stay tuned

What Shows Can’t Be Binged? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: Comedy Central, HBO and NBC

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, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

How will society go on without [Jon Stewart]? —@JonDying

I hate to be the one to tell you this, Jon, but society is terrible, and the presence or not of Jon Stewart barely moves the needle. But how will you go on? How will I? With this knowledge: Everyone always has. And in this case, we have a very clear model of what it will be like, because Jon Stewart is my (our?) Johnny Carson.

There’s an episode of My So-Called Life where Patty watches a snippet of Jay Leno hosting The Tonight Show and laments that she still misses “Johnny.” I remember the first time I saw that episode, thinking, Jeez, still? (I was a kid, but this sticks with me for some reason.) I find a lot of the Carson deification kind of baffling, especially when he’s invoked in present-day analyses of The Tonight Show. He isn’t my touchstone; I am of course aware that he is an icon, but he’s not my icon. But I get now. Jon Stewart didn’t create The Daily Show, but he did define it, and for 17 years — forever in TV time, but also forever in Margaret time.

Many years from now, with many iterations of TDS behind us, we’ll still have Stewart’s legacy, and we’ll still revere him and use his work as a gold standard. We still have plenty of satire and media criticism and savvy political commentary. I’m not worried about the health of the Daily Show as industry. I’ll just miss Jon Stewart a lot. Also, remember that change is Satan.

I want to watch a great show that I can’t binge on. Help. —G.E.

As always, here at Stay Tuned, we prefer marathon to binge. But to answer your question, there are lots of terrific shows that are better doled out one or a few at a time. No. 1 is Black Mirror, and I can’t emphasize enough how much watching all six in a row will mess you up. It’s a fantastic show, and I urge you to watch it … as slowly as possible. Same goes for Top of the Lake and Rectify, shows that are so beautiful and perfect but also very comfortable with the absolute worst aspects of human life. These shows can be genuinely disturbing. Immersive, yes, but immersing you in a really horrible, scary, sad, violent, rape-y world. Gaaah.

On a much lighter note, Downton Abbey does not hold up in marathon sessions, either. Downton’s fun, but if you watch more than two in a sitting, it becomes clear that nothing of lasting consequence is ever happening. Even when people die, things go right back to normal … immediately.

I’d also say Girls is not a marathon show. I love Girls, madly and often, but I crash-watched ten episodes in a day last week (for a story! for work!) and afterwards I felt completely awful. My family had a miniature collie when I was growing up, and one time he managed to pull an entire box of cinnamon buns off the counter. He ate the whole thing, and when we got home, we found him laying on his side on the floor, snout victoriously covered in cinnamon glaze and icing, but belly so full of yeasty dough his legs didn’t touch. He looked like a furry, broken concertina, all bloated and panting and laying desperately next to his now-empty water bowl. (Fear not, he was fine.) That’s how I felt after watching ten episodes of Girls. Just wrong all over, and thirsty.

The news of Chuck Bartowski (uh, I mean Zachary Levi) being tapped to helm the new Heroes reboot fills me with equal parts elation and dread. Heroes burned me big time. So much promise! So much clusterfuzzle after season one. If this were a relationship, I’d tell a friend to proceed with caution and not to let trust issues get in the way of a possible happy ending. But … am I justified in having trust issues about Heroes? Any reason to believe this time will end in happily ever after? —Jenn

Oh my God, fuck Heroes. There is no reason to believe at all that a rebooted Heroes will somehow be amazing. The actual boot of Heroes crapped the bed so spectacularly I still can’t quite wrap my brain around it, and I loved and treasured that show. How could you not have trust issues around Heroes? Who wouldn’t? If this were a relationship, I wouldn’t advise you to be cautious while crossing my fingers for you and hoping things work out. I’d strongly encourage you to go to therapy and get to the bottom of why you don’t trust your own instincts, and why wishful thinking has such a hold on you, and why your desire for things to be different has more power in your life than the evidence that things are not. I am that friend. I will watch new Heroes because it’s my job, and I will go in with hope in my heart, but my expectations are set to zero.

Every year I feel like there is a new show whose pilot season I am SO stoked for, and yet it always seems to let me down after the first few episodes. This year that show was Gotham. But after reading countless columns and reviews, everyone seems to love the show! Is Gotham worth revisiting? What other new shows from this past year are worth paying another visit to that may not have been so hot at first? —Ann Louise

I don’t like Gotham, and I’ve earnestly tried several times. It’s just so spiritless! I don’t get it. If you’re looking for my blessing to move on, this is it.

As for new shows that picked up steam, HBO’s Togetherness started out as just so-so for me but developed into a show I like a lot, with characters I care about far more than I expected to. (In general, “trapped in a marriage” stories don’t do it for me, but this thankfully blossomed into more of an ensemble.) The CW’s The 100 was okay at the beginning and then went nuts, throwing every possible plot and story line out there, and now the show’s a blast. Jane the Virgin came out of the gate strong and if anything has just gotten better, so it doesn’t meet the “started not-so-hot” model, but I get the feeling a lot of people either missed it or simply skipped it — and that is a mistake that should be rectified immediately.

What Shows Can’t Be Binged?