Have you ever felt like there’s just too much television to watch? I have, and it turns out, that’s not just in my head. According to the research department at FX networks, there were “328 scripted first-run prime-time programs aired on ad supported or subscription-based broadcast, cable and streaming networks in the U.S.” in 2014 alone. That’s a whole lot of television. It feels like in the last couple of years, the number of “must watch” and critically acclaimed television shows has increased substantially, and the odds of missing the zeitgeist are high if you aren’t paying rapt attention. How anyone could even attempt to keep up with 180 scripted shows a year is beyond me, and that doesn’t even take into account reality television staples like The Bachelor or American Idol.
Personally, as a teenager I never used to watch more than 2-4 hours of television a week. I kept up with 7th Heaven, One Tree Hill, and Gossip Girl. That was it. But when I got to college and I started having to watch everything online, I started picking up new shows to fill in the gaps in my boredom. I wasn’t tied to the television anymore, and I could finally watch whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
Being an international student in a new environment and away from everything that was familiar to me, it felt like a blessing to be able to stay inside, away from the hellishily cold tundra of Boston, let myself be completely absorbed into all kinds of different stories, and no longer have any limits on time. I mainlined all of Lost, Ugly Betty, 90210, and Desperate Housewives in my freshman year alone. And that was before binge-watching even really became a “thing.” When I discovered Hulu, it became so much easier to keep up with several shows at once, and each season I added new great shows to the roster. Some survived (Grey’s Anatomy, picked up in my sophomore year) and some didn’t (State of Georgia, cancelled my junior year) but there was always something new being recommended online as the new best show that I felt like I had just had to watch.
But right now, there’s so much on my schedule that I spent all of the winter hiatus catching up on back episodes of pretty much everything from Homeland to American Horror Story to Arrow. Last year the fervor surrounding the imminent end of Breaking Bad left me feeling positively bullied into catching up. (I did, and it was great. #RIPHank) But conversely, it’s made me realize that sometimes shows suck, and it’s okay not to watch them even if everyone else still is. There’s no point devoting hours of my life to television that I no longer enjoy. My new approach has been to put some shows on the “cancellation watchlist.” Basically, those are shows I’ll get into when they either naturally end or get cancelled. Top of that list is The Good Wife, and next in line is Shameless. Both Damages and Weeds have been on that list forever, and I have no idea when I’ll get around to them. For the shows that have only recently premiered, I’ve opted to wait out the season and watch them while they’re on hiatus. Last week I finally got through Penny Dreadful (which I’ll probably be dropping to be honest), and True Detective and Transparent are next on my binge list.
Since I generally prefer to align my critical focus on the intersection of feminism and pop culture, I often feel like there are certain things that I have to watch in order to be able to fully participate in conversations about how media influences our perceptions of the world. I feel like I have to be able to understand the reference points that television is using, so that I’m better able to critique them constructively. I resisted Game of Thrones for three seasons before I finally caved, but now I’ve realized that for some things, resistance is futile.
While I’ll definitely be trimming my television schedule this year, I’m also going to be open to making room for great television. The Fosters is a show that I resisted watching because I thought my plate was already too full, but it turns out that the reason it has such a large fanbase is because the show is genuinely excellent. (Seriously, go watch it. Right now) The same goes for Reign and Chicago Fire. And while I don’t think I really ever have to get to everything that ever premieres on television, isn’t it kind of awesome that there are so many options now? There’s something for everyone, and there is a lot of choice. I can’t really say that’s a bad thing.
What about you? Do you ever feel bogged down by your television watching schedule? Have you ever dropped shows because you weren’t interested anymore? Have you ever picked up shows because you felt left out of the conversations about them? Are there any shows you’re planning to catch up on? Any shows you’re sad to see go? Tell me about it in the comments.