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 email@example.com, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
I am currently binge-watching Six Feet Under and am loving every second of it. However, due to the morose subject matter, it’s tough to plow through more than two episodes in a day, and I find myself desperately looking for a comedy palate-cleanser after. Like steak and red wine, I feel like there has to be a comedy out there that pairs well with it. What goes well with SFU, and what are some other good “pairings”? —Robbie
Welcome to the Six Feet Under club, Robbie. We are happy to have you. And while I agree that the show isn’t particularly marathon-worthy on account of how sad it can be, I’d encourage you not to temper that sadness, but to revel in it. There are only 63 episodes of Six Feet Under, which, at your rate, is about a month of watching. If you spend a month making end-of-life directives (even young people should have wills, I’m told!), thinking about what role you play in your family, what you’d want your legacy to be, and how you have or haven’t lived the life you wanted … you’ll probably have a pretty life-improving month. I don’t want you to spend all your time feeling blue, but feeling sad about sad things — and lo, SFU has plenty — seems healthy to me.
So the show I’m recommending to pair with SFU is still sad, though in totally different ways. You should pair Party Down with Six Feet Under to help you experience the richness of both shows.
Party Down aired on Starz in 2009 and ‘10, and starred Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino, Ryan Hansen, Martin Starr, Jane Lynch (in season one), and Megan Mullally (in season two). It’s set at a not-very-good catering company staffed by aspiring actors, comedians, and writers, and our hero Henry (Scott) has dejectedly returned to catering after starring in a string of popular beer commercials. Henry’s incredibly depressed. Casey (Caplan), a comedian, is also pretty depressed. Roman (Starr), mostly focused on writing “hard sci-fi,” is 90 percent repressed rage and 10 percent not repressed rage. Ron (Marino), their terrible boss, is a marginally recovering addict prone to personal crises. The volume of self-loathing on the show is tremendous, and matched only by the characters’ loathing for the people whose parties they’re working. It’s incredibly funny and smart and special, and every time I watch it, I like it even more. Like SFU, each episode has a slightly different focus, depending on which party (or funeral) is the backdrop; Nate and David and Rico are at the funeral but they’re not mourning, just like the Party Down employees are at the party but they’re not celebrating. There’s something very alienating about occupying that here-but-not-part-of-it space, and that sense of “where do I belong belong?” permeates both shows. There are only 20 Party Downs, so dole them out judiciously.
Some show pairings are even more similar. Broad City and Bored to Death make for a very satisfying New York stoner one-two punch; they’re both about oddballs, they both feature lots of moments of panic, and they both paint a very loving portrait of what it’s like to find your people. The shows are tonally and aesthetically very different — Broad is wild and messy, and Bored is extremely buttoned-up — but when viewed together, the vulnerability of the characters and the degree to which they rely on each other becomes more apparent. Let’s love love, everyone.
In that vein, Enlightened and Better Off Ted are another two great tastes that taste great. They both turn a skeptical eye to bullshit corporate culture, both have a soft spot for nebbishes, and both admire their characters’ senses of hope. Pair Parks and Recreation with Bob’s Burgers and bliss out on the earnestness.
If you’ve been chugging down Lost episodes and need a little bit of a break, try Scrubs. It’s a slightly different narrative about a brown-haired doctor trying to cope with mortality, antagonized by someone who enjoys put-down nicknames, plus lots of flashbacks. I kid, sort of, but the shows work together because pairing them emphasizes how much both shows are about effort. There’s also plenty of “I behave this way because of my dad.”
Finally, If you’re looking for a pairing that’s even more disparate, try Twin Peaks and Gossip Girl. Stylish teens everywhere! These two shows are opposite as can be in most ways, but watched back-to-back (or alternating between the two), you start to notice how aggressively both shows build up their detailed worlds, and how urgently the characters fulfill their social roles. You’re a freshman, you sit there; you’re a terrifying nightmare hobo, you sit there. XOXO, Log Lady.