Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about how to live your best TV life. To submit your own questions, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
At what point is someone too invested in a TV show? It’s been 24 hours since I watched the Outlander finale, and I am still very concerned about Jamie and Claire’s marriage. I keep replaying parts of it in my head and thinking about where Claire went wrong. (Side note: I’ve done this with one other show, Revenge. I have all the answers, Emily!) Do other people have coping mechanisms to let these characters go make their own bad choices? —Kelly
Are you too invested? Well, is it taking over your life in unpleasant ways? Is it ruining once-pleasurable activities, such as other shows? Are you having intrusive or unwanted persistent thoughts? Are you canceling social or professional obligations because of time you’re devoting to the show? If the answer to these is yes, I think maybe your current situation requires more help and expertise than Stay Tuned is really able to provide.
But let’s assume that you are not in crisis, but are merely curious about having a healthy relationship with TV.
Is this actually bothering you, or are you just embarrassed?
Do you actually want to stop caring, or do you want validation that it’s okay to keep caring? You hereby have my permission to keep caring about TV shows. I still think about how bad a doctor Michael Mancini was on Melrose Place or wonder if there was a way Carter could have saved Lucy on ER. (There is, right? She could have lived!) I like thinking that somewhere in the TV ether, all my favorite TV shrinks could hang out together: Dr. Pavone from Felicity, Paul from In Treatment, Dr. Tom from Being Erica, and Frasier could really share some important ideas together. When I hear people get swoony about Chris Messina, I think, I know him from when he was Claire’s Republican boyfriend on Six Feet Under. I guess I could be embarrassed about these things, or by the custom-made Lost sweatshirt I still wear around my home, or that I listen to the Cher version of “Walking in Memphis” on an extremely regular basis because it reminds me of my favorite moment from The X-Files, and that brings me joy. Being ashamed would only punish me! The world is punishing enough without feeling bad about my theory that Mokey the Fraggle and Phoebe Buffay have the same spirit.
So phase one is just to sit with these feelings, and let yourself experience those thoughts without being consumed by them. Fighting them makes their grip stronger; go with it, and then let go with it.
But if these fixations really are bothering you, then there are two other things to think about:
Do you have enough other shows?
Please tell me you’re watching more than just Outlander and Revenge here. I’m convinced part of why the final three seasons of Breaking Bad were able to provoke such intense fan scrutiny was that they aired in the summer, when nothing else was on. I’m not saying it’s not good; trust, I love BB and spent many, many hours thinking and writing about it. But at a certain point, your investment in a TV show will fill up whatever available space there is. If you’re only watching few shows, that means each is has a tremendous amount of emotional real-estate. Add in more shows! Add in reality shows, in particular — at least for me, I’m less likely to fixate on the mistakes and missteps of actual people because, hey, life gives you lemons or whatever, let’s make limoncello. You — everyone — should watch MasterChef Junior because it is great, and it’s hard to want to ridicule children. (I mean, it happens, but keep it to yourself.) You should watch the web series city.ballet, which is about ballet dancers, because it’s thrilling. This season of Ink Master is an amazing collection of true garbage humans doing mostly bad tattoos, and it can serve as a helpful vessel for your frustrations. The Chair, Starz’s contest show between two first-time movie directors, is a nonstop “what are you doing?!” incredulity factory for me, but I don’t dwell on it because, well, people are how they are. If they’re not your parent, your partner, or your kid, it’s not really your problem.
If you like Revenge and Outlander, you might like The Affair on Showtime, which has the fancy, Hamptons vibe of Revenge (it’s set in Montauk) plus the constant presence of sex. But you’re also supposed to hold many of the characters in ill regard, so that feeling of ugh, she shouldn’t have done that is met on the show with a knowing nod.
Do you only do this with characters?
Do you maybe also fret about people in your life making bad (or bad-to-you) choices? The answer, of course, is not to watch more TV, but to think about what the show can help you accomplish in terms of putting unhelpful habits behind you. Watch Jane the Virgin, which not enough people are doing. It’s a fabulous little show, but it’s an especially good reminder that people often make the right choices for themselves, even if those wouldn’t be the right choices for you; when they don’t, that’s their problem, and our purpose in life isn’t to control one another, it’s to support one another.