Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
What’s a good show to watch to mend a broken heart? —Rae
Aw, peach, I am sorry to hear you are going through a lovelorn time. As is the Stay Tuned mantra, though: TV is here for you. For us! For everyone.
One thing to think about is what heartbreak phase you’re in right now. As I see it, there are three phases to a breakup: The first is shock and embarrassment. What am I gonna tell people? But things were going well! How could I be so wrong about stuff? This is the shortest, most manageable phase, because no one stays stunned for very long. If you are in this phase, it means the heartbreak just occurred, so what you need are the basics. For me, that’s probably going to be Sports Night and West Wing, Friends, ER, Gilmore Girls, Everwood, Melrose Place, Veronica Mars, Grey’s Anatomy, or Wonderfalls — shows I’ve seen dozens (and dozens) of times. The goal here is comfort and stability, but you’re not watching for content so much as consistency, so don’t worry about picking a gloomy show. If your favorite show is The Sopranos, now’s a good time to rewatch The Sopranos.
Phase two is changing day-to-day habits. We always went to trivia together on Tuesdays, but now what do I do? We used to send each other silly dog GIFs all day, but now I have no one to send them to! [Send them to me! email@example.com!] I automatically look for his name in my Gchat box, just out of muscle memory. This phase sucks, but luckily, TV is the answer. (Other people will say exercise is the answer? That’s fine, too.) Now is the phase where you need an insanely exciting, propulsive show to pour yourself into. This show is your new everything! Instead of looking for dog GIFs, now you look for GIFs about this show. Don’t worry about nailing down a brand-new social routine: For now, your social routine is watching this show. Go for something crazy addictive, maybe a show you’ve meant to watch but have never gotten around to. The first season or two of 24 is excellent for these purposes. (If you haven’t seen it before. It’s still okay if you have, but the goal here is total new-show immersion.) That feel of “aaaah, gotta watch one more!” is what we’re going for. Season one of Lost, certainly. The Wire will not let you down. The Shield is addictive, too. Buffy, depending on how you feel about encountering other people’s love and romance. Can you handle scary things? Luther is not a show I’d typically recommend to watch alone, but I think it’d be worth it here. Alias if you want something a little cornier. Have you been waiting to watch Twin Peaks? Do it now. Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones. Scandal (again, if you feel like you can watch other people claim to be in love). Rome. Sherlock. On the slightly lighter side of things, Orange Is the New Black, Chuck, the little-seen but totally delightful Reaper. Shameless, both the British original and the U.S. version, will suck you right in. Firefly. The 4400. Man, I loved that show.
And that brings us to phase three, which is the hardest phase, generally, and that’s changing thought patterns. I think of this as the “Busby Berkeley Dreams” phase, as articulated by the Magnetic Fields. “I should have forgotten you long ago / but you’re in every song I know,” and “We still dance on whirling stages / in my Busby Berkeley dreams.” They’re still in my head! Everything reminds me of them! We always said we were going to go kayaking, and we never did! Will I ever even kayak?? This phase lasts the longest because it can be so amorphous. You can stop going to her improv shows and stuff, but you can’t really stop thinking about the future, you know? In this phase, everything conjures this lost person. Oh, that character lives in an apartment? My ex lived in an apartment; maybe it’s a sign. At this point, you are back to leading an outwardly normal life, so these shows are in addition to, not instead of, your regular viewing habits. Now it’s time to add in weird, unrelated-to-your-life, obscure shows.
You seek Circus, a PBS documentary series from 2010. (It’s streaming on Amazon.) I love this show so damn much! It’s about the Big Apple Circus, and unless you are circus-adjacent in your regular life, it’s going to be pretty hard for something on this show to remind you of your ex. PBS documentaries in general are your friend in this phase. Was your ex an educator? If not, watch something about a struggling school, like 180 Days. (Streaming on Netflix.) Anything about dog training or British estate oversight is also a safe bet.
Watch Alpha House on Amazon, which is a mostly decent political comedy that basically no one watches, so the odds of your ex mentioning anything having to do with it are very, very small. Watch the British House of Cards. Watch teen shows like Make It or Break It, which is about elite gymnasts, or Life Unexpected, which is about a teenager trying to find her birth parents. Dig up some episodes of Picket Fences and keep an eye out for a Michelle Pfeiffer cameo. You’re expanding your horizons, paying attention to things you maybe didn’t pay attention to before. In your quest to seek out the unusual and unheralded, maybe something unusual and unheralded inside you will be awakened, and then, before you know it, this heartbreak process has turned into something else. Take a look at yourself, caterpillar! You’re a beautiful butterfly now, and it’s time to fly to the next garden.
Wine works, too.