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 email@example.com, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
I’ve only seen a handful of episodes of Scandal. Do I need to watch all of them before the show comes back next month? Or can I get away with just watching a few important ones? Or can I just start watching? —Elaine
This is a tough one. On the one hand, Scandal is very involved and twisty-turny — you’re gonna need to get a good handle on who everyone is and how they’re all connected, and the easiest way to do that is to, you know, watch the show. On the other hand … people repeat plot points a lot on this show. (“I’m the President! And you are my MISTRESS. But you are more than that, because I love you.” We get it, dude.) Plot-wise, I think you’ll be able to figure a lot of things out just from the “previously on Scandal intro.”
But that will not be enough to hook you. You need to learn to love the show. Scandal comes back September 25, which gives you eight days to catch up. For me, 47 episodes in eight days is nothing, but you are a layperson, so I will break things down a little for you and your weak constitution. Don’t worry, this instruction guide does not contain spoilers.
- You can skip almost all of season one; it’s only seven episodes in the first place, but the only even marginally important ones are episodes six and seven. Really, though, you don’t have to bother with those.
- Season two is so much better, it’s ridiculous. I find most of these episodes very enjoyable, but many are not essential if your main purpose is simply to catch up. Watch the season premiere, “White Hat’s Off,” and then jump ahead to episode five, “All Roads Lead to Fitz.” Then skip episode six.
- BUY WINE AND SUPPLIES. Things are gonna get real now. You need to watch episodes 7–14. That’s “Defiance,” “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” “Blown Away,” “One for the Dog,” “A Criminal, a Whore, an Idiot and a Liar,” “Nobody Likes Babies,” and “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” These go by pretty fast, and you can fast-forward any parts with Harrison and just about anything with Huck.
- The remaining episodes of season two are up to you. They’re pretty good, but if you’re really pressed for time for some reason, you can jump to the season finale, “White Hat’s Back On.” Do not skip this episode!
- Onto season three. Season three is not as glorious as season two. Start with the premiere, “It’s Handled,” and the second ep, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” though; they’re good. Especially “Guess.”
- “More Cattle, Less Bull.” That’s episode 5.
- “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie.” Episode 7.
- Episodes 9, 10, and 11: “YOLO,” “A Door Marked Exit,” and “Ride, Sally, Ride.” Feel free to again fast-forward anything having to do with Harrison. Also skip over most of the Huck stuff, and any of the Quinn things you find annoying. Focus on Mellie, Liv, Cyrus, and Sally.
- Episode 14, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Buy a cupcake or something for yourself after this.
- Episodes 17 and 18, “Flesh and Blood” and “The Price of a Free and Fair Election.” The season ends on an appropriately OMG-WTF wavelength, but as always, skip over anything you find less than thrilling. I like David Rosen and Abby’s relationship, but it could be almost completely excised from the story and you’d miss very, very little. If Huck and Quinn bug you, fast forward their parts, too.
So that’s down to 23 episodes, but not even 23 full episodes if you’re going to fast-forward. If you’re feeling hella stingy, you could probably get away with just watching “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie,” and “The Price of a Free and Fair Election” in season three. You’ll miss some stuff, but life is full of sacrifices.
I love (!) Mad Men and have grown to care deeply for Masters of Sex. I also loved Breaking Bad (not singular in that) and adore Shameless. But, I also have guilty pleasures: Switched at Birth, The Price Is Right, and watching the occasional Gilmore Girls and Little House on the Prairie. Am I okay? —Amanda
Amanda, repeat after me: “There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure.” Got it? We’ve covered this a little bit already here at Stay Tuned, but I want to remind everyone again: Pleasure is pleasure, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s not a finite amount of things you can enjoy; anything that brings you happiness, comfort, safety, satiety, intrigue, or education is a good thing. So, yes, you are okay. I don’t think anyone could watch a steady stream of bleak-as-hell dramas without a little break for some lighter fare. If Little House on the Prairie brings you joy, what could possibly be wrong with that? Contentment is hard to come by. Grab it as often as you can.
I mostly watch funny half-hours like Broad City, Veep, Girls, Community, Parks & Rec, Portlandia, Inside Amy Schumer … I could go on, but that is not my query. Why can’t I bring myself to watch drama? I call myself a TV fan, yet I don’t even watch legit drama shows. Am I a hypocrite for saying that I’m a fan? If so, how can I remedy this problem? —Daniel
Do you enjoy TV? Congratulations, you’re a TV fan. I don’t know why fans of other media — comic books, obscure music — take umbrage at “other” people identifying as a fan, but I’ve never heard of that being an issue among TV folk. It sounds like you watch good shows that you enjoy, so instead of devoting energy to watching other shows you don’t care about, devote all that energy into not giving a shit about what other people think about you. Do you, Daniel.
I’m getting my wisdom teeth out. What is a good show to watch when you are effed up on pain pills? —Dan
I watched the second half of the second season of Battlestar Galactica while I was as sick as I have ever been as an adult, and man, that was a real mindfuck. Don’t mix fever delirium and Admiral Cain. Or … do? I felt like I was a part of the show, and on the borders of sleep and wakefulness, my reality blurred into BSG reality. It was like being on anti-malaria drugs all over again. I like a weird mind-bending situation like that now and again, but not everyone does. Different people have different kinds of reactions to convalescing, and some people like the challenge of concentrating while on pain medication, while others prefer the gentle bliss of drifting in and out. Here are a range of options:
If you want to get as utterly fucked up as possible, and forget what tethers you to reality, watch Carnivale. The show can be a little confusing as-is, but minus some of your critical faculties, it will send you to another scary hinterworld of weirdness and circus stuff. Have someone check in on you periodically to bring you Gatorade Popsicles and encourage you to spit out blood, even though it feels gross and monster-y. If you like that style of confusion but don’t want quite so much darkness, try Fringe.
If you prefer a a calmer experience, go nature. Planet Earth is maybe too obvious, but there’s also Cosmos (old and new), The Blue Planet, Ken Burns’s National Parks series, or any of the hundreds of animal/wilderness documentaries on Netflix. If you want calm, but also emotional, anything Wallace and Gromit will do the trick. Gavin & Stacey also works, plus you can brush up on your James Corden before he takes over for Craig Ferguson. If you want not-too-intense, but still totally interesting, Long Way Round and Long Way Down are fantastic — Ewan McGregor and his bestie ride motorcycles around the world, and are delightful and compelling the whole time. Adventure!
Perhaps you are not that into taking medication, so you’ll be taking just the smallest amount to take the edge off, but you’ll still be pretty sharp, cognition-wise. If that’s the case, watch Chuck. Chuck is so good! Why don’t people love Chuck more? Get yourself into Chuck. Catch up on Arrow. Terriers. The 4400. Bored to Death. This isn’t like any of the other shows I’ve suggested so far, but: Ugly Betty. Smart, funny, wonderful to look at, campy, and so endearing your heart might melt.
Finally, this is just a well-earned suggestion and not a TV recommendation, but after you get those wisdom teeth out, wait way longer than you think you need to to eat popcorn again. When you think you’re ready, wait another month. Ask me how I know.