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What Are the Stages of TV Grief? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: NBC, Showtime and HBO
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Photo: NBC, Showtime and HBO

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons will answer your questions about all of your television-adjacent issues and emotions. To submit your own questions, you can email, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

My husband and I spent the last three years slowly going through all 11 seasons of Cheers and we are now sadly at the end. It was the perfect show for us to put on after watching some heavier episode of something like Breaking Bad, when we wanted to go to bed on a lighter note (like a palate cleanser). Now that we are done, do you recommend anything similar? Is Frasier worth it? —Claire

Three years! That is an incredible feat, to diligently catch up on a show for that long. Truly, I am amazed, and I encourage all Stay Tuned readers to congratulate you on this extraordinary TV adventure. For your commitment to one of the best sitcoms ever, no matter how long it took, I award you this Stay Tuned Medal of TV Honor.

Yes, Frasier is worth it.

While I relate to fellow millennials who feel entitled to watch every TV show in existence at any given time, I had an awkward interaction with a friend recently when he asked for one of my streaming logins. As a person who is proud to pay for her own Netflix subscription instead of piggybacking on someone’s parents’, how can I tell my friends that they should get their own damn accounts? Besides, isn’t sharing logins kind of like piracy nowadays, considering it deprives the content producers of the profits they’re entitled to? —Lauren

One of the wonderful perks about being a grown-up is you don’t have to share shit you don’t want to share. “Can I borrow that black dress?” “Actually, sorry, I have a ‘do not lend out clothing’ policy based on a few bad experiences.” Mom cannot intervene and insist you let her wear it because “she’s not going to use it up.” If someone wants to use your password, and you’d rather not give it to them, don’t give it to them. Simple as that! You don’t need a better reason than “I don’t want to.” Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black, Transparent — terrific shows. But there’s no fundamental right to watch them, and the suffering caused by not watching them is not significant enough to obligate others to pitch in and help.

If you decide to share passwords, though, please — for the love of all that is internet — make sure that you are not using the same passwords for multiple sites. Also I think your friend is presumptuous and kind of rude, and you should deny him passwords based on that alone.

How do I move on from TV season disappointment — i.e., when a show dips in quality and writing after a great first season/few seasons (e.g., Once Upon a Time, Homeland, Masters of Sex, American Horror Story: Coven, Scandal)? Is there a TV equivalent of the “five stages of grief,” eventually leading to acceptance, or is it something you just get over with time? —Elizabeth

The Kübler-Ross stages of grief apply pretty easily to the mourning that happens when a show is abruptly, unfairly, or prematurely canceled. Shows that reach an acceptable natural conclusion can also cause feelings of loss, though typically those feelings dissipate quickly — to love a show is to know that someday it will be gone.

But Elizabeth is asking about a show that goes south, a once-great series that starts to falter, and that does indeed elicit its own kind of grieving process. These are the stages:

1. Denial. No one likes to think his or her favorite show is struggling, so the far easier and preferable mindset is to deny it, to insist the show is fine, and to dismiss suggestions that it’s not what it used to be. I don’t know, I think the Greg Grunberg character might still be relevant to the rest of Masters and Johnson’s research.
2. Frustration. It’s starting to sink in. If I hear them say “true love” one more time on OUAT, I’m gonna crawl through this TV and murder everyone, like it’s The Ring in reverse.
3. Searching. Maybe there’s another show that can scratch the same itch? Hm … Penny Dreadful is supposed to be scarier than any of this witch stuff.
4. Abandonment. At some point, we give up and just stop watching. This is difficult, but pivotal. Honestly, I don’t even care what Fitz and Olivia are doing anymore.
5. Resignation. One of two things happens after abandonment: Either you don’t miss the show, in which case you have successfully freed yourself from a TV burden, or you do miss it, and you return to it with a set of lowered expectations. Either way, you’ve reconciled the battling forces within you, and resigned yourself to your new fate. I stopped watching after Brody went to that squatter apartment in Caracas, and I haven’t thought about it since. Or I just watch for the Sol parts these days, really.

Many of us stop at frustration: We stick with show that’s driving us crazy, and that eventually saps the joy out of everything. If we’re going to be just a tiny bit Freudian — and we are! — this is sort of the difference between mourning and melancholia. (This isn’t going to get into subjectivity/”object-libido” stuff. Maybe next week.) Mourning processes come to an end, but melancholia is perpetual, and the big difference is in how specific the aggrieved can be about what has been lost. Mourning, which in this case is the better, healthier option, can only occur when we recognize not only that we’ve lost but what that loss encompasses. It’s not just that Homeland started to suck, it’s that the show stopped articulating our anxiety about living in a surveillance state and stopped its aggressive storytelling. It’s easier of me to move on knowing exactly what’s missing, instead of having just a vague, fuzzy sense of defeat.

But let’s not get too caught up in our mourning periods. No matter how crappy a show gets, those early glory days still exist. You can go back and watch How I Met Your Mother’s first few seasons as many times as you want, and Ted and Robin and everyone will be just as you remembered, just as happy and bright and funny as you wish they’d stayed. TV shows are not people. You can go home again. They don’t just live on in your memories; it’s still right there for you to visit whenever you like. Cheer up, friend.

What Are the Stages of TV Grief?