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What Are the Grounds for Getting Show Divorced? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: CBS, ABC Family and IFC

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 or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

You write a lot about getting “show divorced.” What are the grounds for show divorces? —  Steph

You can get show divorced for any reason at any time. A show is not a person, and while a show can harm you, you can’t harm it back. As Dear Sugar says, wanting to leave is enough. Remember to avail yourself of the trial separation, and if you don’t miss the show and its affiliated chatter, well, pack its bags and kick it to the curb.

But I still get this question a lot, so let’s go through the various structures that can and ought to result in getting show divorced.

  • The no-fault divorce
    Sometimes you just lose track of a show and are over it. At some point I fell out of love with Portlandia, realized I was a full season behind, and decided to set us both free. Neither of us did anything wrong — I can see sketches here and there and think, “Oh, there’s a universe where we’re still together, but it’s not this universe.” We just grew apart. Modern Family just wears me out these days, and it often seems worse but maybe isn’t really; it’s still itself, I just can’t be bothered anymore. American Horror Story never lied to me, and if anything it’s doing its thing even more than usual. I just can’t anymore. AHS, sit down with me at the kitchen table and let’s have a very weepy conversation about how we’re just making things worse for each other at this point. I’m not mad, you’re not mad, we’re just at the end of the road, here. Happy trails.

Let’s move on to fault divorces.

  • Cruel and inhuman treatment
    If a show starts killing off all the characters you like — and a show where that is not part of its central deal — you can bail. At some point, NYPD Blue and ER both started just constantly killing people and putting our main folks in a state of unrelenting misery and spiritual torture. While both of those shows had decent run-outs at the end, you’re well within your TV rights to bail once a show starts reveling in making you sad. RIP, Sylvia.
  • Abandonment or desertion
    This goes far beyond generalized shark-jumping to the straight-up rejection of premise and betrayal of a show’s one-time deal. For example, Dexter. Once Dexter swerved into incest plot lines, and once Dexter started trying actually to be good versus trying to perform humanness, the show irrevocably changed. (And for the much, much worse.) I agreed to watch a languid serial-killer drama. But that was all.

    This also includes shows that have checked out of the relationship; oh, they’re still “on,” but we both know it’s just going through the motions. Once a show starts churning through its same ideas again and again and again, expecting it to feel new or surprising, you can bail. Ahem, Pretty Little Liars. Our love was so real and so special once! Once Upon a Time has lost and found so many people by now they should just handcuff themselves together.
  • Mental illness
    Let’s not be glib about mental illness in actual human beings. But for TV shows, as entities, let’s define it as a show going completely off the rails and losing sight of its own reality. Say … Glee. Or True Blood.
  • Incarceration
    If a show’s creator or important creative voices are kept from you, then you absolutely have grounds for divorce: non-Harmon Community, non-Sorkin West Wing, non–AS-P Gilmore Girls.
  • Adultery
    Fine, this is where the analogies break down. I don’t know what show adultery entails.

As always, television is better than a human, because you can revoke a show divorce with no issues whatsoever. I got show divorced from Grey’s Anatomy in season six but came back in season seven, and we’re still together now! I won’t say we’ve never been happier, but things are good. I’m glad we worked through our issues.

After never seeing an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I watched a random episode from the second season recently and now I’m hooked and I want to keep watching. My question is, do I need to go back and watch all of the episodes that came before it? I just want to keep going and see what happens from this point on. I don’t think I really care about going back to see what happened before. Is it important to the story? Other than missing important plot details, would I be missing any just good episodes? — Katelyn

I think you’ll be fine. Yes, you will miss some framing mythology, and yes, you will miss some good episodes. But what you’re gaining is a perfect rewatch down the line. Go forth from wherever you are. Buffy fans never go more than a few years without a full rewatch — prepare yourself for your new life, Katelyn! — and your eventual rewatch now has a fun set of treats attached to it. First, some genuine new-to-you episodes! That’s the dream! And second, the show will be recontextualized in a few ways as you go through it the next time.

There are a lot of shows where not starting at episode one is actually way better. The first Degrassi: TNG episodes I watched were when Ashley was goth. Imagine my delight and surprise to discover she had not always been goth! That was glorious.

Why don’t more people watch RuPaul’s Drag Race? I know drag is somewhat of a lost art to the masses, but with all the forward momentum lately for us gays, and with people being more open-minded about abolishing the gender binary, I’d have thought the show would be bigger than it is. — Tom

Ugh, I’m with you, Tom. More people should watch Drag Race! But for starters, not everyone gets Logo. I know not everyone gets every channel anyway, but Logo is still kind of a straggler among cable channels. About 44 percent of Americans get Logo, which sounds like a lot. But about 81 percent get FX. And let me tell you: I have fielded many a “Do I even get FX?” question.

People are also maxed out on reality contest shows. Top Chef ratings are in decline, Project Runway, American Idol, Top Model. This is one of my favorite genres, so I’m sad to see it on the outs, but trends come and go, and alas, this one seems to be going for now.

What Are the Grounds for Getting Show Divorced?