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.
Should I care if no one cares about a show I love? I love watching shows that reward me with great analysis from my favorite TV gurus. I really like Shameless, but it seems to be in a black hole of indifference in the TV Recap World, which is bull because it’s awesome. Why does no one care about it? —Jill
I’d be more worried if it seemed like Shameless were on the chopping block, but it’s had five seasons already, and its sixth starts January 10. There are clearly plenty of Shameless people out there, and those of us who love shows that get canceled before anyone even cares about them envy you right now. Surely there are Shameless hashtags to be followed.
But you’re right: For a show that has excellent performances and is often pretty damn good, Shameless doesn’t seem to be part of “the conversation.” (That said, plenty of places and gurus recap it: Previously.TV, Alan Sepinwall, plus a couple of fan podcasts …) Part of this is ratings — the show does well enough, but Game of Thrones does almost five times better, for example. Another part is that lots of shows just don’t break through. House of Lies fans are probably nodding along with you, as are Ray Donovan and Penny Dreadful fans. Showtime: They can’t all be Homeland. Another part is that some of us cared a ton and wrote a lot about the show’s original British version, which aired here in the mid-2000s. I feel like I got the amount of Shameless I was in the market for, and I got all of it about eight years ago. Sorry, Jill.
I have an odd dilemma. My husband and I watched two seasons of Mad Men and LOVED it. Then we had kids. We fell behind — too behind to watch the new ones, but I don’t want to rewatch two whole seasons. The same thing happened to me with Friday Night Lights. I saw season one and some episodes of season two. So, should I rewatch from the start, watch a few select episodes to catch up, or just start where I left off? —Winnie
Well, what’s the goal here? You will get a lot more out of Mad Men if you remember who everyone is and are able to hear echoes of previous stories reemerge later in the series. But I only know that because obsessing over Mad Men was part of my job for a long time, and I’m a born TV obsessive. (And a completist, usually. I … am fun?) If you want to just watch the show and enjoy it exactly as you encounter it, that is a-okay, and you should simply start watching it. Mad Men and FNL are more character-driven than plot-driven — there’s not some elaborate set of mechanics propelling us forward, and only through knowing that backstory will anything make sense. It’s a football team. Coach is the coach. You’ll get it. Why is Don Draper sad? Well, all of America and maybe the world is sad, and you can just go along for the ride.
There’s not one right thing to get out of Mad Men, or FNL, or any other great show. Sometimes it’s fun to examine the hell out of something, to put on a headlamp and excavate your way through every fan theory, to know every tertiary character’s name and the ways he or she connects to a possible extended universe, to know every Easter egg and shout-out the way other people know their child’s laugh. But holy Moses, that is not the only fun way to watch a show; we just don’t really talk about the other way because it’s hard to write an article that says, “I casually watched a show, and while I don’t remember anyone’s name and I don’t know if that blond guy is always on or what, it was pretty good, and 44 minutes later, I feel sated.” And yet that’s the overwhelming way television is pleasurably consumed. You hereby have official Stay Tuned permission to watch these shows with less than full, obsessive ardor. We accept you as the TV fan you are, Winnie.
I’ve heard so much about this season of The Leftovers. If I want to watch it, can I go ahead and skip the first season and watch the second? —Patrick
This has been a common question in the last few weeks, and as someone who really did not care for the first season of the show but loved the second season to borderline-maniac levels, I wish I could tell you to just jump in. And if you did, I’m sure you’d still find beauty in the show and its stories, but you wouldn’t find as much depth. It’s worth it to watch the first ten episodes to enrich the entire experience.
Also, many smart people really liked season one! Maybe you’ll be one of them!
Is it okay for me not to like 30 Rock? I’m about halfway into season two right now, and I just don’t find it funny like I’d hoped I would. I’m a fan of Tina Fey (Kimmy Schmidt, Mean Girls) and an equally big fan of the generally-accepted-as-good NBC sitcoms (especially Parks and Rec and Community), but I really just am not enjoying 30 Rock, even though I am desperate to. Am I missing something? Or is it okay for me to just not like it? —Charlie
Charlie! You’re missing lots of things, but it’s still okay for you not to like it. Life is hard enough; no need to watch shows you don’t enjoy. 30 Rock certainly settles into itself as it goes on, but season one is pretty representative of the show, and if you’re not into the “Good God, Lemon!”s by now, you never will be. That’s unusual, but there are people who don’t like pizza or don’t get it with the Beatles or have no interest in Tetris. Some people, when presented with the options oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip, pick oatmeal raisin. The day we stop finding mystery in the world is the day we cease to live. Go forth and mystify us all, Charlie.