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.
So it’s been two years, and I still miss Smash with all of my heart. What shows can fill the gaping void in my soul that its cancellation left? It doesn’t need to be as musical, as overly dramatic, or as both simultaneously brilliant and terrible, but I need a replacement. Please. —Charlie
I’ll be honest, Charlie, you will never find anything quite so amazoterrible as Smash. That was like, its whole thing. It was so terrible! But then the songs were so good! It was so bad and good at the same time.
Okay, now that I write it like that, duh, there is one show: Nashville. The plotlines on that show remain staggeringly awful, even though the music is uniformly terrific, and some of the performances are soapy delights. Other parts, though … oy. For example, every time Scarlett does anything, it’s like watching your cat come home from the vet while still under a little anesthesia. They’re just glaaar-glaaar weird-walking their way around, and you laugh for a second — I mean, just watch her try to drink! — but then you feel sad and ashamed because the cat/Scarlett doesn’t know, and maybe you should help them, huh? Asshole.
If you want an actual good show, though, one that has some of the histrionics associated with performance art, try Slings and Arrows. No singing, but you’ll barely notice because you’ll be so entranced by the goings-on at a quirky Canadian theater company. Slings and Arrows is one of those shows that I’ll be buried with, I love it so.
Should I watch American Horror Story? I’m notoriously scared of everything. I hate horror movies and anything remotely suspenseful. But I like all the actors and respect Ryan Murphy’s work. —Molly
Molly! Dude! No.
I am in the weird position of truly hating scary entertainment and still having to watch American Horror Story so I can write this column, among other things. And as much as I respect aspects of AHS, and as enjoyable and exciting as it can sometimes be, I’ve never finished an episode and thought, Boy, am I glad I watched that. Not because it’s a bad show — it’s not, at least not usually — but because it’s scary. I cannot handle scary stuff. I saw The Exorcist when I was 18 and had to use the coping strategy known as “self talk” to get through the next week. (“I’m okay, movies aren’t real, and Regan isn’t hiding in my room,” I’d say out loud. I was in college.) After I saw The Ring, I had two thoughts: One, my life will never go back to normal, and two, never again. I haven’t purposefully watched a scary movie since then. I saw some of High Tension at a nacho-contest party, and that made it a little more tolerable, but unless you’re going to have a nacho-contest party every week to watch AHS, don’t do this to yourself.
I’m looking for a comedy that doesn’t taste like cotton candy. I didn’t love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because Kimmy always wins. I miss the pacing and world-building of 30 Rock. Broad City and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are over for the season. Maybe I come from a tradition of torturing your characters, but I love that these shows let their characters be helpless and hapless at times to give a little depth. Help! —Erin
A comedy that tortures its characters, you say? The Comeback causes me true, actual pain, but if you can tolerate emotional suffering for the sake of laughter, you’re not gonna do better than that. And if you are comfortable with tremendous sexual shame, lots of episodes of Louie seem to be exactly up your alley.
How do you cope when you return to a beloved TV show and realize that it’s just really, really bad? Like, if you loved that cat-puppet episode of The X-Files and you thought it was amazing and then you watched it years later and were like, “Oh. Oh, wow.” Except, you know, for a whole show. —Rory
You accept that this is a sign of growing up, and pat yourself on the back for being brave enough to experience emotional change. Baby Rory was making the best decisions she knew how to make, and there’s no shame in having been, well, young. You didn’t know then what you know now? Congratulations, that’s how knowing things is supposed to work.
The cost of having loved a terrible show is ultimately pretty low. Of all the kinds of bad decisions we make with our hearts, having loved an unworthy show is nothing. So I really liked American Gothic! I also really liked people who were mean to me, or who in the long run didn’t actually want me to be myself, or who were some variety of chickenshit when I desperately needed them. I regret those likes. I don’t regret Dawson’s Creek or early Family Guy or “Teso Dos Bichos,” though; they made me happy. And knowing that I’m more grown-up now, and that my tastes have evolved, and that I have better crap-radar both for TV and humans makes me happy, too. So when you see a bad show you once loved, be a little proud of yourself. (And use it as a reminder not to be too judgmental about other people’s favorites.)