Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers 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.
How many times is too many when it comes to rewatching? I’ve seen Six Feet Under twice within eight months — and a year later, I want to watch it again. Same with Mad Men, Lost, The Sopranos, and a few others. I still have some TV I need to watch for the first time, but I love the familiarity of those shows that have a “more than a TV show” relation to my life. Which shows have you seen the most? How much is too much? —Collin
The show I’ve seen the most is Sports Night. (West Wing’s a close second, but not seasons five and six, so.) Sports Night makes me happy and brings me comfort every time I watch it, whether it’s a full rewatch or just an ep here and there. You know how relationship experts say it’s important to do new activities with one’s long-term partner to keep the relationship fresh? Well … I watch Sports Night during every major emotional event in my life, good or bad, so I never feel like I’ve grown apart from it. I’ve been doing this since 2002, when the DVDs came out. Maybe I’m the wrong person to tell you how much is too much.
But you asked, so: There is not one big TV to-do list that everyone has to follow. You say you “need” to watch some shows for the first time, but says who? If you want to just watch your shows over and over, there’s no TV police who are going to stop you. TV is not just one thing in our lives. Sometimes it’s comfort. Sometimes it’s an escape. Sometimes it’s an almost academic endeavor. Sometimes it’s “mindless.” Sometimes we’re jealous of the characters, sometimes we aspire to be like them, sometimes we recoil at their behavior. One of the ways TV brings me joy is that I can count on it. I know Casey will always be missing his white shirt — he doesn’t have a favorite, but it’s his favorite — and that Jeremy will always hate eggnog and that Isaac will always survive his stroke. But another way TV dazzles me is through surprise and discovery. I watch pilots with hope in my heart, and stumbling upon a new series to welcome into my TV life always feels good, and it always ameliorates whatever disappointment lingers from having regrettably watched a crummy show. If you’re at a point in your life where you’re making lots of new discoveries and forming new bonds and developing new routines, it’s completely fine to want TV to provide stable pleasures. But should that change, and you’re looking for the thrill of discovery, in this, as in all things: TV is here for you.
I’m in my early 40s (VERY early 40s), and I long for a show that speaks to my age bracket with the same personal struggles, pathos, emotion, and earned narcissism that ABC’s thirtysomething did for that generation way back when. I’m a Real Housewives–loving gay man, and as much as I appreciate their drama, I wouldn’t mind something even faker. Anything out there, new, old, or classic? I would prefer Netflixable things, but I won’t quibble. —Brian
You should watch Slings & Arrows. Everyone should watch Slings & Arrows because it is a glorious gift from above (Canada), but if you want a little bit of narcissism, some screaming, but also feelings, this is really the show for you. Also, there’s Shakespeare.
Slings, created by Susan Coyne, Bob Martin, and Mark McKinney, is set within a struggling Canadian Shakespearean theater company — they’re struggling financially and emotionally. There are three seasons, each comprising six episodes, so this isn’t an epic endeavor. On the first season, the characters are working on a production of Hamlet; on the second, Macbeth; and on the third, King Lear. The better you know the play, the more you’ll get out of the season, but it’ll still be very gratifying and enjoyable even if you have no idea what the play is even about. (Come on, though — be a lifelong learner here. Google it, at least.)
In addition to being brilliant and hilarious, my favorite thing about Slings is that its characters have real grown-up problems. Our hero Geoffrey (played by Paul Gross) spent eight years in an psychiatric hospital following a massive breakdown. His former girlfriend Ellen (Martha Burns) is the female star of the company, but she’s struggling with being a Gertrude instead of an Ophelia for this production. They’re both reeling from the death of a mutual former BFF (Stephen Ouimette), who appears to Geoffrey throughout the series as a snide ghost. People talk about debt and have identity crises — am I really this square? Have I really hurt this many people? Am I selfish? In a bad way? The younger characters (including Rachel McAdams on season one) provide some of the more charming romantic stories, but the “adults” have the real, meaty, genuine problems. But also everyone’s a theater actor, so it’s just one notch away from weave-pulling and leg-removing fights. Uuuuugh, this is the best show.
The doldrums of summer TV have forced me to finally watch Battlestar Galactica (a decision that was greeted with frightening levels of enthusiasm from my Battlestar-crazy friends). I’m near the end of season one, and I do like many things about it — the non-breakneck pace of the episodes, the gradual character development, the bigger ideas about humanity going on — but I can’t say I’ve turned into a Battlestar Insane Person, which I sort of expected would happen. I’m intrigued, but I can’t say I’m convinced the show can sustain itself for another three seasons. (I do have to say a major strike against it is how much I hate Head Six and how she’s always touching Baltar’s face. Ahhhhh, fingers.) Convince me I should stick with it. —Rebecca
Part of the reason people like your friends and me seem so passionate about BSG is that it’s an excellent, excellent show. (I genuinely think that it’s The Crucible for the War on Terror.) But another reason we seem so fanatical is that we’ve been telling everyone for ten fracking years to watch this show, and only very slowly have the tides started to turn. It was lonely out there for a while! No one wanted to watch my precious space-politics show, and my gleeful explanations that it was set in a society free of gender norms did nothing to convince them. Tough tacos for them, I guess! Because the pro-BSG message has finally prevailed. But it took a lot of convincing. If you want to know when you’ll become a crazy BSG-er like the rest of us, well, let your declarations of love fall on deaf ears for ten years and write me back.
That said, yes, definitely stick with it, because it sounds like you enjoy the show. If you start hating it, move on to other pursuits, but as long as you’re digging it, keep going! Season two has a lot of great Roslin stuff, and that’s always the best. So say we all.
What are some polite ways to disagree about television? I never like any of the shows people recommend to me — True Detective, The Knick, etc. Can you outline a more civil television discourse? —AK
I’ve advocated before in this column that we should all give our friends’ recommendations a try, and I maintain that. But the easiest and most manners-driven way to disagree about anything is just not to engage with it. Sail on by that disagreement! There is nothing more polite than not fighting.
One thing to start with is that show suggestions are gifts and offerings; even if you don’t like it, the gracious thing to do is say “thank you.” “Did you try True Detective yet? I really think you’d like it.” “Oh, thank you!” Everyone wants to feel validated, you know? If you know right away that it’s not going to be up your alley — maybe you’re tired of dude-heavy murder shows? — just gently avoid from the idea that you will ever watch it. “Oh, thanks for the tip. I’m actually on a mission right now to watch every ballet documentary I can find. I liked Ballet 422, but I wish there was a law that banned subjects from chewing gum while being interviewed for a documentary. Don’t you think that should be a law?” It should be a law, you guys.
If you tried a show and genuinely didn’t like it, the two easiest deflections are “it didn’t hold my interest” and “it just wasn’t for me.” It’s okay to dislike shows for any number of reasons, obviously, but someone who likes a show enough to recommend it is unlikely to be swayed even by reasonable argument. Fighting about whether a show is good or not is not a particularly enjoyable pastime — ask me how I know — so the emphasis here is on moving on. “Did you watch The Knick yet?” “You know, it wasn’t for me. I did like the white shoes, though. More men should wear ankle boots. Right?” “Yes, ankle boots are super fashionable, and they’re a subtle way to add way more style to a simple fall suit.” Mission accomplished. And hey, you have advanced the cause of ankle boots. (I’m not part of the ankle-boot lobby or anything, but I do like ambitious footwear.) Never, ever doubt the power of just changing the subject.
As recommenders, we have an obligation to let things go. When someone says they didn’t care for the show we so heartily and passionately suggested, that can sting! So just imagine putting those hurt feelings in a beautiful, biodegradable balloon and then letting it float away into the sky. Aaaah. Not everyone likes the same things! It’s not a correctness contest; liking or not liking a show is not a referendum on friend-worthiness.
I will say, though, that the idea that your friends don’t know your taste kind of makes me sad. Are your friends doing a bad job of listening when you describe things that make you happy? Are you doing a bad job of articulating the kinds of things you like? (Are you asking for suggestions in the first place? If not, just say “actually, I’m good on TV shows right now.”) One of the ways we show people we care about them is demonstrating that we think about ways to make them happy, particularly by asking them about what makes them happy, and then by really listening and taking those ideas seriously. If your friends aren’t doing that, or you’re not doing that, it’s time to start. Also, though, have you watched Scandal?