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June 27, 2023

I don’t think I can fall in love (with TV shows) anymore

When you live alone, there’s nobody to chastise you for rewatching Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time. There’s also no one to roll your eyes at when Rory blinks helplessly like a baby deer while expecting the world on a platter or Lorelai has another totally obnoxious outburst that no woman in her 30s could muster without being supremely embarrassed.

Of course, hating the characters in your favourite reruns is just as satisfying as loving them—probably more. After a certain number of watches, it’s not about the characters. It’s about the world around them: the coziness of Luke’s diner as fall leaves drift from the trees, the Stars Hollow Gazebo, Patty’s dance studio. It’s a world that you are sure is real after 7 seasons, because you have seen it from every angle. And you’ve not just seen it, but lingered. There are details to this world, details that stay firmly in place even as the characters perform their well-tread choreography.

You already know that Dean is a bit possessive but loving. That Jess was the bad boy, but he was the only authentic one of Rory’s boyfriends. That Luke may have been more into the idea of Lorelai than Lorelai herself. So why watch again? For the world, of course. For the feeling that you’ve fallen into a steady, comforting rhythm. A place in which connecting with other people is effortless. Forced, even. You can’t avoid the bonhomie of Taylor’s insistence about town involvement or the shared joke and theatre of Kirk’s various endeavours.

This is something I think all beloved, long-running shows have in common—that sense of slipping into something well-constructed and steady. We can play it off like nothing much—“oh, tonight? Just putting on Grey’s Anatomy. Again.”—but these worlds of shows offer us a tonal bookend to our days. We rewatch Sex and the City or Girls when we’re going through a break-up because there’s something consoling about watching beautiful, flawed women navigate the same kind of heartbreaks we do.

So that season of grief, which might also be made up of a questionable new diet, an even more questionable haircut, and many tearful drives, is also coloured by the worlds we turn to in our down time.

It’s not incidental. All good art has the power to soothe things in us. By that definition, these long-running shows are art, and important art. We all have shows we are deeply in love with. We can roll our eyes at the pitfalls (Carrie Bradshaw was a terrible friend! Hannah Horvath was a narcissist! Pam and Jim were codependent!) but in the same way we do with people that we love. We like their imperfections. We all have episodes we look forward to every time, stories that never seem to get old.

And it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a new show that settles into itself in this way. Amazing shows that don’t meet ridiculous standards for ratings (or do, and later don’t) are cut from the docket every single day. Writers are pressed to make every episode unmissable and thrilling. No matter how much you love The Office, you could easily miss half of the episodes and not lose the plot.

Capitalism has ruined yet another thing for us—the pressure to produce shows that sell, rendering many of them nearly unwatchable. They’re exhausting to watch. They become intimidating to even start, when we consider the emotional and time investment required.

After a long day of meetings or dealing with clients or simply existing, we don’t want to set off on a boundless new adventure at the end of the day. We kind of just want to chill. To just, like, vibe a little. We want to slip into that steady, comforting rhythm. And shows that allow us to do this have gone down in history. These are the ones that stick, that keep being rewatched, while excellent new series are cut every day for not holding the attention of a depleted collective.

Even series like Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black and Breaking Bad – dark in content – are endlessly re-watchable. They came at a time when our capacity to dive into new worlds (and fall and love with them) was larger, and when the TV industry wasn’t so self-cannibalizing. The worlds in these shows unfolded in front of us and gave us time to warm up to them. How often does an entire fanbase get on board at the exact same time? Most of us realize on season 2, 3, or 5 that the show everyone has been recommending is great (why is this such an annoying conclusion to arrive at?).

We just have a lot of stuff to watch, okay? And there’s more coming out every single day. A lot of it is great, but it gets lost in the mix. And a lot of it is terrible, but that’s just another consequence of the TV production equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall. Things are made because the market research says they should be. Because of PR campaigns. Because of a lot of other reasons that I don’t know, as someone who hasn’t worked in television.

Regardless of the mechanisms behind it, we can’t even enjoy the good stuff anymore or get to the point of falling in love with it if its only purpose is to sell. That’s never how this stuff has worked.

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