Welcome back to “Stay Tuned,” Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about 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.
As a young fan of TV drama, I was scarred by Lost, which killed off numerous likable characters for seemingly no reason and disappointed many who stuck with the show for all six seasons. What are some shows that could remedy my commitment issues, and will come to a satisfying end? — Lydia
Breaking Bad will not let you down. The Shield has as good a finale as any show has ever had, though there are some story lines in the middle I don’t love-love. Southland. Mad Men. Cheers and Frasier stay good the whole time. These are the biggies, which is why I recommend them here so often.
The truth is that shows that are on for a long time often start to falter. And shows with big, central mysteries sometimes only get through a season before hitting major speed bumps because they either drag out the mystery forever, which is convoluted and tedious, or they solve it and have a new mystery, which is never quite as satisfying or significant. Who killed Laura Palmer? Who killed Lily Kane? Why is Ellen Parsons covered in blood? Is the truth out there? Is Michael Scofield gonna break out or what? Are the Cylons going to win? (That’s Twin Peaks, Veronica Mars, Damages, X-Files, Prison Break, and Battlestar Galactica.) Lost has become the stand-in for all shows that have ever stalled out or faltered, and part of that is because it did, but part of that is because hype is a difficult thing to control. The further I get from the frustrations around the show, the easier it is to look back on my time as a Lost super fan and think “you know what, that was fun” instead of “what a waste.” It was fun while it lasted; it didn’t last, but what does?
Well, a few shows last, though almost none are serialized. Jeopardy! is as good as it ever was, and maybe better thanks to some rule changes. Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel has been on for 18 years, and I’ve never seen a bad episode. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart held steady. South Park is in its 19th season, and while mega-fans have their favorites, that show is still hitting as hard as it ever did. There are 244 episodes of Good Eats, with no discernible dip in quality. America’s Test Kitchen — in addition to having the best supporting characters on TV — forges onward, 14 seasons and counting. King of the Hill had 13 terrific seasons. That is a really long time.
The issue is Mad Men. You love it, people everywhere love it, it’s critically acclaimed, etc. I’ve watched the first season, and I wasn’t in love. It’s something that I want to love, but it just hasn’t clicked with me. Maybe your advice is to just give up, but I’m emailing to ask you to convince me to like it. If you had to pick the epitome of its awesomeness, what would it be? — Kat
Mad Men captured my interest and enthusiasm to a degree that no other show ever has, and if I had to pick one reason, it’d be that the show actually withstood the level of scrutiny to which I subjected it. And no other show ever really has, even other great, brilliant shows. Even other shows I love, my other desert-island shows: They have these weak spots, or omissions, or tiny instances of using a cheap trick. Every time a character on Mad Men is shown reading a book, that book is a meaningful reflection of what’s happening in the series. The song choices, the costuming, how many subtle production clues there are about what season it is — everything is in service of the story, and everything is particular and deliberate. Making something excellent is hard, and I like when a show is willing to really bust ass and care about every tiny detail.
But I’ve also had eight years to obsess over it. You’ve only watched one season — and under this weird cultural pressure to find the show inherently thrilling and perfect. That’s a dangerous combo, and one that is of course going to make you feel like you’re not getting something. After this paragraph, stop reading about Mad Men! Come to it on your own terms, without the baggage of what everyone else thinks about it.
I’m seven months pregnant and have decided that I want to watch a great new show as my distraction while I’m in labor. My sister said it worked great for her — she watched almost an entire season of 30 Rock. I’d like to watch something I’ve never seen before, something light and funny, and long enough to potentially get me through 24 hours. Any suggestions? — Erin
This is a Stay Tuned first. People write in to ask about what to watch on maternity leave, or what to watch in the background, or while studying. So congratulations twice over to you, Erin.
Twenty-four hours of a sitcom is going to be about 65 episodes — not an insane number, but one not every show reaches. (I was gonna say Playing House, because it has positive depictions of pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood, but there are only 18 episodes.) I think Raising Hope fits the bill, given that it is lovely, upbeat about child-rearing, and 88 episodes. If you’re on the fence about baby names, you could do a lot worse than the names on this show, too: Hope is familiar but not in the top-100, Sabrina, Virginia, Jimmy, and Burt. Burt! Basically unheard-of for babies today, but it’s so charming. You might also like Greg Garcia’s previous show, My Name Is Earl, though the names are less delightful.
Ugly Betty is also a joy, plus it has the telenovela cliffhangers and momentum that make it really absorbing. Probably not absorbing enough to distract you from being in labor, though. (Betty is a cute name, too! Betty, Hilda, Claire, Daniel, Wilhelmina, Henry, Walter, Molly, Archie? Eeeee.) Skip the season-one finale, though. It is sad.
How about Bob’s Burgers? (Name picks: Louise, Teddy.) 3rd Rock From the Sun might have escaped your viewing in the late ‘90s. I rewatched it a few years ago and was amazed how well it aged. (Sally, Harry, Nina, Solomon.) Finally, Happy Endings is a little too short — only 57 episodes, but that’s still almost 21 hours of watching — but otherwise seems like a good fit. (Jane, Penny.)