Too Much of a Good Thing
When the Curmudgeon was a child, television was in black and white, and there were only three channels. And each night at midnight, they all ended their broadcasts. How did we manage, you may ask? Well, as you can easily imagine, it was rough. With only three channels, there was extremely limited content. As a result, we found ourselves tuning in only when a program interested us. Most of us watched only in the evening, stopping for dinner, of course. The rest of the time, the television remained off. As a result, many of us had no choice but to interact with each other, resorting to pathetic time fillers such as reading, game playing, and conversation.
Today, not only is television available around the clock, but there are 39,072 channels (with more on the way), pumping out nonstop content that ranges from the enlightening to the mind-bendingly stupid. One can watch Citizen Kane or Whisker Wars. One can watch programming in Tagalog, or with Dutch subtitles, or broadcast directly from downtown Minsk.
If you’re one who likes to review all the options before committing, abandon hope. For by the time you’ve reviewed the offerings, the program you’ve chosen will surely be long over. Of course scheduling is no longer an issue, as most television shows can be watched at any time. If you wake up at three in the morning with a craving that can only be quieted by your favorite home makeover show, you can find it on one device or another at that very moment.
But what is perhaps most problematic about all this isn’t the variety, or the constant accessibility, or even the idiocy of some of the content. No, the far bigger problem is the sheer amount of good television.
Having watched all of The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad, I figured I’d experienced this most recent golden age of television. How naïve I was. I had yet to discover Dexter, Fargo, Big Little Lies, Mad Men, The Crown, The Office, Modern Family, Better Call Saul, Black Mirror, Schitt’s Creek, Barry, True Detective, Ozark, and Succession. And while I still haven’t gotten to all of those, more keep coming.
It’s a seemingly inexhaustible supply. Now hardly a week goes by that someone whose taste I trust doesn’t enthuse over the absolute brilliance of a show I’ve never even heard of. “You have to watch it” is a phrase I hear so often that I’d be inclined to dismiss it were it not for the fact that when I do watch—damn it—the recommended show is completely engrossing. And on those rare occasions when it isn’t I feel not disappointment but relief, knowing that, having found a show I don’t care for, I now have an hour free to watch something else. Show after show is offering us captivating stories, excellent writing, inventive camerawork, and master-level acting, all right in our homes. And I for one am fed up.
I don’t have time to be this entertained. It’s gotten to the point where I’m declining social invitations, neglecting food, exercise, and rest, and forgetting to feed my cat, just so I can finish Ted Lasso and The White Lotus and finally start Mare of Easttown and Reservation Dogs. I dream of one day catching up but of course, it’s only so much quicksand; tomorrow, two more people will gush about five more shows I’ll never get to, all which are probably no less than astounding. I’m a prisoner of fine art. Meanwhile, the experts tell us we’re spending too much time watching our screens. Well…tell that to the networks! If they’d stop giving us brilliance, we might look at each other once in a while.
Hell, I don’t even have the time to write about it.
By the way, have you seen a British series called Years and Years? It’s brilliant. You have to watch it.