same way.) The humor and style, the integrity with which secondary and tertiary characters are depicted, and the way the central mystery drifts in and out of the narrative — there’s something for everyone! Usually I’m in the camp of “there’s nothing you have to watch; watch things you like that don’t actively harm anyone else, and tell everyone else to bite it so hard.” But … Twin Peaks is a show that’s worth at least trying, even if you think it might not be your bag.
How can I stop watching Under the Dome? —Brian
Do you have a cat, Brian? The easiest way to stop watching Under the Dome is to get a cat. Every few months, my cat decides her favorite thing in the world — more beloved than putting her entire face into a shoe, even — is to lick my eyelids at around 5 a.m. It is disgusting and terrifying, and it’s a hell of a way to wake up. I am not generally a get-up-at-5-a.m. person, so these eyeball-licking days really throw off my patterns, and come nighttime, I’m basically useless. Except I watch TV at night, as part of my job, and knowing I can only get through about 90 minutes of shows (rather than, uh … several hours, as usual) really makes me prioritize. This is how I stopped watching Community; I was too tired to watch it, which means I didn’t truly love it or need it, and thus it was banished from my to-watch list. I don’t miss it.
But it’s summer, you say. There isn’t enough TV on to knock Under the Dome off the DVR. You should still get a cat, though. When you go to the shelter, ask for the laziest, snuggliest one. Then, when UTD is on, cuddle the shit out of that cat and marvel at how much joy that brings him or her. Then you’re not really watching Under the Dome; you’re engaging in cat therapy, and whatever’s on TV is just a side project.
I’m fairly obsessed with the British program Utopia (Channel 4), but it seems like it may never make it Stateside. That is, unless David Fincher’s adaptation is a hit, but that could come years after the U.K. show has ended its run. I’m okay with the moral and legal implications of watching the show illegally from the U.S., but it’s a lonely experience. My favorite entertainment blogs (like Vulture) aren’t talking about it, and none of my friends are watching it. What can I do? Make lots of English conspiracy-theory pen pals? Host group screenings at undisclosed locations? Or resort to black-market distribution, giving all my friends surreptitious thumb drives with the first series on them? —Mike
I’m with you, dude. I just watched a whole season of a British reality contest show where the winner gets to play Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar, and it was the best worst thing I’ve ever seen. (It’s all on YouTube, if you’re curious.) “You have to be focused,” one of the judges warned. “Christ was very focused.” The host actually said, “When we come back, who will be named the King of Kings?” I was agog. But I had no one to share it with, and if you can’t talk about it, did you even really watch it?
The good news about Utopia is that the show is terrific, so one hopes that increases its likelihood of international relevance. (It’s about a cult graphic novel whose fans find themselves embroiled in a violent international conspiracy. Go with it! And don’t confuse it with the upcoming Fox reality show of the same name.) Other Channel 4 shows make their way to the U.S. pretty often: Hollyoaks, Skins, Queer As Folk, Peep Show, Father Ted, The IT Crowd — people know these shows. And Utopia’s production company also has plenty of series that have aired here, too: Spooks, Hustle, Broadchurch, Life on Mars, Law and Order: UK. So it’s not so crazy to think eventually Utopia will be easily available in the U.S.
For your more immediate concerns, though, I have a few suggestions: One, there are plenty of good British recaps of the show, so avail yourself of those. Two, I obviously can’t encourage any kind of illegal behavior, so uh, let’s assume you’ve decided to move to England and all your friends are now British and can legally watch Utopia online. Start convincing them! Talk it up! Promise to watch the pilot with people (and the pilot for Utopia is a doozy)! Give someone a hard copy of the show — again, legal here because you all live in England in this scenario — and say, “I have to pass this on to [someone] in a week.” This creates a sensation of urgency and scarcity, which people really respond to for some reason. Everyone likes to feel like he or she is part of something.
I like to appear cutting-edge and also highbrow (e.g., I watch nothing on CBS). What’s the next TV show I should try? —Archie
Utopia! But really, if you want cutting-edge TV, what you’re really looking for is a web series. And the web series you want in “High Maintenance,” loosely centered on a weed delivery guy. Each episode focuses on a different one of his clients — two insufferable party kids, an earnest lesbian couple, an exercise fanatic — and we get a surprisingly robust insight into their interior lives in just a few minutes. While technically about stoners, it’s not stoner humor; and while I’d call it a comedy, there are episodes and moments that are absolutely dramatic, intense, and moving. “Highbrow” is maybe a little bit strong, but the show is smart and savvy and just this side of satirical, and there’s nothing else quite like it right now.