My stomach turns. Entertainment magazines sit to my right, staring. My Google browser is open and the cursor blinks at me from the empty search bar. I take a deep breath because it’s the beginning of August and preparations must begin.
Fall TV is on the horizon.
As fall begins to poke it’s little head at us, most people start putting away the flip-flops and gearing up for school, cold weather, and/or work. But for me, stress hits me like a brick and I know it’s time to crack down and get my annual TV viewing schedule sorted. Because how will there be enough time to watch everything I want to watch.
I’ve discussed this concern with a few of my close friends, all of whom suggested I keep my TV habits to myself because they’re…“embarrassing.” So, just to spite them, I’m going to devote a whole blog post to revealing the methods behind the madness.
Let’s begin by unleashing the monster:
FALL 2010 TV SCHEDULE
How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 8PM)
The Sing-Off (NBC, 8PM)
Weeds (Showtime, 9PM)
Mike & Molly (CBS, 9:30PM)
The Big C (Showtime, 10PM)
The Vice Guide To Everything (MTV, 11PM)
Glee (FOX, 8PM)
Raising Hope (FOX, 9PM)
Running Wilde (FOX, 9:30PM)
The Sing-Off (NBC, 8PM)
Modern Family (ABC, 9PM)
Terriers (FX, 10PM)
The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 8PM)
Community (NBC, 8PM)
30 Rock (NBC, 8:30PM)
The Office (NBC, 9PM)
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX, 10PM)
Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11:30PM)
The Simpsons (FOX, 8PM)
Dexter (Showtime, 9PM)
Family Guy (FOX, 9PM)
Bored To Death (HBO, 10PM)
Mad Men (AMC, 10PM)
The Walking Dead (AMC, 10PM)
WHEN TIME PERMITS: Skins, Seinfeld, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, The Wire, The Comeback, Cougar Town, Blue Bloods, Boardwalk Empire, The League, Children’s Hospital, Breaking Bad, All in the Family, The Honeymooners
Mind you, this isn’t what it looked like a few months ago. It’s acknowledged it’s flaws and gotten a little wiser, like people do with age. Many shows were once highlighted in red, but they’ve since been deleted. If a show is in red, this means it’s a “low priority” show I don’t watch every week. Examples: “Blue Bloods” and “The Defenders.” This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad shows; instead, I devote my time to watching the shows I hold a littler closer to my TV-obsessed heart. Some shows have also been deleted because they just didn’t hold my attention enough to stay on the list. Examples: “Hawaii Five-O” and “No Ordinary Family.” On the surface this may seem harsh, jailing them without a fair trial, but I was always picked last in gym class so this is how I deal with it. (Better than awkwardly rocking back and forth in place. This is how Burt Chance, one of my favorite characters from FOX’s “Raising Hope,” deals with hard things from the past, but I prefer less showy methods.)
In this manner, my scheduling process has affected my TV-viewing habits in two noteworthy ways. The first, as alluded to above, is I now divide everything I watch into the categories “Shows I Watch” and “Shows I Kind Of Watch.” Rarely do shows jump from the former to the latter, although it’s possible for a show to transition from the latter to the former. For example, I just finished Season One of “Six Feet Under” on DVD, so it made the successful transition this week to the “Shows I Watch” category because 1) I’ll watch anything that’s been touched by the brilliance that is Alan Ball (writer of “American Beauty”) and 2) comparing Michael C. Hall’s psychologically complex characters on “Six Feet Under” and “Dexter” is a whole lotta innocent fun.
Secondly, the stress of watching dozens of shows each week has led to my love for thirty-minute sitcoms and six-episode British series. After all, how can you watch several hour-long shows per week and expect to have a life and be able to travel and do normal people things? Trust me when I say YOU CANNOT. After returning from three weeks in China, my precious thirty-minute sitcoms (barely) allowed me to catch up on all my shows and pick back up within the week I returned. My palms are still sweaty just thinking about this tumultuous week.
So what does this mean? This scheduling process thang and subsequent anxiety. Well, in short, it means my happiness during any given week is contingent upon the strength of the week’s TV episodes. Which really means it’s reliant upon a handful of writers. Which is really freaking risky. (Forgive me for likening the television industry to the political climate of the United States of America, but this isn’t unlike the U.S., where power ostensibly rests in the hands of a few.)
I’ve plotted the effect TV has on my level of happiness, and I’ve included it below. (If my friends think my chart is embarrassing, I can only imagine how they feel about my line graph.) The happiness scale ranges from zero to ten, zero being “extremely unhappy” and ten being “extremely happy.” As you can see, my happiness peaks on Wednesday and Thursday nights (usually around 9 PM), declines on Fridays and Saturdays, and then picks back up on Sunday nights thanks to HBO and AMC. You’d think my rating would be much lower on Fridays considering I don’t watch any shows airing on Fridays, but sometimes I use this day to catch up on shows I might have missed during the week. Hence the moderate 5.
There isn’t time and space to realistically review each and every show I’ve been following this season, so I thought I’d pick a few of my favorite characters and shows and briefly describe them in the case you’re looking to put a new show on your own TV schedule. And it’s obviously in chart form because this blog has taught me that my life can be easily reduced to four-column charts and line graphs.
|Character||Show||Returning or new?||Catchphrases, Traits, and Quirks|
|Brittany S. Pierce||“Glee” (FOX, Tuesday, 8PM)||Returning (Season 2)||Known for her deadpan humor and hilarious, wacky one-liners. On animals, “Did you know dolphins are just gay shark?” And her hero is Britney Spears. (Read her name in full and you’ll understand why.)|
|Phil Dunphy||“Modern Family” (ABC, Wednesday, 9PM)||Returning (Season 2)||The “cool dad,” an ex- cheerleader, and victim of Coulrophobia (a fear of clowns). In his own words: “I’m like Shirley Temple and that black guy in that movie.”|
|Hank and Britt||“Terriers” (FX, Wednesday, 10PM)||New, but unfortunately just cancelled this week despite its critical acclaim||An ex-cop (Hank) and former criminal (Britt) become best friends and badass unlicensed PIs. Britt: “In your experience, what’s the best way to get rid of blue balls?”Hank: “Don’t get married.”|
|Sheldon Cooper, Ph.D.||“The Big Bang Theory” (CBS, Thursday, 8PM)||Returning (Season 4)||A child prodigy who’s now a theoretical physicist lacking any understanding of irony and humor. He has an IQ of 187, only sits on the left side of his couch, and yells “Bazinga!” when he tells a joke.|
|Troy Barnes||“Community” (NBC, Thursday, 8PM)||Returning (Season 2)||Former high school football star who injured himself during a “kegflip” and now attends community college where he builds blanket forts with Abed. He just realized he’s 21 because his mom told him he was 10 twice because he repeated the fourth grade.|
|The Gang||“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” (FX, Thursday, 10PM)||Returning (Season 6)||The Gang: Dennis, Sweet Dee, Mac, Charlie, and Frank. They’re cynical, they’re pathetic, and they’ve made a movie called “Lethal Weapon 5.” ‘Nuff said.|
|Dexter Morgan||“Dexter” (Showtime, Sunday, 9PM)||Returning (Season 5)||Leads a double life as a blood pattern analyst/murderer. He calls his urge to kill his “Dark Passenger” and is largely incapable of producing normal human emotions. He also has an apron with “Natural Born Griller” written on it.|
|Don Draper||“Mad Men” (AMC, Sunday, 10PM)||Returning (Season 4)||Is he Don, Dick Whitman, or someone in between? He likes drinking, women, and is an incarnate of the American Dream. Don and Dexter are two of the most engaging, morally ambiguous characters on TV.|
Some of my friends think I’m nuts for devoting so much time to TV. I’ve had time now to think of a response, and it’s summarized best via the law of diminishing returns, one of the most important principles of economics. (The law states that if one factor of production is increased while the others remain constant, the overall returns will decrease after a certain point.) As I add one more show to my already stable TV-viewing schedule, there’s a higher chance the overall satisfaction and enjoyment I get from the shows I watch will decrease. Think about it. If all I watched was “Boardwalk Empire,” I’d LOVE “Boardwalk Empire.” A lot. But because I watch more than twenty other shows, “Boardwalk Empire” becomes a lot less special and, in fact, gets pushed from the “Shows I Watch” list to the “Show I Kind Of Watch List.” This is simply because I don’t always have the time and energy for it, and I’m not really OK with this. Although the writing isn’t always brilliant, the production design, costumes, and (most of) the performances in this period piece certainly are.
On a similar note, in watching so many shows you begin to notice similarities among them. This, again, detracts from the specialness of a particular show. For one, the opening scenes of “LOST,” “The Event,” and “No Ordinary Family” all involved an unlikely plane disaster. It was somewhat original when “LOST” did it, but totally unoriginal by the time I saw it on “The Event” and “No Ordinary Family.” Emotional scenes in some of my favorite shows also often seem to find the main character swimming in a pool: Dexter in “Dexter,” Don Draper in “Mad Men,” and Cathy in “The Big C.” With so much quality TV out there, it’s difficult to view shows in and of themselves.
So why do it? Why devote so much valuable time to the Tube? Because, in truth, I enjoy being a part of so many different worlds, albeit fictional ones. I like watching shows that know what they are and take pleasure in creating well-developed, believable characters. I do it for the pleasure of realizing I’m a part of the world in which these people inhabit, like when I’m watching an episode of a show that gets me thinking about a previous episode and I go, “Ah ha! That’s why they said that!” Those little connections always make me smile. I also do it for the pleasure of experiencing a show with momentum that never fails to get you excited for next week’s show. In “How I Met Your Mother” this week, for example, Ted has a bet with Barney that involves Ted wearing a dress, although we have yet to find out what that bet is. But because I’ve been with the show for six seasons, I know a future episode will most likely answer this for us.
Sometimes I like to picture the writer’s room of my favorite shows and imagine them rejoicing when they get a good moment down on the page. Considering I want to write for TV one day and have sat in the writing rooms of shows like “The Daily with Jon Stewart” as an intern, I’ll always stand (or sit on my couch) in awe of many of today’s TV writers. They’re magicians sometimes, really. Proof: Read “Chuck Lorre and the rules of the network sitcom” by Tom Bissell in the December 6, 2010 issue of “The New Yorker.” The article offers some great examples of how writers often have to make on-the-fly adjustments to lines, particularly when taping live multi-camera sitcoms like Lorre’s “Mike & Molly.”
I often try to imagine what the writer’s room of “Dexter” is like. Since Season One, Dexter has had a pretty limited emotional range in comparison to most TV characters—instead of seeing him laugh, cry, and get angry, you see him stony-eyed and indifferent. But in Season Five, after making a kill in vengeance for a loved one, Dexter, kneeling on the ground and covered in blood, screams bloody murder. And it was beautifully frightening. Soon after, we meet Lumen (played perfectly by guest star Julia Stiles), and a romantic relationship between the two slowly develops. I picture the writers looking at one other and saying, “This season we’re going to make Dexter scream. And then fall in love.” It’s moments like these that keep me coming back for more.
That said, I’m very sad I won’t be able to keep up with so many shows once I go back to school next semester. I’d pull a Dexter and scream bloody murder, but thank Moses I have Netflix, Hulu, and DVDs to calm me down.
I must go though, as I have some TV to watch. Glee started at 8:00 and I still have to figure out how I’m going to fit Breaking Bad re-runs into my schedule.
I can feel the sweat on my palms already.
NEXT UP—British TV and Why America’s “Skins” is Going to Suck