every tv show I have binge-watched since march: part two
that's what I appreciates about you
The thing I miss most about drinking is hangovers.
There are plenty of hangovers that I don’t miss, the ones during which I had to go to work, or see family, the ones that made already difficult or painful days feel impossible or excruciating. But very occasionally a hangover arrived on exactly the right day for a hangover, on a Sunday that felt like a Sunday, when I had nothing else to do. That hangover was the ability to waste a whole day, clinging to a bagel and a Gatorade like a life raft, to burn a Sunday’s collection of hours in the low-lying horror of the body, the exquisite comfort of a couch and unpsooling successive episodes of a TV show to which I was barely paying attention.
Watching a lot of TV at once in the middle of a weekend afternoon is maybe the only sober version of a hangover available, wasteful and gross, and enjoyable because it is wasteful and gross. Binge-watching is a specific mood all its own, the way that technology invents new emotions, new versions of being alive in a body. This version is me and the couch and phone and the TV up there on the wall and the narcotic sense of reality floating away, replaced with a false and glossy urgency to which I owe nothing and yet in which I am effortlessly included.
Anyway, here is some more of the TV I watched this year.
What We Do In The Shadows: “What if this glamorous thing were actually stupid and embarrassing” is not always a failsafe formula for comedy but honestly it works more often than most other things. Jackie Daytona is real and strong and my friend. God, I love this show. I miss it so much. Every character Matt Berry plays is also Stephen Toast playing that character.
The Americans: Growing up, I was always sure that my parents were having affairs. I was certain that large ominous things were taking place in our home and in their lives outside of it, that just around every corner was a deadly serious conversation and a horrible secret. I didn’t have any evidence, except that I had seen in movies and on television and in the news that this was what adults did, and my parents were adults, so surely their lives must work in this same way. I firmly believe the best way to watch The Americans is to decide that Paige and Henry are the unreliable narrators and these are the stories these two children are making up to tell each other when their mundane travel-agent parents come home late for some mundane travel-agent reason, folding in to these stories the paranoias and fascinations regarding Russia that they have picked up from the news and by osmosis living in America in the 1980s.
We’re rewatching The Americans along with two of our friends. We sync the timing in our separate homes and then text each other on our group text throughout each episode. All four of us have seen it before, but that’s the point: driving to a place we’ve all been to before, knowing what we’ll find when we get there, the nodding-along comforts of rereading and rewatching and return. Rewatching shares a lot with the big mood that is binge-watching, since binge-watching is essentially about repetition. The Americans as a binge-watch may be a questionable choice under the circumstance but it feels strangely cozy (The Americans is another show whose genre is “cozy trauma”), and somehow appropriate for the season given that The Americans portrays DC as a city where, like Narnia, it is always winter and never Christmas. My main observations so far are that Stan Beeman is the human embodiement of the longing I have always felt for the closed-circuit friendship that men have with other men. I can only watch the Martha scenes through my hands over my face, like a horror movie. I cannot talk in public on this blog about how I feel about Matthew Rhys.
Sex and the City Season 1 Episodes 1 - 5: “Wait, you’ve never seen Sex and the City at ALL?” I said when it came up in conversation that Thomas had never seen Sex and the City. “We are going to watch it right now!” I said. “It will be fun!” I said. It was not fun.
I watched a lot of Sex and The City during the summer after the end of high school, a few years after most of it had aired. That summer was when my life fell apart, and when I had sex for the first time, with someone who lived in the world of adults, the world where people had sex and relationships and apartments and salaried jobs and brunch and dinner reservations and bars at which they were regulars. The world of sex, and people who had it, still felt very far away then, a place where I didn’t speak the language. I don’t know if sex— and love, and dating, and the world in which one cares about and collides with other people— appeared as night-and-day foreign to other people as it did to me. I have always wondered what my life would be like, and what I would be like, if I had had more seemingly normal formative and initiative experiences of sex and love and dating. I am amazed, and envious, to think that there really are people for whom these aspects of life, of existing up close with other people, at some point became a fluency. I wonder a lot— too much!— who I would be if sex and love themselves did not seem fraudulent, and therefore incessantly interesting, to me.
Anyway, it turns out Sex and the City is bad, and very stressful to watch with someone who has never seen it before. In only the first handful of episodes, it manages to be fatphobic, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, staggeringly racist, classist, hateful to sex workers, otherwise cruel, and downright bizarre. Also Chris Noth is a cop. The show is about sex, and yet sex itself is seen as some kind of strange and foreign unknown horror; the four women ask each other questions about sex as though any sex act, even the most mundane, were an unexplained paranormal phenomenon, one that must be discussed in hushed and embarrassed tones, but also only in extremely expensive crowded restaurants in full daylight, for reasons.
Watching it now, it made perfect sense why it had appealed to me so much at that exact moment as a teenager, though. The women in the show are meant to be worldly and oversexed, sharp-edged city girls who have done it all and seen it all and wear bras as clothing. And yet their attitudes toward and reactions to sex are almost the exact same ones I had at age eighteen, and for longer than I’d like to admit after. They are shocked by the fact of sex and their approach to it is terrified and obsessive, a dangerous new discovery that has to be brought back to the lab and examined under a microscope.
Thomas and I couldn’t get through more than five episodes of Sex and the City because we were too embarrassed, but in my case some of my embarrassment may still have been about recognition, and the realization that I still at times think of sex in this adolescent way, shocked by and preoccupied with everything to do with desire, with how my body and my emotions dwell in the exact same space. The women on Sex and the City are monsters, but so am I when I am in the teeth of my relationship to wanting and being wanted, to knowing and being known, to bodies and shame and the absurd fact of how my shame about my body is also a thing that lives in my body. The Sex and the City women are monsters for different reasons (have definitely never tipped over 10% anywhere ever, almost certainly TERFs, largely unkind to themselves and everyone else around them, imagine having a conversation about Medicare for All with these women, I will see you in hell where that is what we all will be doing for the rest of eternity), but trying to understand one’s own relationship to desire, and failing again and again to do so in an endless iteration of unsuccessful human experiences, is an all-too-relatable story, and likely the reason I was unable to watch more than five episodes of this show in front of someone I love.
Frasier: One problem with a lot of narrative art is how much satire is still at the same time aspirational.
Letterkenny: One of the fascinating things about the heavy concept of goodness, and the secular approach to something that might be called grace, is that in recent years a genre of half-hour sitcom has sprung up around it. Not that these shows intentionally conspired to form a text about what it means to be fundamentally good, and what it means to offer and to receive grace— although The Good Place, the primary example, is directly concerned with these themes— but that they all, independent from each other, sincerely address the idea of what it might mean to be a genuinely good person. The science-fictional elements of these shows are the ways in which people in them are just a bit kinder, a bit more compassionate, less bitter, less selfish, and more vulnerable, than people in the world outside of scripted television.
Ted Lasso is obviously one of these, and Schitt’s Creek, and, I would argue, Letterkenny, a show that injected the word “soft” into my vocabulary as a descriptor for basically everything I like.
In early March, an acquaintance reached out to say that she was temporarily living with her boyfriend in mine and Thomas’ neighborhood and did we want to maybe be friends? We scheduled a FaceTime hang with her and her boyfriend. After the first FaceTime we said “same time next week?” as though they were our family members rather than two near-strangers who happened to live a few blocks from us. And then that was what we did every week, at the same time, for months, until it felt weird to go a day without texting or talking to each other. There was this thing in March and April in New York where every friendship felt like the WWI Christmas Truce; the suddenness and constant crisis of the situation all around made everything feel high-stakes and last-chance, and threw existing patterns and rhythms out of alignment. There were established friends, the kind of people I would normally see every week or two in person, to whom I didn’t talk in any real way for weeks or months, and there were new friendships into which I flung myself over video chat and text as though it were the first week of college and I needed to be best friends with anyone who would stand next to me for five minutes, skipping over small talk and going straight to the heart of family and love and trauma, grievances and confessions. Everything this year has been so horrible that I feel guilty talking about the bright spots, but, before this year, I had thought the part of my life in which I could form these sorts of new friendships was over. To have found it again has been a strange and enormous blessing, that blinking-awake sense of sudden and unearned luck. I am still afraid every day that these new friends will see through me and stop being friends with me; it feels good to treasure something enough to be certain each next day is the day I will lose it.
We binge-watched Letterkenny and so did our new friends, on not quite parallel but close enough schedules, and then Letterkenny became the language of our friendship. Quoting a TV show out loud a lot is a little bit like inventing a voice and personality for your cat and talking out loud to, and as, the cat in that voice. It’s not uncool in the actually-cool way, it’s just uncool, like if a cool teenager called you uncool. Our friendship is a little like this too, childishly sincere and unself-conscious. It’s a lot like straightforwardly confronting the idea of goodness. It’s open-armed sincerity for its own sake, with no agenda, here to make friends and gain nothing from that friendship beyond the friendship itself.
Letterkenny is a show concerned with the same kinds of friendships and the same kind of goodness. Letterkenny is a barfight with a heart of gold, a shoulder-shrug secular idea of grace, of what we might owe one another. The characters on the show, even the most unlikely ones, love one another purely for their proximity, for the fact that they’re here again, day after day, part of the landscape, undeserving and easily loyal. It also happens to be so funny right from the opening scene that I had to pause the first episode at least five times so I could stop laughing. Every person I love in real life is at least partly a Stewart.
The Magicians: I don’t have any emotional run-on sentences to say about The Magicians because you know when it’s so clear that someone wants something specific from you that you feel like you have to stubbornly refuse to give them that specific thing?
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