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 email@example.com, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
When September 22, 2014, hits, how should I feel? Because I’ve been obsessing over the same TV show (Lost) for ten years, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. — Lizzy
Yes, Lizzy, September 22 marks 10 years since Lost debuted. Obsessing over a TV show isn’t on its own good or bad; if it’s bringing you joy and a sense of belonging, then it’s good! And if it’s making you miserable and alienating you from things you once enjoyed, then it’s bad. You’re obviously not alone in your ongoing obsession, either — try reading a review of The Leftovers that doesn’t mention it, or listening to any showrunner talk about the pitfalls of crafting a series finale. I can’t tell you or anyone else how to feel, but I’ll tell you how I feel and hope that helps you on your journey.
Here’s how I feel about Lost: I’ll never love like that again. There are shows I’ve loved more, and endings that have left me colder, but Lost captured a part of my interest and imagination like no other show ever has, and yet sticking with it through the bitter end ruined a sliver of me. It’s not “once burned, twice shy” exactly; all TV fans have been burned plenty of times. But Lost burned the hottest, and it felt like it was on purpose. It increased my skepticism for all subsequent shows.
I’m a born TV obsessive, but Lost was one of the only obsessively watched shows that I didn’t have to seek out fellow devotees. Sometimes I still think I’m the only person who truly loves and understands Melrose Place. My parents used to buy me books about The X-Files, because, you know, what else was I going to do with all this pent-up X-Files enthusiasm? But when Lost came out, it was like everyone else finally showed up to my party. Everybody I knew wanted to talk about it, to theorize about the numbers, to argue about who was the hottest (Sayid, you fools!), to point out easter eggs, etc. When I think about Lost, it’s totally woven into those years of my life — with my friends, with my family, with where I was working, the apartment I was living in. Lost ushered me into adulthood, and both the show and growing up seemed like such promising ventures a decade ago. I’m not just disappointed in the end of Lost: Adulthood is kind of the worst, too, even during rosé season. We have to go back! they said. It sounded good to me. It still does.
How can you tell when it’s time to give up on a TV show that’s just not doing it for you anymore? How many chances do you give to a new show that you just don’t “get”? — Lauren
It depends on what you’re afraid of missing out on. For some of the All Time Greats, you might be cutting yourself off from a rewarding, interesting, dazzling way to be entertained. So I’d say stick with it at least three episodes past where you’re getting antsy; perhaps this is the beginning of a slow build you’re not noticing. But for ordinary shows — shows you really like but wouldn’t necessarily put in a time capsule so that future civilizations might know our best selves — just stop. There’s so much good TV. You find another show, and don’t forget that TV loyalty is a one-way street; a show isn’t loyal back, and you can’t hurt the show’s feelings, you know? Kick it to the curb, even if it’s just to watch more episodes of Chopped or whatever. Chopped is a good show and all, but if you’d rather watch that than your DVRed scripted series, that’s a sign.
If you’re afraid that the show you’re quitting is going to get good again and you’ll have missed out, don’t be. Even super-serialized shows are easy to make sense of after a missed season or two (and it’s not so hard to find a few recaps or a Wikipedia synopsis). If you get back into a show, then go back and watch the sucky episodes if you feel so moved. I did this with Grey’s Anatomy, and I’ve lived to tell the tale.
Finally, if what you’re afraid of is everyone giving you a hard time for not getting onboard with a new show, get comfortable with the phrase “Eh, it just didn’t hold my interest.” If you say a show is boring or dumb or whatever it is, fans and people who like combative social situations will make obnoxious counter-arguments. But if you just say it didn’t hold your interest, there is no good comeback, nor does it feel as personal as saying, “Your favorite show is a garbage story.”
Some of my favorite all-time shows seem to be ones that are short-lived (Freaks and Geeks and Twin Peaks are perhaps my favorites of all time, and I recently fell in love with Wonderfalls). This is either because I have tastes that have nothing to do with the general population or because I’m never forced to get sick of them, as I have done with shows that stayed on seasons after they should have (looking at you, HIMYM). Or maybe it’s both. What else should I watch from the “canceled too soon” list? — Jo
If you like Wonderfalls, by all means, watch Bryan Fuller’s other shows Dead Like Me (29 episodes) and Pushing Daisies (22 episodes). (Hannibal’s good, too, but it does not meet the criteria for this answer.) And if you like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared (17) is the natural successor. F&G is punch-for-punch a better show, but I prefer Undeclared. Honestly, between that, Dead Like Me, and Pushing Daisies, you have a really delightful and poignant TV to-do list. Let us all take this moment to slightly envy Jo.
Because you mention Twin Peaks, you might like Profit (only 8 episodes!), another weird-ass ‘90s show about a sociopath. So strange, so good, so canceled. RIP, Profit. On the more supernatural side of things, there’s also Carnivale (24 episodes), which is about a traveling carnival during the Depression and also about the battle between good and evil. Plus Michael J. Anderson.
I recommended The Middleman (12 episodes) in this column a few weeks ago, but I’ll renew that recommendation again, especially if you’re in a “young woman makes a go of things” mode after DLM. I’m in a constant state of encouraging people to watch Enlightened (18), and I’ll mourn the end of Party Down (20) all the days of my life. Just the memory of Bored to Death (24) still brings me happiness, and every time I see anything in any kind of corporate-speak, I think fondly of Better Off Ted (26).
Terriers (13 episodes) is a quirky buddy-cop (well, ex-cop) one-season gem I’ve watched over and over. British Life on Mars (16) covers your needs for cop shows, period dramas, and time-travel stories, and is also pretty damn good. Southland (43) has the most episodes of any show in this list, but I’m mentioning it because it’s both fantastic and profoundly under appreciated. God damn that is a good show.
The Riches (20 episodes)? Dirt (Also 20)? FX had some weird, wildly fun to watch shows. (Both are also a little sad, FYI.) Kitchen Confidential (13) was a single-camera comedy loosely based on Anthony Bourdain’s book that is totally funny and charming. You want some teen shows? Life Unexpected (26) is funny and endearing. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who ever saw Privileged (18), but that’s a real treat in the Gilmore Girls-y sort of vein. On the soapier side, The L.A. Complex (19) is a complete delight. Oh god, I could do this forever. I fully expect many other helpful suggestions in the comments.
After marathoning Battlestar Galactica a few times, I have been trying to find other well-written, plot-driven shows that are set in space. I have also enjoyed Firefly. However, I’ve tried watching a few other sci-fi shows — e.g. some of the Stargates — but they are often too cheesy and/or the writing is not good enough to hold my interest. I’m looking for something that has season-long plot arcs (so not Star Trek), is not too dated-looking, and is kind of like a Mad Men (or other quality drama) set in space. Does such a show exist? — Hunter
Mad Men in space? No, that does not exist, though it’s a terrific pitch and I hope someone at Syfy likes the cut of your jib and decides to get more ambitious. Battlestar Galactica is head-and-shoulders above other space-set shows, but that’s only because it’s substantially better than just about every show; we’re all looking for the next Battlestar Galactica, friend. That is the dream! In the meantime, try Farscape.