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, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
Is there something wrong with me for hating George Costanza but loving Larry David? I’ve been told that they are both basically the same character, but something about George (or maybe Jason Alexander’s portrayal of him) drives me bonkers. For the longest time, I used to avoid Seinfeld entirely, but now I just avoid most of the George-centric episodes. On the other hand, I absolutely love Curb Your Enthusiasm. Is it just the fact that Larry was allowed to be more crude on cable that makes him more likable to me? —Amanda
I wonder if maybe your tastes are affected by the perceived smartness of the two characters. Larry strikes me as better educated than George, more informed about the world, maybe. More likely to read. Sharper.
I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with you, though sure, you’re an unusual specimen. But that’s how taste works, right? It’s a tough thing to predict, which is why Netflix and Amazon are always begging you to rate things — no if you like this, you might like that (or its flip, if you hate this, you’ll also hate that) is bullet-proof. There are people out there who love The Wire but hate Homicide, or like Sports Night but not West Wing. How do people live? I have no idea. One time I saw a teen girl take out her male companion’s contact lens while we were on a bus. Don’t try to make order of the world, Amanda.
I’m on season three of Gilmore Girls and while I’ve been lucky to find some people online to chat with about it, it’s been a job and a half trying to search for fanfiction or GIFs without getting spoiled. Is there a way to balance my allergy to spoilers with my fangirl tendency to want to do a deep dive on the episodes? Is there some spoiler-free fandom bunker I should know about? —Blair
You seek the old Television Without Pity recaps, friend. This is true for GG and just about any other show from the 2000s that you might be poking through. NBC claimed the TWoP archives would stay online, but none of the recaps work past the first page. This is a travesty. Luckily, the recaps are also archived on Brilliant But Cancelled — which frustratingly redirects to the defunct TWoP site unless you go directly to the “shows” index. Behold! All the recaps of yore! (You’ll have to avert your eyes from the brief episode descriptions for the eps you haven’t seen, but that’s pretty damn easy.) I recently relied on these archives for Joan of Arcadia, Alias, a 7th Heaven whose details I couldn’t remember, America’s Next Top Model, Wonderfalls, and Heroes, and that’s just in the last month or so. In addition to being a glorious fan resource — yes, I also hate that haircut; oh yay, a funny nickname for this annoying character — many of the TWoP recaps are the easiest-to-access record of what actually happened on a given episode of a show. Both personally and professionally I find this archive to be hugely important.
A lot of shows are set in the same places (cops, lawyers, doctors, suburban family rooms). What is a setting/profession that you think is ripe for potential? —Steve
I say this with the caveat that some shows have existed within these professions and settings, but here are 50 areas I think are underrepresented:
- A school. No idea why there aren’t more shows set within elementary, middle, or high schools. Boston Public ended so many years ago.
- Restaurants. Seems like a gimme.
- Libraries. Look at the list of upcoming events at your local library. That could be a whole show!
- The U.N. What if two people fell in love????
- A fictional cult. It’s inherently high-stakes, and it seems like such a rich way to explore ideas of identity, child-rearing, an enduring self, alienation from families of origin, violence, sex — everything.
- A labor union. Good chance to set a show in an underrepresented geographic area, too.
- A theater company. Or just a Broadway-set show.
- A high-school softball team. Don’t scoff — you watched Friday Night Lights.
- A string quartet. What if they have to play weddings all the time to make ends meet, but the cellist and violinist recently got divorced, so it’s stressful and ironic?
- A marching band. Drumline is a good movie.
- A faux Humans of New York–type photographer. It could be a sprawling anthology series, where each episode includes a little of him or her, and a little about that week’s photographic subject.
- A research lab. Maybe someone has been accused of fabricating a result?
- Veterinary hospital. Still a doctor show (my fave) but with different ideas to explore.
- NASA. So many space movies. So few non-sci-fi space TV shows.
- A submarine. Or an aircraft carrier or something. The PBS documentary series Carrier aired in 2008, and I still think about it all the time.
- A present-day farm. Do you want to know how many goat blogs I read? It’s a lot.
- An olden-day farm. What were the goats like before their blogs????
- A historical-reenactment facility like Plymouth Plantation. Just seems like a funny setting. This could be a comedy or a drama.
- A throng of miserable Ph.D. candidates. Maybe the show itself is set at the campus bar where they tend to congregate.
- Barbershop quartet/Sweet Adeline quartet singers. Why not?
- Urban planning. This could also teach America what urban planning is.
- Archaeologists. And not the Indiana Jones jazzy kind. Though maybe that kind, too.
- Divorce mediator. Perhaps he or she secretly tries to get some of the couples to fall back in love?
- A gym. Or a spin class or a Pilates studio or anything along those lines. Comedy or drama.
- Doggie day care. What if all the dogs featured in the episode were secretly rescue dogs people could adopt afterward?
- Business school. I want to know how the rich live.
- A low-income women’s health center. I want the rich to know how other people live.
- Figure skaters. So many ways to go with this. Crazy-bananas soap would be my preference, though.
- Olympic village. Every season would cover a different Olympics. Maybe season one is the 1984 Los Angeles games, and everyone’s talking about the boycott. Season two could be 1968 in Mexico City. Season three, Sydney in 2000. New characters every year — though maybe with a few Easter eggs of broadcasters, long-term coaches, and IOC executives.
- Furniture restoration. Small family business, could be a quaint, beachy drama on the Hallmark Channel or something. With the Grain? Just spitballing.
- Summer camp. Amazed there are not more teen dramas set at camps. Amazed and devastated.
- A small-town newspaper that keeps itself afloat despite plummeting ad dollars by selling its publishers beloved homemade ice cream. Called Scoops. Long way to go for a “scoops” joke, but I did it.
- A fictionalized Shark Tank. I’m envisioning a lot of sniping.
- A museum. Natural history museum? Contemporary art museum? Sitcom? Drama? All on the table.
- A bookstore. Ideally a specialty bookstore of some kind, just for the specifics.
- A dollhouse miniatures store. You ever fall down an internet k-hole and suddenly are this close to buying one-twelfth replicas of mid-century furniture to design a pretend house? Then we have a lot in common, and we could make a show.
- Movers. Multi-cam sitcom or naughty FXX comedy about what happens when you see other people’s stuff all day, every day, on their most stressed-out days.
- Shakers. The religion/furniture. I like furniture! Sue me.
- A rabbi. Mostly I just want Kathryn Hahn’s character from Transparent to have her own show.
- A convent. Lifetime had a medico reality show about would-be nuns last year, and while the show often grated, all of the profiled actual nuns were unbelievably rad. Think Orange Is the New Black, but with no sex and more praying.
- A grocery store. Why not?
- An occupational therapist. Maybe a whole practice? Occupied?
- Behind-the-scenes at faux Sesame Street. Again, could be a fun or bitter comedy, but I’d love an almost Sorkin-esque drama take.
- NPR. Or a fake NPR, à la Parks and Recreation.
- A Mormon mommy blogger. Is her life as charming and composed as her Pinterest board indicates? Nope!
- An autobiographical cartoonist. Maybe someone successful, but maybe not.
- An AA meeting. And every week we learn more about a different participant.
- Starbucks. Or “Pequods” or some stand-in. Think Party Down, but at a coffee place.
- An improv theater/team. You’re the Worst and BoJack Horseman both poked fun at improv in recent months, so why not go harder at it?
- A makeup artist. Who is actually part of the witness-protection program, and the show is called Made Up.
How do you feel about TV shows announcing that a major character is going to die long before it happens? On Arrow, the season premiere jumped six months ahead to reveal Oliver standing in front of a grave, looking destroyed. Not as definitively, the How to Get Away With Murder premiere had Annalise getting shot two months in the future. I’ve obviously seen shows announce a death in the past and then chump out (looking at you, Daniel on Revenge season one). Charlie on Lost is (maybe) a good example of a show effectively telling us that someone is going to die long before it happens. I’m not really talking about subtle foreshadowing, just, like, straight-up showing us a bleeding, limp body or telling us, “He will die.” What do you think about this plot device on a show? Is it fun? Cheap? Or, like most things, does it depend? —Sarah
Yeah, it depends. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to prepare yourself for a character death, and sometimes it’s fun when you know a show is tricking you and it’s not clear how they’re going to pull it off. I think this device — like any other — is only frustrating when you know you can’t trust the show to be clever about it or to have narrative integrity. Is there reason to believe the show knows where it’s going and how it’s getting there, or is this one of those “be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid” kind of things, where the show is somehow going to noodle its way to that death? When it seems like noodling, that’s when I get twitchy.