every tv show I have binge-watched since however long our current nightmare has continued: part four

vampire himbo utopia, couches in space, and crying about a made-up video game

I have watched some television lately. Maybe so have you. Let’s discuss it. (here are links to parts one, two, and three of this series, an occasional feature of this newsletter)

Mythic Quest: I hate tech and the tech world even though it is in several undeniable ways the thing that pays my bills, so I guess I specifically hate the tech world in the way the court jester hates the king. For this and a few other reasons, I didn’t think I wanted to watch Mythic Quest, and basically ignored everything about it until one day in early June. 

It was during those few weeks when some of us, or maybe just the most naive of us, or maybe just me, an incorrigibly naive person, thought life was going to begin climbing upward in a clear and uncomplicated trajectory. I was vaccinated, my friends were vaccinated, and briefly both the weather and the numbers were good. I was gently high in a park with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time, sitting on a picnic blanket with our shoes off, in the dappled afternoon sunlight, with snacks and drinks strewn around us, thrilled to be near each other again. One of my friends had brought her dog and the dog sat in everybody’s lap and we all talked to him in that voice that people use to talk to dogs. The light pulled away into the long shallow coast of the afternoon. As stupid as I knew it was, I allowed myself to feel that we had come through something, that we had gotten beyond endurance and into reward. It was unearned and unlucky, but so is most happiness. The air felt that way it does in early summer, like it just wants so badly to forgive you for everything.

One of my friends sitting on that picnic blanket started talking about Mythic Quest, and how great it was. So, when we all gathered up our snacks and our drinks and our shoes and our friend’s dog and left the park, I went home and watched an entire season of Mythic Quest

I had that feeling you get in the summer when you’ve hung out with friends all day but you still make it home before it’s dark, a feeling that’s about the beach even if you haven’t been at the beach, and about being stoned even if you aren’t stoned. Thomas was out of town visiting his family for the first time in nearly two years— the world was opening up, we thought, the possibilities were returning—and I had an experience that, for me, is near to the pinnacle of what life offers: My spouse was out of town, I had the apartment to myself, and I had no plans. It is possible that I only liked Mythic Quest so much because I watched it under these circumstances, the greatest circumstances under which any television can possibly be watched. 

But also: F. Murray Abraham is a national treasure. The way Poppy says “dinner parties!” with increasing desperation in that one episode is an entire register of emotion, one for which I have enormous affection because it is the one in which I have lived much of my life. “A Dark Quiet Death” is an actual perfect piece of television, although probably the reason I like it so much is that it is on loan from the Before trilogy extended universe, despite being a half-hour television episode about video games (I realize I also made a joke about this episode being an Ingmar Bergman movie, and it deserves that joke, but it’s really more in Richard Linklater’s register, for better or for worse). The worst thing about me as a human being is how thunderingly sexually attracted I am to Nick from New Girl (that’s his name, that’s the actor’s name, I don’t know his name because his name is Nick from New Girl).

I realize this is not a review, nor is it really attempting to be one, but I recommend Mythic Quest, even if you’re not any kind of a nerd at all. There’s a meme account on Instagram called “Mad Men But Everyone Is Nice” and that’s kind of what Mythic Quest is (that’s actually what a lot of television is right now, with varying degrees of success). Mythic Quest isn’t great (except for “A Dark Quiet Death,” which is, again, spectacular) but it’s pretty good, and I think more often than not, “pretty good,” is exactly what a lot of us want from television, or anyway, what I want from it. 

What We Do In The Shadows: All of my beautiful boyfriends are perfect and beautiful and also boyfriends with each other. Take me away to vampire himbo utopia.

Billions: Something that astounds me in this the year of our plague 2021 is that there are actually still people saying that money does not buy happiness. People have, presumably, noticed the events of the last year, in which there are several different pandemics happening and which one is happening to you is largely determined by how much money you have. And yet, somehow, there has not been a worldwide stoppage on the claim that money doesn’t buy happiness.

When I say money I do mean cash, and I also mean all of the other forms that money assumes. Money is love and warmth, security and boundaries. Money is options, and grace, and time, and slowness, and second chances and the ability to shrug things off, to decide what is and isn’t a big deal, to take a joke, to be still in a room with others. Money is the chair I am sitting in as I write this, the computer I am typing this on, the beverages to left of the computer, the fact that I am not hungry right now, the phone I keep checking, the ability I have, by way of that phone, to know that my loved ones are ok and to let them know the same about myself, the fact that I could go to bed now if I was tired, the bed itself and the sheets on it, the television I am looking forward to watching when I finish writing this and the wasted hour I will devote to watching that television, the game I’ll play on my phone while I watch that television and the couch I’ll sit on when I do. Money is every stupid, heartfelt thing I have ever said about New York City. Money is being in a room with my family and telling a good joke and everyone laughs and the past wipes off of the present like a car going through a car wash, clean and slow and easy.

It is of course possible to be superficially or even deeply unhappy and be wealthy at the same time, but it is indisputably true that any person in that position would be much less happy if their money was taken away. Much unhappiness is chemical, or nebulous, or beyond our human control, but a likely greater portion is situational, and the vast majority of those situations are problems that could be solved with money. Anyone who doesn’t think that money can buy love, or at least that the lack of it can take love away, has probably always had enough money. 

Billions has not been a good show, for any traditional meaning of good, since the end of the third season, but I still love it a lot. At this point most of what I love about it is that it is very stupid. But what I respect about Billions is that even at its most stupid, it has never for a second tried to claim that money doesn’t buy happiness or solve problems. The shallowest thing about Billions is also the smartest thing about it. Yes, pretty much every character on Billions is unhappy, but the show makes it clear that it believes money does buy happiness—all of these people are just doing it wrong. 

Even beyond that, there’s a lot to recommend Billions. Paul Giamatti’s performance is so much better than the material he’s given that the mismatch of the two frequently ascends to the level of camp. Roughly 70% of the supporting characters could be the main character of a far more interesting show (Taylor in particular but also everybody else). Maggie Siff has been my wife since the first season of Mad Men and is doing a great job here. Every single actor is in a competition to see who can chew the most scenery, like a bunch of disgraced 19th century petty aristocrats competing to do Shakespeare in theaters where every object is made of velvet; I assume watching Billions is exactly what it was like to watch Henry Irving play Hamlet which is to say, very bad and also extremely good, but in a way that feels a little icky. Like every other person who has ever had even mildly weird sex, I enjoy getting to point out when television is wrong about BDSM, and if that sounds like something you would enjoy, oh boy will you enjoy Billions.

The first three seasons of Billions are a soap opera just as much as the later ones, but they are also genuinely very good. At its best, Billions is the absolute purest form of television, in the Saturday-afternoon, hungover-even-without-a-hangover, feeling-other-people’s-emotions-like-doing-drugs thing of television. There is a music cue at the end of the first season that should be in the Louvre. The later seasons, like the one that’s on now, aren’t anywhere near as good, but it some ways it doesn’t really matter. The comforting, sick feeling that money offers in its worst form is a real kind of happiness, and it is also very similar to the long-weekend satisfaction of watching a show that you know isn’t great anymore, and enjoying it just as much anyway. 

Only Murders in The Building: This show is absolutely not very good at all, but I live on the Upper West Side in an old, crumbling co-op building and I am therefore both legally and medically obligated to watch all of it. If you have ever, I don’t know, hoped Steve Martin and Martin Short would come over to your house and aggressively read all of the cartoons in an issue of The New Yorker out loud to you and then painstakingly explain why each of the jokes is funny, then this might be just the show for you.

Deep Space Nine: Deep Space Nine was the first show I ever really binge-watched. My first boyfriend in college was a huge DS9 fan and when I said I had never watched it, he insisted we watch the whole thing. This is a terrible thing to do with your time when you are eighteen years old and have just moved to New York City, but it was also one of the coziest experiences of my life, and allowed me to spend six months with him before realizing that we were utterly incompatible (not that I didn’t lie to myself about that for a quite a while longer after). 

A few months ago, someone I’m in a group chat with mentioned DS9, and we sent memes about the show back and forth, and yelled about how much we love Major Kira, and ever since then I’ve been watching it when I can’t think of anything else to watch. It’s been supremely comforting, like sinking into an old, soft couch. I meant to write a whole section of the couch essay about Star Trek and never managed to get around to it, but what Star Trek, in all its forms, is actually about is couches. The starships (or, in this case, space station) are gigantic flying couches: soft, round, bounded universes that shut out the world beyond them and invite sound sleep. They narrow down what matters to only whoever else is on the couch. The starship, or space station, like the couch, is a closed system, afforded the ability to draw its own boundaries, so that even danger feels safe. Every landing is a soft landing.

Despite the fact that it wasn’t a very good relationship, I have only fond memories of watching massive amounts of DS9 with this ex from forever ago. Binge-watching is a kind of couch, and Star Trek is a couch, and so binge-watching a Star Trek show is perhaps the most one can be on a couch, safe and insular in an artificial world entirely without sharp edges. 

Deep Space Nine is indisputably the best Star Trek, and the one that is least a couch, although it is still very much a couch. There are a lot of ways in which this show both predicts and paves the way for much of the prestige television that followed in the decades after it ended. In an unusual move for its time, it threw long narrative arcs across multiple episodes, giving the action a sense of consequences that The Next Generation, for all its battles and trauma and philosophy and Respected British Actors and Borg feelings, never really had. Deep Space Nine is very silly, because it is Star Trek, and all Star Trek is very silly, but DS9 mostly seems to be in on the joke. Although all of Star Trek makes big gestures at being about morality, DS9 is the only one of these shows that could be said to be actually moral and genuinely grappling with questions of ethics. I’m not going to talk about Ted Lasso in this newsletter because I have an overdeveloped self-preservation instinct, but I will say that Deep Space 9 belongs in the current conversation about television concerned with what it means to be good and with what we owe another, and that at times DS9 comes at those questions in a subtler and more nuanced way than many of the shows that today loudly make them their subject. Every Star Trek is a cop, but Deep Space Nine is the only one where you could even try to make an argument otherwise.

It’s also just utterly bonkers and the first season is abjectly terrible and the rest of it is a high camp pre-prestige TV batshit space opera and maybe if you don’t know what to watch tonight you should watch DS9. Skip the first season, though. 

Ted Lasso: I do not enjoy conflict for the sake of conflict and I understand that this is a personal failing on my part. If you want to know my in-depth and nuanced opinion of this show, you can certainly feel free to spend six months to a year becoming close enough friends with me to be in a group chat together.

this is griefbacon’s weekly public essay. if you enjoyed this, maybe consider subscribing? subscribers get an extra essay most weeks, and access to the subscriber discussion threads, which are a joy. if you want to read the other three television posts in this series, they’re here, here, and here. if you want to subscribe but can’t afford to do so, you can always email me, and if you’d like to buy a gift subscription for someone else, you can do so here or at the link below.

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