I lost my ability to watch “dark and cool” TV shows after losing my job. But watching comedies like The Good Place taught me a lesson…
In an interview with former Obama speech writer Jon Favreau (not to be confused with actor and director Jon Favreau) on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, Dax and Jon discussed an interesting theory on TV shows.
They said that in times of social and political stability, we crave darker, dystopian storylines — shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Mr Robot, andThe Walking Dead. And when shit gets real, like it did from 2016, we want something lighter, something funnier. I’m not sure if the overall viewing figures will back this up, but this theory certainly matched my own personal preferences over the last few months.
Earlier this year, I lost my job. Well, I didn’t so much lose it as the company I worked for collapsed in a spectacularly public fashion — my job and my salary going with it. I suddenly found myself at home, with quite a lot of time on my hands, so naturally, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to watch a fuck ton of TV.
Television is my way of turning off and relaxing. But, more importantly it’s also been my guiding light over the years — for better or for worse, I’ve used TV as a way of learning about the “real world”. What relationships could be like, what a career could look like, what a full life could be like. And, in particular, what to do in difficult situations. My views on the world were shaped by Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, Gilmore Girls and, later, Sex and The City.
Of course, I understood that they were fictional stories (written mostly by men) that were being acted out by impossibly glamorous and thin actresses — but I still took away the understanding that, for example, women could be vulnerable and strong at the same time, like Buffy. We could take big leaps and move across the country and chop off all our hair and still be left heartbroken, like Felicity. And, crucially, at 19, I also learned you could have a career writing a newspaper column about your own life, and eventually have it be made into a book, like Carrie Bradshaw. An idea and a concept I had never fully considered or understood until I watched that show.
So, at the crossroads of losing my job and trying to figure out what to do with my life next, I turned to my nearest and dearest: iPlayer, Netflix, NOW TV, and Amazon Prime. This time not for answers, but for some sort of emotional comfort and distraction from what was happening in my every day life. I watched Dirty John and then consumed Russian Doll feverishly and loved every episode — but afterwards, I suddenly lost my ability to consume anything “heavy”. It was like I hit a quota for anything disturbing or emotionally difficult. I did not, under any circumstances, want to watch things like Fyre Festival or that Elizabeth Holmes documentary.
Even old episodes of SATC were too irritating; the idea of watching a workplace drama like Mad Men made me want to curl up in a ball. The latest season of Orange Is The New Black was surprisingly too stressful (desperate women trapped in cages? No thanks!), and GLOW weirdly seemed too violent. (For someone who loves The Punisher, the idea that fake wrestling was too much for me was ridiculous, but perhaps it was the female relationships between coworkers that seemed too violent for me). Black Mirror was not only a “no”, it was a “hell-fucking-no”.
Stuck in a TV rut, one morning while walking my dog I listened to Jonathan Van Ness’ interview with Jameela Jamil on his podcast Getting Curious. And, at one point, I nearly had to stop walking because I was laughing so hard at Jameela and Jonathan’s stories about pooping their pants as an adult — one of my favourite genres of story – and I was absolutely beside myself. It was the hardest I had laughed in a while, and after her interview I realised that while I had never really paid much attention to her before, I actually really liked her and decided to check out The Good Place —a show that I had been heavily advertised on Netflix and therefore decided to never watch, because I’m a snob and hate being over-advertised a show.
And so, I did something I never did: I sought out a light, American-made, 30 minute comedy. I made myself a Pop Tart (as I said, I was in a dark place) and started watching The Good Place. Within 10 minutes, I was completely hooked. I found myself giggling, smiling, and totally surprised that it was such a delightfully smart and witty show. It was complex and at times dark, but always in a way that was somehow hopeful, clever, and fun. In between episodes I’d listen to podcast interviews with Kristen Bell — someone I had kinda written off for being too sunny and fun to possibly be interesting, and learned that the exact opposite was true. That she, like The Good Place, is both light and dark, and terribly interesting and impressive. (This is then what ultimately turned me into a #armcherry, but that’s a whole other story.)
I also started watching more stand-up comedy. When it was finally online, I completely devoured series three of Queer Eye. And when I had watched all of The Good Place, I started on Schitt’s Creek, despite my reservations. I didn’t exactly want to watch a story about a family who just lost all their money (talk about triggering) but my sister insisted it was hilarious.
And, well, OH MY GOD. It’s so wonderful. It’s just absolutely bonkers. It makes me laugh and cry and has the greatest comedy and character development unlike any show I’ve ever watched before. Each season is better than the last, and it’s so special that I feel wildly protective of it and the Rose family.
Suddenly, over the course of a couple of months, I found myself a consumer and a lover of shows that I would have never even considered before — shows that people weren’t talking about all day on Twitter, like they do Game Of Thrones or Killing Eve. There seems to be a real snobbery online about comedies, sitcoms and shows that aren’t deemed as being “thought provoking” or “achingly cool” — they’re passed off as “guilty pleasures”. And I am totally guilty of participating in this school of thought. But, I’ve learned that not every good TV show has to be an adaptation of a dystopian novel. Not every show has to make you cry. Things can be light and hopeful, and still be “good”.
Now that more time has passed, I’m in a place where I can watch violence, darkness and despair again. (Which is good, because Handmaid’s Tale is coming back soon, so.) And while I no longer feel I have to shy away from certain themes or storylines, I certainly listen to my gut on what I feel like I actually want to consume, rather than resorting to what everyone’s talking about on social. Even if it is basic af.
If you’re in need of a good laugh or something light and fuzzy, I highly recommend:
- The Good Place
- Schitt’s Creek
- Iliza: Elder Millennial
- Comedians of The World: Mae Martin
- Amy Schumer: Growing
- Bad Moms
- Ellen Degeneres: Relatable
- Brené Brown: The Call To Courage (honestly it’s really funny)
- Wine Country
- Queer Eye
- The Bold Type
- Always Be My Maybe
- Someone Great
- The Spy Who Dumped Me