I hate the term “guilty pleasure” as it applies to television because it implies that I can somehow feel shame about my watching habits. I am a weapon of mass media consumption. I’m absolutely shameless in my tastes, of what I consider to be the television equivalent of black tar heroin and crystal meth. My must TV watch list includes Gossip Girl, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Spartacus, Jersey Shore, Bad Girls Club, Dance Moms, and whatever novela is occupying the 9PM slot on Univision (yes I went there). The more haplessly dramatic the better. But despite my lowly tastes, I still manage to retain a hint of class with some of my other television favorites. Critically acclaimed television is great to watch and stimulating for the brain, but after a daylong marathon of Downtown Abbey, I really just want to unwind with an episode of Gossip Girl.
It takes me three days to really watch a movie if I’m using my computer. No I’m not watching and re-watching to catch things I didn’t miss, I just can’t seem to sit still and undisturbed for more than five minutes. I have to constantly multi-task, constantly check the news, constantly update the world on my musings as I watch Alien. However, TV is a different case for me. I can block myself out of the constant stream of useless information I drown myself in and really focus on a good series. Watching TV can be like running a marathon, your brain and eyes will be exhausted if you stick to one show for a while and perhaps you’ll lose interest and give up on what could be the greatest television show to ever be broadcast. Some of the best television shows pick up slowly and therefore alienate the 140 character crowd who need to consume information and entertainment in short flashy intervals. That’s why I’ve compiled this easy to consume list of some of television shows.
The Killing/ Veronica Mars
The Killing is a dark, slow moving, moody mystery drama that chronicles Seattle detectives Sarah Linden and Eric Holder as they try to find the murderer of local teen Rosie Larsen. This isn’t Law and Order: the murder isn’t solved in an episode. Like the murder of Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks, the mystery spans more than one season. The Killing is grueling to consume, like an uphill marathon lined with hot coals, it’s not just TV you watch. After getting through a couple of subtly written and despairingly shot episodes, give your brain a rest and a bit of closure with an episode of Veronica Mars. Set in the fictional Southern California town of Neptune, the series follows high school student Veronica Mars as she helps her private investigator father while taking on cases of her own. Like The Killing, Veronica Mars stars a strong, passionate, but alienated and vulnerable female detective. Veronica Mars also includes a season long mystery arc, but unlike The Killing each episode of Veronica Mars is a mini-mystery that is solved at the end of the episode. Skip out on watching anything from its disappointing third season.
Downton Abbey/ Gossip Girl
Set in a declining estate in England in the early 20th century, Downton Abbey follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family as they struggle to find an heir to their estate, as well as the lives of their extensive wait staff. Downton Abbey is wonderfully written and filled with resonating characters who are as complex as they are realistic to their times. The show jumps ahead in time, beginning with the sinking of the Titanic in 1914 and ending its most recent episode at the tail end of the influenza outbreak following the First World War. There is a certain amount of scandal and intrigue at Downton Abbey, but if your thirst for social melodrama and sabotage needs to be satiated by trashier springs, Gossip Girl is over saturated with teen melodrama that is wholly unrealistic and badly written. But television can be escapism, and if you want your brain to float away to a place of headbands and teenaged cocktail parties, watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Gossip Girl.
Boardwalk Empire/ Jersey Shore
Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of going to Atlantic City knows that it’s a rotting tourist destination filled with crime, poverty, misguided tourists, and herds of stray boardwalk cats. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the earlier part of the 20th century, Atlantic City was a vibrant metropolis and tourist destination that during the era of Prohibition became known as The World’s Playground. Boardwalk Empire captures the lawlessness and carefree party atmosphere of the 1920s in a sleek, well written, and gorgeously designed television show. But Boardwalk Empire isn’t a night out on the town, it’s pretty tragic and sad and will leave you in a mess of your own tears and despair as you whisper why over and over again. But perhaps great television must be tragic in order to be resonating. And that’s why I think Jersey Shore is one of the greatest reality shows to ever air. No one looks up to the trashy antics of the cast members (who most, by the way, aren’t even from Jersey), and if they do they’re probably missing the part of the brain associated with shame and decorum. But the cast members are tragic, not one has any sort of redeeming quality and all suffer from their fair share of misfortune. Jersey Shore is an exercise in schadenfreude. No one would tune in if they weren’t so embarrassing and made the most hapless life and style choices. While I feel for the characters of Boardwalk Empire, I fiendishly enjoy whenever someone on Jersey Shore falls on their face or cries about being short and alone. Maybe I’m just a sadist hiding behind the guise of a viewer, but who cares, it’s fun. The cast of Jersey Shore even have an embarrassingly trashy alcohol fueled trip to Atlantic City with bonus violence sequences reminiscent of the Atlantic City of days past!
Breaking Bad/ Weeds
The first three seasons of Weeds is a quirky, unique show about a suburbanite single mother, Nancy Botwin, struggling to keep her family afloat by selling marijuana. But like all money schemes that involve illegal drugs, things go awry for Nancy. In between rival drug dealers, the DEA, and a nosy vindictive neighbor, Nancy has her fair share of turmoil. However the show keeps an unrealistic air of optimism; Nancy always manages to come out on top of things, no matter how many times her decisions manage to screw things up. Weeds is ultimately a light hearted and easy watch. Later seasons are total garbage though, Nancy becomes even more stupid and unredeemable yet somehow the writers still favor her. Breaking Bad, like Weeds, features a struggling suburbanite trying to keep his family afloat. But while Nancy Botwin quips and drinks iced lattes, Walter White poisons children and bombs nursery homes. Perhaps Breaking Bad is so good because you’re almost certain you’ll know how it end. Walter White will die. Even if he can escape the clutches of Gus Fring, the inoperable terminal lung cancer still lingers on, waiting in the shadows, reminding Walter and us that his days are numbered. Walter White is death, and as death is, he is unforgiving and ruthless in getting what he wants.