How I Fell into a Black Hole of Too Much Great TV


As TV watchers, we’re remarkably lucky. It seems that year over year, there’s a neverending parade of outstanding new and returning shows on television. Some of the best stuff is screened on streaming services and cable channels, where we’re seeing bold narrative choices like anthology shows and series that follow new groups of characters each season. But even networks like NBC are pushing their usual boundaries – shows like Hannibal are presenting more violence and challenging content, and in turn changing our perception of network TV as safe and calculated.

Shockingly, this is actually posing a problem for me. There are now so many excellent series I have yet to start (True Detective, Fargo, The Americans, Orphan Black and Hannibal to name only five) that they’ve almost reached a critical mass. It now feels like I have so much to catch up on, I’ll never get through it. So when I have time to kick back and watch something, I almost always default to a movie, something about two hours long that I can actually finish.

In my over-active imagination, I’ve begun to see this predicament in astronomical terms. It’s as if the bright starlight of the new TV golden age has collapsed into a singularity – an inescapable black hole that’s crushing me with its sheer gravity. Based on what scientists have theorized about what would happen to the human body if someone was sucked into a black hole, the analogy is rather fitting – a mind-bending distortion of time, accompanied by being pulled in a thousand directions at once.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in 'True Detective'

Dramatic, isn’t it? Granted, there are far worse problems to have than too much TV to watch, but for a media-savvy writer who follows the entertainment industry, it's kind of crippling. I sometimes worry whether I'm letting down readers or limiting my development as a critic by falling behind.

But if I'm honest, to bemoan the vast selection of great TV on offer is really just a first impulse - the better tactic is to celebrate it. If you look at the history of the medium, it’s only been in the past ten years that TV offerings truly started to diversify and expand into the landscape we now know. It's not a perfect balance, but there are more roles for people of different genders and ethnicities, and more importance is being placed on storytelling. As David Carr points out in a New York Times piece from several months ago (where he also laments the time management dilemma of modern TV viewers), water cooler chats don’t focus on the one-liners from last night’s formulaic sitcom any more – they revolve around how to interpret the maze of mysteries on HBO’s latest triumph.

Sure, plenty of garbage will continue to clog your TV subscription (if you even still have one). We have inane reality shows, exploitative series on TLC, and the same cavalcade of interchangeable comedies and dramas that fill programming blocks. Thankfully, the ratio of good to bad is changing – why else would established, Oscar-winning movie stars and directors choose to work on the small screen? It’s not that the movie business is dying; it’s that there are TV companies willing to create quality content, and there’s an audience savvy enough to track it down.

Tatiana Maslany in 'Orphan Black'

So what’s a poor entertainment blogger to do when he feels he’s fallen too far behind on TV, and the black hole is threatening scare him away from TV watching?

My new plan is to remember that the pressure to stay up to date on TV is a side effect of society and technology converging on the Internet. We live in a time when great content is a click or tap (or gesture or thought) away. In fact, it sometimes astonishes me that we can make it through a day on the Internet without overloading our heads and flopping around like dying fish, in awe of all the information at our disposal.

Nevertheless, somehow we’re able to filter and digest it all without freaking out – maybe learning to live with my TV backlog is the same thing. If I’m going to (ostensibly) be a functioning member of society, I can only watch one thing at a time, and even then, only for a reasonable part of the day. So to revive the space metaphor: maybe the “Must-see TV” list in my notebook isn’t an all-devouring region of space-time, but a warm light to bask in, a couple of hours at a time. That, and to plug my ears when I inevitably hear, “Why haven’t you watched ___ yet?!”.


Are you behind on your TV viewing? How do you manage what to watch and when? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this post, share it with your friends and followers!