every tv show I have binge-watched since march: part one
somehow I still can't speak german
I watched a lot of television this year, and maybe you did too. Here’s a review of some of those things. This is part one because it quickly become clear that a review of everything I watched this year would be at least ten thousand words long.
The Great British Bake-Off: For the first time since 2011, I didn’t make a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. I have made the same pie every year for eight years, starting in 2012 after a very bad breakup with an ex who was mean about the fact that I couldn’t cook (I could actually cook just fine, as in I was perfectly capable of purchasing ingredients and combining them to feed myself, I just didn’t cook in an elaborate or performed enough way for him to think it counted). It’s this pie, it’s excruciatingly fiddly and difficult and involves a fine mesh strainer. It is the first and only pie I have ever made. Each year it would give me a furious sense of accomplishment. It allowed me to cycle through so much anger that by the end of making it I felt like my skin had burnt off and I had shed all the resentments of my previous life, made clean and ready to start again. Also the pie was always transcendently good, even when I fucked it up or didn’t actually make it until the day after the holiday. I was surprised to find that this year I didn’t miss it at all, and was relieved to spend the day watching the parade and the dog show in a bra and sweatpants, going into the kitchen occasionally and not even crying once. Anyway, Bake-Off was bad this year and I stopped watching after [redacted] got eliminated and I probably should have stopped watching after the rainbow bagels. It’s interesting how much Thomas and I looked forward to new episodes of the show on Fridays even while hating every single episode and talking through each episode about how much we hated it. Nevertheless, this vestigial sense of comfort hung over the ritual of making coffee on Friday afternoon and sitting down on the couch to watch an episode of a show that we knew we were going to hate. It is possible there are several metaphors, or, worse, lessons, here.
Derry Girls: All of my perfect daughters are beautiful and perfect.
Dark: Dark is a show about remembering, and about family, and about the way small towns accumulate secrets and burn them for fuel and run on that same fuel for generations. It’s also about a creepy cave in the middle of the woods. Like most prestige television, it’s really about the futile wish to know your parents when they were young, before you were born, before you showed up and ruined it. It’s about asking what would have happened if I had made a slightly different choice, refused or given in, bailed on plans or followed through, turned right instead of left, what other life would I have? Also like all prestige TV, it’s about moms. It made me want to visit small towns in the woods in Germany, despite the fact that it depicts the horrors in one of those small towns. But the town and the forest are very beautiful, and that’s another thing about prestige television, it all takes place inside of a glossy magazine, like the worst of our hearts were a catalog for things we can’t afford. After the first season Dark is not good by any technical definition, but it is from end to end, and despite being a show about relentless trauma, as cozy as a fluffy blanket and a mug of hot chocolate. “Cozy trauma” may in fact be the name for the umbrella genre that defines prestige TV. It’s in German, which makes it a lot harder to play Two Dots on your phone while watching it, but not impossible.
Babylon Berlin: When people talk about missing things this year, the meanest part of me wants to ask “do you really miss pre-pandemic life, or do you just miss being a little bit younger than you are?” To be clear, I mainly mean this as a criticism of myself. Anyway, I miss parties. I miss putting people’s coats on the bed and I miss the surreptitious glances at somebody else’s bedroom while leaving my coat on their bed. I miss taking a nap in the early evening and getting up when it’s dark and sitting around on the couch texting and drinking coffee and trying on all the clothes in my house and finally at 2am going to an inconvenient location in an outfit that was never meant to be worn outside. I miss stepping out of a heaving high-ceilinged room onto the street in the cold without my coat and seeing my breath when I exhale and believing that five minutes of cold air have made me fully sober. I miss gossiping in corners at bookstores that have turned into saunas because they were not meant to hold over a hundred people desperately clutching glasses of free-ish wine and frantically talking shit about each other. I miss leaving the party and going to get pizza and eating that pizza standing up in heels on the street outside the bar. I miss standing in the kitchen at my friends’ houses, trying to sit on the counter and thinking better of it and how everyone else gradually filters into the kitchen until it’s way too many people in the kitchen but the only part of the party that’s really a party always happens in the kitchen. I miss holding a drink in one hand while gesturing wildly with the other in a crowded room. I miss the kind of friends I would only see at certain parties and act overjoyed to see and be overjoyed to see and make vague plans with and never see again until it was time for that same party again the next year. I miss yelling “holy shit” and someone’s name and an exclamation point across a sweaty, packed bar. I miss coming home late and putting on sweatpants without taking my makeup off. I miss leaving a party and realizing it’s morning already and going to a diner with half my outfit wilting off, not caring because all I care about is an order of fries. I miss that invincible and false sentimental high of taking a cab across a bridge and feeling like I love everyone I have ever met, like I accept every one of their flaws and mistakes and know that they accept all of mine. I miss parties, but when I say this I suspect what I really miss is being just a little bit younger than I am. Anyway, Babylon Berlin is very good and it’s about murder and wealth inequality and Berlin between the wars but at its heart it’s about parties. It is also in German but mostly I forgot about wishing I could play Two Dots.
Ted Lasso: Ted Lasso is sincerity as a high-wire act, as the Hail-Mary final play in the hold-your-breath end of a sports movie. Nothing is more sincere, or closer to religion in the secular realm, than sports feelings, and Ted Lasso is the purest dose of sports feelings available in television form. Ted Lasso is like if a whole TV show were that one moment early in the first episode of Friday Night Lights when a little kid asks the high school football star “does Jesus love football?” and the football star says “I think everybody loves football” and it makes my husband, who has never played a sport in his life, cry if I even mention it. I sometimes think about what my relationship with my dad, a former basketball coach, would have been like if I had been good at basketball, and I think it probably would have felt a lot like an episode of Ted Lasso. Anyway I would die for at least six characters on this show, probably more. Roy Kent.
The Crown: A very popular and expensive ASMR video starring Olivia Colman.
Mad Men: I too have mistaken wanting to have weird sex for thinking I cared about a man talking about his job. No, but really, the unfortunate thing is that I love this show more than basically any other show. Loving Mad Men is like loving The National, in that the only way to love it is to roast it and myself for loving it. I love Mad Men in a stupid, grandiose way, in a way that’s about history and the moon landing and the feelings you only have driving at night and wishing I could have known my parents before I was born and wanting to be good enough at something that it punishes everyone who has ever hurt me. I will be partway through a rewatch of this show up until the day they put me in the ground, where I will hopefully be buried in every single dress Megan wore in Season six onward.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In April, I decided that my husband and I were going to watch the entirety of Buffy from the beginning. “It will be fun,” I said. Maybe nothing represents the gap in who I think I am versus who I actually am better than how much I care about Buffy. We have so much less choice about what influences us, what we pick up and carry through the rest of our lives, than we think we do. By the time we’re old enough to decide to consciously construct a personality, so much of who we are has already been decided by things to which we didn’t even know we were forming attachments. A single repeated habit can so easily become the text of a whole life. I was so malleable when I was very young, so dangerously sponge-like, that anything I stood next to for too long became a feature of who I am, indelible, coming along for the rest of the ride like my lungs and my height and my eye color, there whether I like it or not.
I started watching Buffy when I was very young. Like most of the things that still matter in a ground-floor way to me, I started watching it because someone I thought was cool liked it, and I desperately wanted her to like me. Buffy is a show about actors in monster makeup who are metaphors for high school but like, who cares what it is actually about, who cares about vampires, who cares how absolutely terrible some of Season One is, who cares which episodes are some of the best television ever made and which ones are pure trash, who cares about any of it because none of that is what matters. For years I loved several people like I was every day flinging my body into traffic for them and I did this without even knowing it and without even knowing what it was like to feel any other way and then I got older and did a lot of horrible things and then one day I didn’t know those people any more. What Buffy is about, to me, is the first people I ever loved who weren’t my family, the first ways I ever located life outside of myself, and what it felt like to be curled up on a couch as a young person with another young person, certain in our hearts that we knew all of the answers and nothing would ever change. I thought I had lived past these things, and moved on, into some other version of my life, and watching Buffy made me realize that there are some things we do not leave behind at all, some ways in which time simply and stubbornly will never move forward an inch.
Anyway, I had a lot of unexpectedly large reactions to rewatching Buffy and maybe should have prepared myself better for it. But my conclusion is that Buffy is a television show about a beautiful young queer witch named Willow trying and failing to leave her toxic hometown friend group, and the ways in which being unable to let go of the people we loved in our youth who are no longer able to have healthy relationships with us can warp us and turn us evil. Or something. Admittedly I could not bring myself to rewatch the seventh season.
thanks so much for reading. these essays about feelings, some of which are on a monthly theme and some of which are on random topics like this, go out on mondays and wednesdays and sometimes on fridays (coming up for the rest of this month: indoor jeans, conversation pits, christmas music, the softest shirt in the world, working from bed, the rest of the television I watched this year). for now they’re all free, but starting in January about half of the content will be paid-subscriber only, including much of the archives. if you enjoyed this, I’d love it if you subscribed, and maybe told your friends about it, too. you can also buy a gift subscription, which I think makes a great holiday (or any occasion) gift. see you on wednesday. xo