Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question comes from reader Matt S.:
During its initial run, I watched every episode of Felicity; however, about a decade ago, I ordered the first DVD of the series from Netflix, popped it in, shut it off in a complete lack of interest five minutes into the pilot, and mailed the disc back, never to attempt watching it again. What shows were you a devoted fan of when you first saw them, but now have no interest in rewatching?
I’m far from the first person to suggest this—and definitely not the first to say it on this website—but the eternally rebooting modern-day anthology is the best thing that ever happened to Ryan Murphy. By the time the first season of American Horror Story was revealed to be a stand-alone story, the now-ubiquitous producer had already built a reputation for crafting shows that made big splashes in their debut seasons, only to spend the remainder of their runs flicking hot spittle in the audience’s face. It happened with Nip/Tuck, and while Murphy was busy picking off members of the Harmon family on FX, it was happening to Glee. Co-creator Ian Brennan first wrote the show-choir comedy as a film script, and those close-ended roots began to show once the series settled in to its sports-movie rhythms of sectionals, regionals, nationals (and repeat). More frustratingly, a show that started out as a sharp satire of after-school specials and “very special episodes” grew increasingly PSA in tone, leading to that ludicrous texting-while-driving cliffhanger (and the equally ludicrous recovery storyline that followed) from season three. Knowing where it was all heading, I’m hesitant to ever revisit those first, promising episodes of Glee, when the show was a bright-eyed little puppy dog whose bite was as strong as its Auto-Tuned bark, which it used to articulate adolescent emotion through top 40 hits. We’ll always have the McKinley football squad’s “Single Ladies” touchdown/flagrant play-clock violation; unfortunately, we must reconcile that burst of televised joy with the most infamous screenshot in TV Club history.
The key to any series’ rewatchability is wanting to live inside its world with its characters, and by that metric, Big Love fails on both counts. I avidly watched all five seasons of the HBO drama, even after it spun out into those increasingly ludicrous casino-and-senatorial-runs-and-smuggling subplots in its fourth year, but I never had any particular affinity for any of the characters (Ginnifer Goodwin’s adorably plucky Margene aside). The themes of faith, morality, and loyalty the show explored became repetitive. The overarching plot about whether the Henricksons would be outed as polygamists became especially tedious, in the way that all “big secret”-based shows do eventually. And while I found the creepy Juniper Creek cult, led by Harry Dean Stanton and a tightly wound Matt Ross, intriguing at the time, it’s not in a way that begs to be revisited. When I think of Big Love now, it’s a blurry montage of an exasperated Bill Paxton standing in his kitchen, making yet another speech about God while Bruce Dern hisses at him. I’m good.
I was a staunch fan of Family Guy’s first few seasons, the period of the show when it always teetered on the edge of cancellation and suffered from time-slot instability. While the show was eventually resurrected and remains a Sunday-night staple, I don’t watch it, and I have zero interest in revisiting the comedy’s early years. Call it absurdity fatigue, maybe, or say that the show wore out its welcome. What was once novel—Stewie’s diabolical personality, say, or Peter Griffin’s low-level misogyny—now seem like cheap comedy. More than that, Family Guy’s reality-shifting scenarios—Peter gaming the welfare system, for example—seem tasteless in hindsight, while the show’s use of ethnic stereotypes as humor (e.g., the “G.I. Jew” reference in “Death Has A Shadow”) aren’t remotely clever. If I’m looking to rewatch a pop culture-driven cartoon, I’ll always turn to The Simpsons first, as it still possesses all the charms and self-awareness that Family Guy lacks.
The Wire is as good a show as every think piece, best-of list, and discussion on the tastes of Caucasians claim it to be. Over the course of five seasons, what began as a straightforward—if notably well-written—police procedural unfolded into a fully realized, three-dimensional picture of Baltimore and the sick push and pull of power and corruption that shaped the city. My wife and I consumed all of them at an indulgent, possibly unhealthy pace. But even though my mind frequently goes back to multiple scenes from the series, usually accompanied by a wistfully muttered, “Boy, what a good show…” I don’t think I’ll ever sit down and watch it again. It’s a brutally sad series, and rewatching it in absence of the shock experienced when seeing the story unfurl for the first time leaves one with a heavy fatalism about the dysfunctional systems that grind people up, largely immune to the best intentions of those who would change them.
As a devoted fan of Nickelodeon, I welcomed each new wave of shows wholeheartedly. So, when Zoey 101 came out, I devotedly watched the adventures of Jamie Lynn Spears (yes, Britney Spears’ younger sister) and her friends at Pacific Coast Academy, a fictional boarding school in Southern California, even though they failed to offer anything new. From boring crushes to predictable prank wars, I cannot remember a single episode that didn’t follow a very specific teen sitcom formula. I do, however, recall a few of the actors standing out: Sean Flynn had the goofy but charming nerd bit down pat, but a cursory search reveals he hasn’t been up to much since. And although I wasn’t alone in my viewing (at the time, Zoey 101 was Nickelodeon’s best-performing series premiere in almost eight years, and its series finale three years later was the highest-rated show on all of television for all kid demographics, beating out American Idol), I don’t think I could bring myself to watch it again.
This seems like a strange, sad, and embarrassing thing to admit at this point, but at one time I would definitely describe myself as an Entourage fan. I am an unabashed sucker for movies and TV shows about show business, and for the first season or so, I found Entourage to be a real guilty pleasure—slick, good-looking lifestyle porn with a fun, attention-grabbing turn from Jeremy Piven. I particularly liked how non-judgmental the show was, how its characters drank and smoked pot and slept around and behaved like overindulged children and never suffered for it. Then at a certain point, I realized that was because the show was emptily and pointlessly celebrating the vacuous Hollywood lifestyle. I watched Entourage for longer than I care to admit, but you best believe I will not be rewatching it.
I decided a while ago—right before its excellent third season aired, actually—that I’d never need to watch BoJack Horseman from the beginning ever again. That’s a painful decision, given that it might be my favorite thing currently on the air, but not as painful as the parade of self-destruction the show catalogs in between the funny sign gags and rampant animal punning. It was also borne out a few weeks later, after the third season’s penultimate episode, “That’s Too Much, Man!” gave me one of those punches to the gut that never seems to heal. Extensively referencing the previous record holder on the BoJack Darkness Scale—season two’s “Escape From L.A.”—“TTMM!” is the most grim half hour of TV I’ve ever watched. Will Arnett is perfect as a spiraling BoJack, and Kristen Schaal is even better as poor, doomed-from-the-start Sarah Lynn, but I don’t feel the need to ever watch the show’s confirmation that its hero is well and truly damned—or hear Sarah Lynn quietly say “I wanna be an architect”—again.
I regularly tuned in to The Shield when it ran from 2002 to 2008, watching as Vic Mackey’s (Michael Chiklis) victims and foes fell before him with a quickness. Shawn Ryan’s drama was compelling television, and Chiklis made his conniving cop one for the ages. The series’ culmination was practically perfect, and most importantly, The Shield introduced me to Walton Goggins. I’ve talked about Vic, Shane, and Lem enough to my family that I received the complete series on DVD last Christmas. It’s still sitting on a shelf, though—maybe that satisfying ending was really enough? The series gets off to a running start, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to go through seven seasons again. And I’m currently stumped for a reentry point. Then there’s the small matter of the current glut of programming. So for now, the Strike Team remains very much out of commission.
The defining show of my childhood was, hands down, The Dukes Of Hazzard. Totally enthralled by the car chases and cornpone humor, I watched it every Friday night on CBS and conned my parents into buying me all the merchandise, including lunch boxes, action figures, and Colorforms. I even went as Bo Duke for Halloween one year. But I have not revisited Hazzard since it went off the air in 1985. Why should I? There’s no possible way the show can be good, so all I’d be doing is tarnishing my childhood memories. I was able to stomach about 20 minutes of that Dukes Of Hazzard movie when I caught it on TV. To be honest, I was kind of relieved when reruns of the show were pulled because the heroes’ car had a Confederate flag painted on the roof. Now I won’t accidentally stumble on the series while channel surfing and be reminded of how dumb I was as a kid.
I don’t rewatch a lot of non-comedy TV shows in general, and I think a lot of golden-age-of-TV stuff is more effective in the moment than on rewatch. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; there are plenty of ways to enjoy narratives, and when I binge-caught up with Breaking Bad, and then watched the final batch of episodes as they aired, I was typically ravenous, watching two or three episodes in a sitting, rapt. But I have no real desire to revisit it the way I could picture myself rewatching all or part of Mad Men someday. A lot of the show’s richness is worked into its heightened pressure-cooker plotting, and without that uncertainty hanging over it, I can’t imagine either the show’s hairpin twists or its slow-burn moments working quite so well. There are plenty of other shows where that’s also true, but Breaking Bad might be the best. At very least, it’s the show I’ve loved watching the most that I still wouldn’t call one of my all-time favorites.
I was a huge fan of 24 for most of its seasons (it kind of lost me after the series’ high point, season five, but Live Another Day pulled me right back in). My husband and I got addicted when his dad lent us a few box sets, and our then-childless selves mainlined episodes like guttersnipe drug addicts (“Just one more!” “I can stop whenever I want!”). The binge element made it super frustrating when we finally caught up to the show and were forced to wait an entire torturous week to discover Jack Bauer’s next riveting step. But the fun of the show lay primarily in that suspense. Now that I know the final fate of President David Palmer, doomed Edgar, or even Kim and that damn mountain lion, I can’t see any reason to ever rewatch it, much as I loved it. Like pigs, sharks, or Jack Bauer himself, 24 only moves in one direction: forward.
I’m never going to rewatch Lost. But let’s make something very clear: I’m not one of those people that turned on the series in the final year or after the series finale, or even one of those folks that mulled it over for a few months and then somehow decided the entire experience of watching the show had been worthless. I think it’s a great show, and I still do. Are there some weak spots? Absolutely, and I’m happy to discuss them, especially when it involves people sitting locked up in cages for almost half a season. But the show did so much right—the increasingly fun and loopy mythology, the far-flung worlds and mysterious conspiracies, the grounded and well-defined characters who grew and evolved over six seasons—that I’m happy to say I consider it a great series. But it’s that same rich complexity that lets me know I’m not going to watch it again. It’s too much of a commitment, too fully realized and expansive a world to explore again. It’s just too big for me to revisit, at least until I’m of retirement age—and I mean that as a sincere compliment.
I grew up in an appointment-television kind of household, where we’d develop strictly perfunctory relationships to shows—mostly sitcoms—that no one in the family seemed to genuinely love. It was viewership as habit: Gather around the TV at 8 p.m. and That Thing We’re Used To would deliver exactly what it always did, week in and week out. I could probably list a dozen shows that fit the bill, but the one that I have the least interest in revisiting is probably the biggest ratings juggernaut of the whole bunch, NBC’s Must-See cornerstone, Friends. Maybe it’s that the show is such a product of its era that watching it now, during the ongoing golden age of the medium, feels like willful regression. Or maybe it’s that a show like New Girl scores much bigger laughs with, essentially, the same formula. I think what it really comes down to, though, is that my loyalty to Friends, which I continued watching well past its prime, had everything to do with a begrudged investment in the characters—that very common need to see what happened next to Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe. Since I already know what happened to all of them (except Joey—I skipped his further spin-off adventures), there’s no need to subject myself to reruns. I do, however, sometimes still say “Pivot!” when moving furniture.