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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
I like The Big Bang Theory. There, I said it. I like plenty of other shows that are deemed “good” by critics and hipsters alike (Mad Men, Masters of Sex, etc.) but still get to listen to the derision of those too cool to like a show with a laugh track created by the same dude who came up with (the admittedly horrendous) Two and a Half Men. Give me some good responses to fire back at those asshats who feel the need to insult Sheldon and his crew. —Rob
Does bazinga not work?
Look, BBT is the most popular comedy on television, so it’s not like you’re part of an obscure or marginalized group. And, as always, I maintain that any energy spent trying to get people to change their minds is energy far better spent trying to get yourself to stop caring what other people think. What do you care what a bunch of “asshats” think?
But you do; I guess we all do about some things. Arguing over funniness is a losing battle, so why not say the things you like about the show? “I like how accurate all the science is.” Or “I like ensemble comedies,” or “I like a traditional sitcom format — it reminds me of the classic sitcoms I grew up with.” Or “I got tired of only watching comedies about rich people.” Or “I like shows that are willing to change.” BBT’s first season was vile, but the show has gotten far gentler over the years; the additions of Amy and Bernadette have largely cured the show’s misogyny, though its racial politics could use some work. (True of lots of television.)
I think a lot of people who crap on BBT haven’t watched it. I actually have watched it; in fact, I’ve seen every episode of The Big Bang Theory. It’s for work, mostly, but I also like opposites-attract, will-they-won’t-they couples. I like shows about people who like each other — though sometimes BBT strays from that, which always bums me out. (If you hate him, stop hanging out, holy God.) Tell people what I tell people: You know, it’s not as bad as you think.
I’m trying to find a show to replace my beloved Desperate Housewives. Ever since that show went off the air, I’m in search of a juicy, unabashed nighttime soap to watch. I already watch Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Wife and love both, but lately, neither one is soapy or melodramatic enough for my taste buds. I grew up watching soaps in both daytime and prime time and loved the zany, over-the-top ridiculousness of shows like Melrose Place, Knot’s Landing, One Life to Live, and Beverly Hills, 90210. Can you please recommend an over-the-top, melodramatic, sudsy treat for me to watch and immerse myself in? It seems that though currently TV offers a lot of quality programming, there is a huge lack of soapy, melodramatic nighttime soaps like the ones I was raised on. The Real Housewives franchise can only fill that void to a degree, and I’m craving a nutty, sudsy scripted soap. Any suggestions? —Ready for a Soap
Empire, for starters. Empire is the clearest answer here, but there are lots of soap and soap-adjacent shows right now. (Though not enough for me or for you.) It’s been canceled, but Revenge — especially early Revenge — might also scratch the itch. Game of Thrones has some of the histrionics you crave, and as it ages, Downton Abbey leans on its soapiness more and more.
Scandal is more a melodrama, but it is often very over-the-top. If you can tolerate scariness, American Horror Story has that go-go-go, everything-everything-everything energy that can make soaps so exciting. (And, perhaps learning from shows like DH, it resets itself every year — no need to drag things out forever.) Jane the Virgin is a telenovela — so it’s much kinder than, say, Melrose Place, but it also has some of those loopy elements.
My friends and I have a weekly TV club, which involves us watching one episode of a show a week and then video-chatting for an hour to discuss it. (We do this primarily to stay in touch with one another but also love the critical discussion.) So far we’ve watched Twin Peaks, Firefly, the original Cosmos, and season one of The Americans. What do you think we should watch next? We’re hoping for a show that provides plenty for us to talk about without getting too dark or grim, as people tend to fall behind or drop out when things get too heavy. Shows that have significant cultural resonance are preferable, as are shows that we won’t be too tempted to binge-watch. Also needs to be about 25 episodes or fewer so we don’t go crazy. —Kayla
You guys should watch My So-Called Life. It’s only 19 episodes, it continues to have substantial cultural resonance, and it is excellent. If some of you watched it years ago in your youths, it’s worth revisiting now, if only to realize how much you relate to Patti these days instead of Angela. (Or Brian. Some of us mostly related to Brian.)
Whenever people look for one-season wonders, I recommend Profit, an eight-episode canceled show from 1996. It’s “dark,” technically, but it’s so out there that it’s not going to weigh on your heart. Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar at full, 100 percent intensity every single second of the show) is a businessman with a very twisted past — and a sociopathic drive to rise to the top of his company. In addition to elaborate corporate machinations and ominous voice-overs, the show also features lots of great mid-’90s descriptions of how the internet works. (“Let me modem that to you” is a personal favorite.) It’s a little soapy, I guess, but that’s one of the things I like about it.
If you want something even shorter than that, go for The Jinx, a six-episode documentary series about a rich guy who seems to keep getting away with murder. If you haven’t watched it yet, don’t Google it — going in cold is definitely the way to watch it. It might be on the grim side for you guys — I mean, people have died, and the documentary footage can be upsetting — but I can’t remember another recent show that elicited so much conversation. Plus, you guys already watched Twin Peaks and The Americans, and those aren’t exactly perky.
Less heavy is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a period drama about magic returning to England in the early 1800s. It’s self-aware and often funny, though the discussion will probably work best if either all of you or none of you have read the books.
Finally, you can’t go wrong with British mini-series. They might not remain as culturally present as other shows, but there are some real gems out there. Brideshead Revisited, from 1981, is a good place to start.
I finally gave in and started watching Homeland. I inhaled season one, and only slightly less so, really enjoyed season two. But I’ve heard from so many places that it gets bad. So do I keep going or just end here? Is it bad as compared to the fantastic early seasons, or just bad? —Lucy
It’s just straight-up bad. But I think you’re probably going to watch it anyway, because it sounds like you really like the show — and it’s hard not to even try to watch additional seasons of something you enjoy. So go ahead and forge on, with the knowledge that as soon as you want to bail, you should bail. There are those who believe season four was a return to form, but those people are wrong. Homeland has been in steep, unabated decline since the end of season one.