stay tuned

How Do I Deal With So Many Shows? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: ABC, USA and WB

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers whatever TV questions are weighing on your heart. Well, your TV heart, anyway. To submit your own questions, you can email, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

Looking at the fall TV schedule and knowing I’m still not caught up on shows from last season, I’m already overwhelmed. How do you prioritize? Is there just too much TV? How do you watch it all? —TA

You don’t watch it all. You can’t! No one can. I can’t, and it’s my job to try. You prioritize it the way you prioritize reading books, or watching movies, or trying recipes. It’s “too much” in the sense that no one person could possibly watch all of it, but no one person can eat at every restaurant or see every painting or hear every song. Of course there’s too much TV. That’s good.

And I want more. Not just longer seasons, ideally, but more shows about women. More shows about people of color. Queer people. People who use wheelchairs. How about shows written and directed by people in marginalized classes? Do we have too many of those? Hell, no, we do not. Do we have too many bizarre, sensationalized violent-crime shows on garbage channels? Yeah, for my taste, but someone out there wants to watch both Evil Kin and Blood Relatives on ID, even though they are the exact same show and also horrendous. Shine on, you marvelous weirdo.

The feeling of “too much” is often a feeling of disconnection because part of this massive increase in the amount of programming is the erosion of the expectation that any two people watch the same series. We’re not all watching Survivor or whatever anymore, so elevator chitchat is, I guess, more difficult (I am a sullen and silent elevator rider, so I don’t know). We’ve lost TV as a general option for ingroup/outgroup signaling: There’s no one set of TV habits that seem “normal” now, and no one set of shows that can serve as cues about who and how you are — both in terms of popular, mainstream shows serving as gathering points, but also fringe or cult shows feeling like secret clubhouses.

Your plan of attack for the fall is just to jump in with the new shows. Catch up on returning favorites if you want, but your TV schedule is not supposed to stress you out. Maybe just declare TV bankruptcy and start anew?

I’ve just started watching Alias for the first time, and while I am totally loving it (up to the beginning of season two so far), there have been several instances where I’ve been distracted by the fact that Sydney goes into dangerous situations without a gun, unlike her numerous male counterparts. I’m personally very anti-gun, but I find it pretty sexist that a woman, as kickass as she is, isn’t given every protection that her male colleagues are when entering a dangerous situation. My friend who grew up watching Alias, Buffy, and Dark Angel, among other similar shows, argues that it’s an empowering trope and that these leading ladies are just too awesome to need a gun. What do you think? Is it sexist not to give Sydney a gun? Or is it empowering? —Amanda

Oy, are those my only two choices? It’s neither: It’s narratively helpful. And it’s cool! It’s like Indiana Jones — yeah, he uses a gun once in a while, but it’s way more fun to watch him whip stuff.

And to be clear, over the course of Alias, Sydney uses guns a lot. Like, a ton. If you don’t want to spoil yourself, don’t click this, but here is a list of “Kills by Sydney Bristow,” and about 60 percent are with guns.

The reason Sydney doesn’t use guns as much in season one is that guns are not super-easy to tell a story with. When we see Sydney’s hand-to-hand combat skills, the way she improvises weapons based on what’s around her, her dexterity with rigging explosives — we learn stuff about her and her talents and the depth of her knowledge. We also see her emotional endurance, those moments in the fight where she thinks, Oof, I am tired … and yet I battle on! and then we love her. Once we get onboard with Sydney, then the gunplay starts making more story sense; we have access to Sydney’s interior life in other ways as the show progresses.

As for Buffy, I always assumed it was that guns are not particularly mythological. Demons, vampires, dragons, a She-Mantis: Do you picture those creatures with guns? I don’t. The iconography is all swords and pitchforks and crossbows and whatnot. I don’t picture Satan lording over hell with a rifle in his hands. (Again, firearms are present in the Buffyverse, so this is just in general.)

Finally, re: Dark Angel: I … have never watched Dark Angel, and I’m never going to.

My question regards Suits, which, for reasons I don’t quite understand, I started watching this season. So far, two of the major story threads involve:

  • Two wealthy, powerful white dudes trading a female subordinate back and forth like property while also talking about her as if she is literally magical, and
  • One of these same wealthy white dudes being threatened with losing some small percentage of his exorbitant compensation to some kind of pay-equity scheme (about which we are supposed to be outraged).

This leads me to wonder: Who (besides me) watches Suits? Do people like it? How/why? —Dianne

I watch Suits! I love Suits, but this season — blegh. That show really overestimates how much I care about “the firm” and underestimates how much I care about kissing. I care zero — hard zero — about corporate takeovers and who owns what shit. I care infinity about kissing. Also, they are so mean to Louis, it causes me genuine distress. I always hated on Parks and Rec when they were mean to Jerry, but he didn’t seem to mind. Louis, however, does mind, and yet Harvey is a monster to him. Sometimes Donna is, too.

Here’s what I liked about Suits: It’s sharp, and there’s some solid, Sorkin-lite banter. The characters are all smart. They are all beautifully if impractically dressed. Early on, the show’s ability to weave romantic and professional tension was terrific. There was an edge to it, an energy that made it one of those summer shows you find yourself falling for. And, hey, the show is maybe responsible for the resurgence in popularity of the name Harvey. What a great name! It was ranked 858th in 2011; it’s now 493rd. Thank you, Suits.

Alas, it seems Suits is just out of juice. It’s had a good run, and there’s a sixth season coming (yipes), but it’s burned through its premise and hasn’t figured out a new path. What would happen if everyone found out Mike’s big secret? the show wondered for way, way too long. But the answer was, “It would be fine.” What would happen if Mike and Rachel really got together, ayeeee? the show teased us. And the answer was, “It would be fine.” Okay, what if Donna and Harvey have just more bullshit and never get together, except in a flashback, and even then, boooooo? Guess what: It’s fine.

Everything being fine is not much of a story, and so all the conflict now feels arbitrary and replaceable because it’s not character-driven. I’ll probably stick it out one more season, but at least half of that is because I think we might get a Josh-and-Donna endgame for Harvey and Donna, which is what I want.

Have I answered one of your questions here in Stay Tuned? I’d love to know how things worked out. Send in an update, or any new questions, to

How Do I Deal With So Much TV?