The Burden of Racing to Watch Every Great TV Show

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Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock

By Ira Brooker

I've never seen True Detective, but I know a good bit about it. I know there's a Yellow King, and someone has antlers, and time is a flat circle, and the women are underwritten, and every episode inspired rapturous praise followed by an abrupt backlash followed by an even more abrupt backlash-to-the-backlash. But most of all I know that I have to see True Detective. While the show was airing, I got daily reminders of this urgent necessity. My brother sent texts shaming me for not having HBO. My Twitter feed was awash with in-jokes and arguments about the show's finer points. I had to skip over sizable chunks of my favorite podcasts when the conversation started getting spoiler-y.

I'll see True Detective eventually, probably whenever Netflix starts carrying the DVDs, but for the time being, I'm content with my outsider status. For one thing, I've always been something of a contrarian when it comes to entertainment. If someone gets too overbearing about how important it is that I see a movie or listen to an album, I tend to snub it out of sheer, passive-aggressive spite. (I'm sure the latest Arcade Fire album is deeply wounded by my indifference.)

Beyond that, who has the time? Looking at TV alone, the current roster of consensus must-watch shows includes True Detective, Mad Men, Justified, Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Hannibal, The Walking Dead, Scandal, Sherlock, Girls, House of Cards and probably a dozen more. For anyone with a job, a family and/or an active social life, that's a staggering order. No matter how high the quality is, not many people have the free time to pack an extra 10 hours or so of required entertainment into their weeks.

Older folks decry the loss of communal entertainment, that bygone era when you knew all of your neighbors were watching I Love Lucy on Monday night and seeing the same movie at the single-screen theater downtown on the weekend. The current overabundance of entertainment options, coupled with the ascendance of social media, has somewhat ironically ushered in a new era of communal consumption, albeit a fragmented and specialized one. Pop into your Twitter feed on certain Sunday nights and you're likely wading into dozens of simultaneous Mad Men live tweets. If you can't make it out to that big music festival, you can rest assured that all your friends will be posting envy-inspiring pics all day long. And as for avoiding spoilers for the new thriller everyone's talking about, you'd better log off entirely until you have a chance to hit the theater.


The sum of all this is a perpetual, nagging feeling of missing out on something. It may seem like a silly thing to stress over, but for people who pride themselves on being hip to the pop culture zeitgeist, getting lapped by the pace of modern media is a legitimate big deal. One of my Twitter friends has made a pledge not to consume any new media in 2014, both because there's so much older stuff she hasn't seen and because she's protesting exactly this kind of pop culture peer pressure. That solution is probably too extreme for a lot of arts aficionados, but there are plenty of workable halfway measures. You can watch only what's available on your streaming service of choice, or focus solely on your local music scene, or set up viewing parties with your friends and agree not to watch anything until you're all together.

To borrow a phrase, the key to this whole conundrum might be learning to accept the things one cannot change. There's always going to be a Hot New Thing that I have to experience. This winter it was True Detective. By fall, it'll be something else entirely. Some of those things I'll get around to, some of them I won't. In the meantime, I'm going to be left out of a lot of conversations I might once have dominated. As much as that stings, I suppose I can take some solace in my otherwise fulfilling, well-rounded daily existence. That's the type of thing even the finest album or season of television can't replace.

Still, I hear McConaughey is really good...