Raining Anxiety on This Golden Age

Trying to navigate the current television world.

By Phil Robibero

Before Mad Men had hit Netflix, I bought the first two seasons on DVD.  Since then, I have never gotten back my first season box-set from my friend, Mike, and have yet to finish the second episode of the second season.  It’s been years since I last saw Jon Draper.  This is not to say that there was anything wrong with the show, in fact it was pretty damn good from what I remember.  The wedge that ultimately split me from Mad Men was the introduction of The Wire.  By the time Jimmy McNulty and company were on Avon Barksdale’s case, Mad Men was all but a fondly remembered memory.  Sadly, my relationship  with The Wire would not last long.

The Wire captivated me for three seasons until Admiral Adama and the rest of the Battlestar Galactica crew demanded my full attention.  Like Mad Men, The Wire was shelved because I was trying to keep up with pop culture’s TV queue.  I was living a self-fulfilling prophecy; committing to a show half-way through its life and then leaving it for the next best thing.  I was like Newt Gingrich except none of the shows had cancer and I don’t look like a dried-up piece of sliced ham (arguably).

We do live in quite an age where television shows are influencing today’s zeitgeist more than film.  It speaks to the top-shelf content being fed through our cable bands.  Yet, in this golden age of television, I find myself overwhelmed.  There is simply too much good television out there for the normal person to consume it all.  With the added pressures of my friends spoon feeding me other great television series, I have had a growing sense of choice-anxiety.  It has become hard for me to finish certain shows and even figure what new show to start.

If this sounds like a self-diagnosis of my neurosis, you’re probably right.  In fact, you are right, but I can’t help but feel like I’m not the only one out there that is completely overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite choices of great television programming.  While the 24 hour day has yet to add an hour, television shows are demanding a larger chunk of my time.

This may surprise you, but there was a time when viewers would consider a critic’s opinion to decide what shows to watch.  Arguably, this was because there weren’t as many great TV shows as there are now.  Because of this golden age of TV, seeing a review of a show is almost pointless.  For me, I already have several shows lined up that I “need to watch, bro”.  Since there is no break in the stream, there is no need to stop and look up a review.  Even on the slight chance that I wanted to read a critic’s review of a show it would serve little more than to validate the choice I already made. Clearly this old system no longer works for me.

I had this conversation with my friend and fellow Broken Spork writer Bryan Berlin.  This guy is the poster child of today’s ideal media consumer.  He watches more television than anyone else I know.   Though Bryan reasonably splits his time between life and television, his level of consumption could not be achieved without a systematic way of efficiently consuming the several television series’ that he tackles simultaneously.  Bryan explained to me that he separates shows between ones he can do work during and ones that he has to fully commit his attention to.  The placing of the shows is dependent on a few factors like genre, length, and priority.

While this process seems tempting, I feel like systematizing my viewing habits would make the whole experience less organic and more mechanical.  It would be like showing up to work to punch in a time card to watch the next episode of Breaking Bad.  TV would turn into work, not entertainment.  Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to cure my choice-anxieties, but creating a consumption system is not the answer for me (possibly for you though).

However gold or dark an age is it, nevertheless, fosters positive and negative consequences.  While, the golden age of television has flooded our screens with quality content, the result is the creation of overwhelming choices that has rendered some of us paralyzed.  Though, I am not quite ready to permanently set down the remote, the creeping sense that my relationship with a show will be cut short is always there.

Maybe I’ll get through all of Breaking Bad.  Just…maybe…or until Bryan tells me that I should go watch Downton Abbey.

Stay strong my fellow couch commanders.


3 Comments on “Raining Anxiety on This Golden Age”

  1. First of all, that Newt Gingrich metaphor is absolutely spot-on. Now I’m going to be thinking about expired ham whenever I see him on TV (although I like to have that happen as infrequently as possible).

    Second of all, I loved your article, but I think our brains must work in very different ways. A few years ago I was thoroughly invested in The Shield, and was getting a new Shield DVD off of Netflix every week, and around that time I was also recommended to watch Mad Men. I couldn’t pull myself away from The Shield, though, and ended up missing the first few seasons of Mad Men (I eventually caught up later, but in doing that missed other shows I could have enjoyed as well). I think either way has its ups and downs, but the important thing is that we can both enjoy all the wonderment that modern TV has to offer.

    Thanks for your article! It was a great read.


  2. Hey thanks for the thoughtful comment Adam! It really is, without a doubt, a great time to be a TV show fan.

  3. […] Raining Anxiety on This Golden Age […]

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