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I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t watch nearly as much TV as I should.
I say “should” because when someone is being paid to write about television, there’s an expectancy that the columns can and will cover a whole range of topics and series and ideas, and while I’ve done my best to walk a wider path, these past 18 months penning Remotely Controlled have found me turning time and again to the Oceanic Six, the crew of the Galactica, the fate of Jon Stewart and the loves of Liz Lemon. It’s not that I don’t expose myself to more shows than that; it’s just that most television isn’t worth following, and the best shows are always, always, always the ones that burn bright for a few years and go out strong, from Arrested Development to The Wire. As this column draws to a close, I find myself unable to do anything but give some half-assed valedictory address.
I’ve written about reality shows, but unless it’s Dirty Jobs or The First 48, it won’t be worthwhile except in the ironic sense. (I mean, I “enjoy” watching the Real World/Road Rules Challenge, but I can’t say I genuinely enjoy it, you know?) The best reality series are the ones that—take the journey with me—actually convey some sense of reality, actually present a fraction of the world we recognize around us. When Mike Rowe cleans out pig manure or a Dallas murder police officer puts down a case, there’s a sense of knowledge and understanding that you will never get from watching anything on VH1, MTV, Bravo or any other network that traffics in the kind of prefab grime that gave rise to “snark.”
I’ve written about dramas, but most of them are either pat procedurals that sacrifice long-term characterization to gain immediacy or that forfeit intelligent dialogue and believable relationships out of desire to feel better than they are. And I’m not trying to compare everything out there to David Simon (may he live forever) or even Aaron Sorkin. I’m just saying that most shows aren’t worth it. The most enjoyable dramas currently airing are smart pop ones like Lost or Friday Night Lights, both of which are on their way out.
I’ve written about comedies, but the only ones worth watching are 30 Rock, The Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and usually (and admittedly to a lesser degree) The Life & Times of Tim. Those are the only shows out there writing to a level we need to be on instead of aiming at a level people are too tired to leave behind. For every person you know who makes jokes about Griz and Dot Com, there are sadly dozens more who can quote The Big Bang Theory. There’s just not that much out there worth following.
So I guess that’s my advice, if you can call it that: Don’t be afraid to not follow everything. More clearly, it’s OK to avoid 98 percent of everything you come across. When you find something new, check it out. If it’s good, keep an eye on it. If it’s not, then (a) be able to admit that it’s not and (b) let it go. It’s impossible to explain the happy freedom of only really caring about a few good series. Sure, I zone out in front of Frasier reruns as much as anyone—you have to watch something when you’re hung over—but as far as actually pursuing a show, as far as devoting time and effort and emotion to following the lives and loves of a fictional family of characters, there are only a few worthy selections available. Chase the good ones and love them while they’re here, and ignore the bad ones until you can’t remember them anymore. Friends and co-workers will probably ask you how you feel about Blake Lively, or Spencer Pratt, or Gil Grissom, or Hiro. Just tell them that between Creed Bratton and Smash Williams, you haven’t got the time.
The remote’s all yours.
MORE:Keep reading Daniel Carlson at pajiba.com