So many TV series, so little time (and sleep)
While it's fantastic that the likes of Apple are adding more juicy fodder to the entertainment pile, how is a working person supposed to fit it all in?
Fatigue drained through my internal organs while watching the trailer for the upcoming newsroom drama, The Morning Show, starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. Not because the television show looked boring or tired. Far from it. The series from Apple’s new TV Plus streaming service looks tantalising — and at a reported cost of more than $15m per episode, it damn well should be.
No, it was the prospect of fitting yet another quality TV programme into my already crowded schedule. Pity the TV addict. I’m already struggling. I’ve enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, Russian Doll and Fleabag but am woefully behind on Atlanta, Years and Years and (whispers) The Americans. Don’t get me started on those I haven’t started — Chernobyl and Succession. This abundance of programmes means critics are counting down until the bubble pops.
The transformation of TV’s image began 20 years ago with HBO’s The Sopranos. The high production values, the big budgets, the slow storylines reversed the old snobbishness over TV. The expansive stories and complicated characters of The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad have frequently been described as Shakespearean. And Mad Men has been compared to American writers John Cheever and Raymond Carver.
As New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum pointed out, comparing programmes to other forms of art to demonstrate gravitas shows a resistance to the media being judged on its own merits.
The proliferation of computers and smartphones also dismantled the TV barriers. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, high-minded parents would ban television from their homes. Now that streaming services are on smartphones and devices, it’s everywhere. Even the most performative of TV refuseniks turn out to have watched all five series of Breaking Bad.
People say that no-one on their deathbed regrets not watching more TV. They say that about attending meetings too. But just as work is more than meetings, so is TV more than mindless watching (not that there’s anything wrong with that anyway).
It can be an opportunity to bond with family: cue teens slouching in front of the television on the sofa alongside their parents. It can provide a refuge from the bleak world beyond the front door, as with The Great British Bake Off. It can inspire bonding through water-cooler chats, most recently about Fleabag’s priest and H’s identity in The Line of Duty. It can also be profound. Earlier in 2019, I sobbed huge gulpy tears over Stephen Graham’s moving performance in Shane Meadows’s dark drama, The Virtues. Sometimes it is all those things.
With even more TV looming, I have to find ways to fit it in.
The first option is to watch it at work. This is only viable if you have a private office — and, apparently, people in possession of those didn’t get where they are by watching TV at their desk. Anyway, as shown by recent legal proceedings by Robert De Niro’s production company against a former employee who not only allegedly embezzled funds but also watched episodes of Friends and Schitt’s Creek in the office, this is a risky strategy. I can just about get away with mindless scrolling through Twitter as “work” but it would be hard to justify Big Little Lies.
Pre-work is another option. This strategy is deployed by writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who recently told an interviewer that every fifth morning she watches Sharp Objects or The Affair. As I barely make it out of the door on time, this would be too stressful. I walk to work so the commute is out.
Then there is speed-watching. One advocate of fast-forwarding through TV told the Sun newspaper that doubling the speed enabled him to “finish an entire Game of Thrones in one 40-minute sitting”, giving him 20 minutes extra to watch “more Game of Thrones”. This could be counterproductive. One Reddit poster revealed that after doing this himself, he was unable to focus on any visual media whatsoever.
The fourth is to stay up late. A couple of years ago, Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings shrugged off competition, arguing that the company was instead “competing with sleep”. This is a battle I already seem to be losing.
© The Financial Times Limited 2019