In early August of this year, FX President John Landgraf spoke at the Television Critics Association summer press tour and ignited a debate among TV writers and media pundits across the Internet. You may remember seeing the phrase “peak TV” thrown around on Twitter or your favorite news site, which comes directly from Landgraf’s address, when he said both, “there is simply too much television,” and “[m]y sense is that 2015 or 2016 will represent peak TV in America and that we’ll begin to see declines coming the year after that and beyond.” You can read about the immediate reactions to these quotes here and here, as well as some good editorials on the subject from Linda Holmes at NPR, Alan Sepinwall at HitFix, and a panel of writers at The Atlantic. Want something more recent? Mo Ryan wrote just last week about the lack of directorial diversity, especially for women of color, in this peak TV world.
But I’m not interested in another piece about the implications of peak TV or Landgraf’s comments (mostly because my thoughts would pale in comparison to the great writers above). I’m here to describe the effects of peak TV on a regular 18-34 year old who goes to work all day, eats dinner, and plops down in front of the TV until bed time at 11. What follows is a semi-detailed journal of everything related to TV that happened to me during a one week span. Admittedly, this wasn’t a typical week because I devoted as much of my free time to watching TV as possible to get as many observations as possible. The anxieties and generalities about watching television during peak TV, however, would be the same regardless.
One last note. Of course there are more important things to worry about than problems stemming from wanting to watch so much television. I’m sure my complaining about needing more time for fictionalized content will sound whiny. Thankfully, though, my life is pretty boring, and television just happens to fill a lot of my free time. I care about it, so that’s why I’m writing.
I was out of town all weekend, so the DVR was built up with new shows and ones that I wasn’t able to leisurely watch before the NFL games started on Sunday. At work, I listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour, a podcast from NPR, in which the group praised Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I watched most of the first season of that show, but stopped mostly out of indifference. Now I was faced with a group of people I mostly identify with, taste-wise, that all lauded the show vehemently. Did I screw up? Should I go back and catch up on the workplace comedy?
Meanwhile, I’m texting my former roommate and fellow OpVac contributor Megan about Quantico, which reminds me that I’m now two weeks behind on the FBI agents-in-training show, unleashing a whole new slew of anxieties about my slate of shows to watch. And I haven’t even had lunch yet. Thus is my daily dilemma- figuring out which shows to watch to catch up as quickly as possible. I’ve got two apps that track the shows I watch, the first dealing with shows that I’m watching as they air. The list of shows to watch mocks me constantly, especially because it’s based out of the U.K. and lists Downton Abbey episodes that I won’t be able to see until next year. The second app is the base of a whole new set of anxieties based around shows that I’m not up to date on. So much gets recorded to the DVR each week (and added to HBO Go) that I’ve found almost no time to catch up on the likes of The West Wing and Defiance. When the latter got canceled a few weeks ago, I was actually extremely happy, knowing it would make it that much easier to get caught up. Then I got upset because my joy was directly tied with the loss of jobs for a whole bunch of people, and that led to more anxiety…
After work I changed into some sweatpants and fired up the previous night’s episode of The Good Wife, which has consistently been one of my favorite shows since binging through the first five seasons earlier this year. Alicia always brings a smile to my face, and this episode it’s for two very different reasons. She makes a homemade margarita with just tequila and triple sec in front of a curious Eli, but then wears one of the worst hats since Perry Saturn at Wrestlemania X-7, which at least gets a pass because it’s pro wrestling. Alicia usually has impeccable fashion sense, so I can only speculate that she wore the hat because she was with Peter during his presidential bid announcement, and anything that makes him look bad is worth the visual horror.
There are also some developments about Jeffery Dean Morgan’s character, but I can only think the ways his arc will end after hearing that he’s been cast on The Walking Dead. This, then, leads to watching that show next, which thankfully is only one hour instead of another 90 minute endeavor like last week. The episode focuses a lot more on the original Alexandria residents, and is worse for it, especially with so many monologues that scream “here’s the point of the episode!” So I respond to Megan’s texts about last week’s Arrow and The Flash that she’s currently watching to break my focus.
When it finally ends, I get to turn Bob’s Burgers on, which has returned from a short break, and I couldn’t be happier to have the Belchers back on screen. It’s a Thanksgiving episode that’s hit-or-miss, but even a subpar Bob’s is still better than most things. Plus, it features my favorite running gag- Bob conversing with his cooking utensils. A bit in which he tells Linda directions over the phone and wants to hear what the turkey baster says in response is particularly good. The food theme is also timely, as I eat some dinner after the episode ends.
Ash vs. Evil Dead is next up, which features insane amounts of blood, works really well in the universe set up by the movies, and has legitimately frightening moments during the half hour runtime. The comedy aspect of this horror-comedy shines as well, with Bruce Campbell reprising his role of the titular hero with great aplomb. Starz has really made a big impact on my viewing habits of late, with Blunt Talk and Survivor’s Remorse both finishing up their seasons recently. Now with Ash and Flesh & Bone, of which I plan on watching the pilot later this week, the premium network will grab my attention with any upcoming projects.
My night then moves onto The Leftovers, which packs an emotional gut-punch as usual. I want to get into Master of None, but know that I don’t have any time with three hours of Monday Night Raw ahead of me. So instead of indulging in Aziz’s new show, I start on my favorite new show of the season, the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Rachel Bloom is amazingly talented, especially with the hilarious musical interludes, which this week includes her male boss singing “I Love My Daughter (But Not in a Creepy Way).” We then learn that that daughter has a pet snail named Iggy Iznailia and everything is right with the world. With no time wasted I’m turning on Raw, delayed by about an hour and fifteen minutes so I can fast forward through the commercials and uninteresting bits. This means that I have to monitor my Twitter checks so I don’t spoil myself on anything, but I’m able to get through the night unscathed and ready to sleep before I start all over again tomorrow.
I listen to the FanBros podcast at work, and they discuss The Walking Dead, Gotham, and Supergirl in ways that I mostly agree with. I want to listen to the Vulture TV Podcast, but my delay in watching Master of None comes back to bite me. Megan takes my mind off of this unfortunate turn of events by texting me about MTV’s The Challenge, which has just released a trailer. I’m excited for some great cast members to produce another winning season of my favorite reality show. I mark my calendar for December 2 and finish things up so I can get home and start watching some more things.
Survivor: Second Chance starts things out, which is the first Survivor season I’ve watched while it was airing since season 10 (as far as I remember anyway). My friend Mary got me to start up again, and we’ve been podcasting about it once a week, which has really made watching more interesting and fun. After Kass gets the boot after the merge and my notetaking ends, I move onto Last Week Tonight. John Oliver talks about prisoner re-entry and I’m reminded why I both love and hate watching this show. The information is something I’m unfamiliar with, and it’s relayed thoroughly by Oliver so I’m able to learn a lot. However, it’s another segment that makes me really upset about dumb aspects of our society that unfairly affect the least fortunate people around the country. Most of these main segments on LWT make me sad for the people profiled, but also because there’s nothing I’m going to do after I turn off the HBO Go app on my Roku. I know I won’t go out and affect change in my community, and then I get even sadder. So I just criticize the Family Guy-esque joke/references that Oliver makes and move onto Master of None (finally!)
I know I can’t watch more than one episode tonight and keep my schedule, which will be tough to do with the show’s bingeable model. After watching this episode, that sentiment proves accurate. The script is funny and poignant, and I can’t wait to have more time to keep watching. For now, though, I’m jumping into Gotham, which has become the show during which I catch up on Twitter. The show is just interesting enough to keep me coming back each week, but that doesn’t mean I have to give it my full attention. After a fake wedding and a church shootout I’m moving onto Fargo, a show I’m always happy to see on my DVR. This second season has been basically perfect, with everyone on screen bringing their A-game. Even with stuff about aliens and fake Ronald Reagan movies, Fargo consistently sticks each landing. My night then ends after catching the second episode of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, which is a bit less engaging than the pilot, but I love the premise (the Allies lost World War II and the U.S. is divided in half by the Japanese and German occupations) too much to lose interest.
While eating my Cinnamon Chex, I catch Fresh Off the Boat and laugh at the idea of birthday noodles being a thing. Constance Wu continues to be fantastic on this show, and I went off to work with a smile. Once there, I listened to the latest episode of the Extra Hot Great podcast, which features takes on Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, and Survivor that I agree with, so my good mood keeps on rolling. Megan texts about The Man in the High Castle, and I tell her it’s certainly good enough to try out.
I get to watching as soon as I’m back home to maximize my time, because I know I’ve got dinner to make later. iZombie is up first, which isn’t quite the new Veronica Mars I’d like it to be, but it’s still incredibly delightful. The main season plot is ramping up, and the stakes have been raised a bunch to make things real intriguing. Then it’s onto Drunk History and an episode about inventors. Paget Brewster makes another appearance, and does a wonderful job relaying the story of the first bra. I have to start broiling up some chicken avocado burgers, and all I can think about is how much I wish there was another TV in the kitchen.
That distraction definitely cost me some flavor, but I get over it with some Supergirl. I’m going to keep sticking with this show because there’s enough to like, but I really hope the creative team makes some changes as they move forward, like not bashing millennials just for the sake of complaining. Also, Superman uses emoticons and not emojis. Use that information however you like.
The Mindy Project is up next, which I’ve become less and less enamored with as the show has progressed, especially with the new Hulu exclusive season. Garrett Dillahunt’s Jody is an acknowledged gross misogynist, but even when he’s shown to be someone to mock, he still gets scenes of genuine friendship with Mindy. I’m very confused by this development, and at this point I’d probably stop watching if it weren’t for Ike Barinholtz being the only consistently funny part of the show.
I get a great palate cleanser with another Master of None, with Aziz’s actual parents playing that role on screen as well. I text Megan to tell her how much I enjoyed the episode, particularly the parents, and fire up The Flash. Zoom takes full focus of the episode, even though we only get to see him for a few seconds, and I’m really enjoying each aspect of this show. Joe’s new partner Patti Spivot, who’s also getting romantic with Barry, is stealing each scene she’s a part of. Megan loves the female agency they give to Linda and Iris, and also the kissing is pretty great. After that high note, I finish up with WWE NXT and a 6-person intergender tag team with Bailey and the Hype Bros. taking out Blake, Murphy and Alexa Bliss, setting up a Women’s Championship match next week.
Breakfast and The League in the morning, which makes fun of prestige drama with a made up mystery sci-fi show The Block. It’s unfortunate that I’d rather watch that fake show than any more of The League, but thankfully the fantasy football inspired program will be ending after this season.
Work is uneventful, and I start things up with a Tonight Show clip of the Undertaker giving a Tombstone to a guy dressed in a turkey costume once I get home. He’s there to promote Survivor Series next weekend, but I would love a recurring segment where the Deadman gave his finisher to people dressed in random costumes.
You’re the Worst is up next, which has become emotionally devastating of late due to Gretchen’s clinical depression surfacing again. The jokes are still there, and we get a glimpse into the reasons why Jimmy is so screwed up (just as we did with Gretchen last season- by meeting the family), but YTW is trending toward Louie much more than what it had going in season one.
Arrow also gets pretty emotional, as Felicity learns that Ray Palmer is still alive and naturally feels guilty about everything that’s happened since the end of last season. Still, there’s an upbeat vibe that’s been a part of this season that was noticeably absent from last year that has to be a rub off from The Flash, and Arrow is better for it. I’m then onto Breaking Ground, a WWE Network show that highlights the training and development of the company’s future wrestlers. As easy as it is to make fun of the WWE for bad storylines, the one thing it does exceptionally well is create engaging documentaries.
My night of TV ends early after this because I have to go out to trivia, but I already decided to stay in Friday to make sure I catch up on everything I need to watch. I might have some FOMO to deal with, but that’s just how it goes with peak TV and the need to see everything. There’s always Saturday night, anyway.
I get right to work this morning so I can get out early. Podcasts include a special edition of Bill Simmons new show, with former Grantland casters Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan talking about You’re the Worst, the superb acting on Fargo, Master of None, and Jeremy Renner. The demise of Simmons’ sports/culture site was a tough blow to my Internet repertoire, but his creation of a new podcast network makes things easier to take. Later in the day I check out the new Fan Bros episode, with some chatter about The Walking Dead. Then at some point after lunch I read Alan Sepinwall’s review of the new AMC show Into the Badlands, which he was pretty meh on, so I don’t create a reminder to set the DVR.
My night on the couch starts ups after work with South Park. This week they take on ISIS and police brutality, but the most poignant part comes when Officer Barbrady is fired and forced onto the streets with his sick dog. Barbrady has always been a laughable idiot, but boy do Matt and Trey hit on some pathos with him this episode.
Empire is up next, which has been fine enough once I start watching, but I’ve been inclined to choose most other things to check out first. The second season just isn’t coming together like the first did, even with Cookie still crushing every scene and outfit she’s put in. A clunky look at PTSD thanks to a kidnapping in this episode isn’t helping matters either.
WWE Smackdown sets up a Wyatt Family vs. Brothers of Destruction match at Survivor Series, and Kalisto pulls out the lone upset of the first round of the Championship tournament. I’m through fairly quickly with some significant fast-forwarding, and onto more Master of None, which takes on texting etiquette in the dating world. Another solid episode, and I want to keep going, but I decide to watch The Leftovers first. Some interesting theories surface about certain people magnifying the effects of the disappearance, notably Nora, and Carrie Coon puts on another clinic. I never agreed with all the wishy-washy feelings about the first season, but the consensus about the new episodes being fantastic is something I do agree with.
My night ends with one more Master of None, this time about Indian representation in the media. There’s one particularly good bit about the Washington Redskins and how they should be renamed as the Breadsticks. I’ve got episodes of Empire and Survivor left on the DVR, but I basically feel like I’ve caught up and I go to sleep a satisfied viewer.
I figure because I’ve got most of my viewing done, I should start writing this journal article. I finished the introduction, but then get distracted by my sister watching This is Where I Leave You on HBO. Had I been more pressed to watch TV, I would have never sat down to give the movie my full attention. This revelation pisses me off, and is another side effect of peak TV in my life. I have watched far fewer movies lately than I used to, and played fewer video games too, while we’re at it. If I had my druthers, my media diet wouldn’t be exclusively serialized content, but with so much to keep up on, I really have to plan out when I can catch a movie. This is Where I Leave You isn’t amazing, but I’m very pleased to have the chance to watch a story unfold and be done with that world when the credits roll.
The feeling can’t last all day, though, so I watch another Master of None and then finally get to Flesh and Bone. I’m intrigued by the ballet drama even if it hits some tropes we’ve seen before, but my goodness does it look fantastic. If the lead actress can get into a mode other than “mousey,” this limited series could be a great ride.
Empire stays on the DVR for another day because I’ve got a surprise birthday party to get to, but Sunday should offer plenty of time to get things done before a big family dinner.
Well that party got out of hand. Too many beers left me feeling less than ideal in the morning, and a touch football game around noon made me miss the pre-dinner shopping trip so I could grab a desperately needed nap. On my way dinner, I’m chastising myself for not watching anything yet today, which is absurd considering I have less than a handful of shows left to go. A hearty meal and the company of loved ones lessens this feeling, and once home, I watch that episode of Empire, move to Ash vs. Evil Dead, and finish the night with a Bob’s.
Yes, I’ve still got an episode of Survivor left, but I’m happy with how my TV tracking app looks when I head to bed early. The week has illuminated how much television shapes my schedule on a daily basis, but I don’t want to make that sound all bad. I love watching the TV shows that I follow, especially when I can listen to podcasts about them, read reviews about them, and talk with friends about them. It’s a rich experience that goes beyond the content itself, and I’m happy for that.
Yet I keep coming back to a one panel comic I saw online some weeks ago, in which a person on her deathbed tells a child, “I wish I’d watched more TV.” I mutter that myself in the middle of the week after I realize I’ve had the TV on for four hours straight. I keep watching, but at least I start texting a friend or two about doing something together the next night. I’m very happy to have so many quality shows in my life, but I think now I realize I need to keep peak TV at arm’s length before it totally consumes all my free time. Ask me about this while I’m in the middle of Fargo, and I might say otherwise. That show is so freaking good right now.