The last few days I have been asking people for suggestions for shows to binge. When I am cooking or doing something where I am not just watching TV in a dedicated manner I want something on in the background that I can tune in and out of without missing too much stuff.
My go-to default for most of my life has been Law and Order. I have seen most of the episodes so many times that once when I was waiting to go to the airport from a conference I saw the end of an episode with the sound off and I not only knew every detail of the story, but I knew that was the season finale of Season 14. That’s incredibly pathetic.
Law and Order was great because for a period of time in the early 2000s it was on ALL THE TIME. There were three cable channels that had it on. There were three iterations of it in NBC. If you were trying to kill twenty minutes with the TV on, odds were pretty good you could just throw on an episode of Law and Order.
Since I cut the cord and apparently cable TV has moved on to other shows, this is no longer the case. I have spent a good portion of the last six years trying to find a replacement for Law and Order. It isn’t that I think Law and Order is the greatest show that ever existed, it just had the right combination of characteristics that made it ideal for the purposes I had.
What makes an Ideal Crappy TV Show To Binge
Here are my criteria for what makes a good background TV show:
- Must be at least five seasons long
- Can’t be too engaging
- Has to be somewhat repetitive
- Has to have procedural elements
So far the best show I have found that meets these criteria is Grey’s Anatomy. I started looking for shows on Netflix that had at least five seasons and even though I really didn’t want to, I gave it a try. It’s actually quite a good replacement for Law and Order. It’s been on for a long-ass time and it’s going to keep going for a while. It has serialized elements in being a soap opera, but each episode has procedural elements where there will be some patient or case people are working on. There will be some kind of surgery. You can walk away for five minutes and still be able to kind of figure out what is going on.
Top Chef and Project Runway have worked pretty well too. Since they’re game shows the generalized structure of each show is the same so you can figure out what is going on if you stop paying attention for a while.
Shows That are Too Good
One problem I am having is people recommending shows that I should sit down and actively watch rather than garbage I can just have on in the background.
Breaking Bad is not a good candidate for my purposes.
Supernatural is also one that I can’t binge on. I have slowly worked my way up to season five, but it’s not something I can just passively have on for five hours.
Pretty much anything that has been on cable with abbreviated seasons like Mad Men and Halt and Catch Fire are not good candidates because I want to actively watch them.
Any prestige TV is not a good candidate for my purposes. Prestige TV is something you watch to be actively engaged. There is a time and a place for Prestige TV, but when I just want a steady stream of macaroni and cheese I don’t want to deal with prime rib.
Shows That are Too Engaging
There are so many shows that are disqualified because they require you to pay attention. One of my early candidates to replace Law and Order was NCIS. That stupid show is way too intricate for what it is. You have to pay attention to every single thing people say and do to know what is going on. I listened to an audio commentary from the actors where they got distracted for a minute about something and were like “Wait, what just happened? Why are we in this basement now?” It’s not worth the mental capacity to pay attention to what is going on to get through the entire series.
The West Wing is nothing but people walking and talking. You have to pay attention to every bit of dialog and after a while it gets incredibly preachy and irritating because it’s the world as Aaron Sorkin wishes it would be rather than the world that it is and it just makes me angry and thinking about politics and then I can’t deal with anything anymore.
Shows I have Already Seen
People have suggested some really good shows. The issue is that I have already seen those.
These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Battlestar Galactica
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Doctor Who
Part of the issue is that I don’t want to just get into a rut where I watch the same show over and over again. There is scary amounts of stuff out there that I haven’t seen or read. Even if a book is shitty or a TV show goes off the rails, it’s still good to explore and absorb new things.
I find myself coming back to shows I have already seen like Alias and Chuck, but I would like to contemplate the possibility that there is an amazing show I haven’t seen yet.
That is what happened with Fringe. I tried to get into it a few times, but the first season was kind of slow. My affection for Walter got me through the rocky first season and I discovered a show that I actively looked forward to watching to see what would happen. When it was over I was so happy with how it wrapped up. It was like finishing a great book. But then I was sad that it was over and I can’t see it for the first time again. I want to hope there is something else like that out there and I won’t find it if I just keep watching Grey’s Anatomy over and over again.
Potential Binging Shows
Here is an informal list of shows that I keep forgetting exist that meet my criteria:
- CSI (I watched it up through Season 7, so technically haven’t seen most of it)
- Crossing Jordan
- The X-Files
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager (saw DS9 all the way through when it aired but not since, could never get into Voyager)
- Stargate:SG1, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe
- Person of Interest
A lot of these are older shows. I think that with Peak TV come with the death of the kinds of shows I am looking for. Peak TV is similar to what is going on with film. There are lots of incredible prestige shows that demand constant attention and prompts rabid fan discussions on the internet. Then if you’re not a prestige show, you’re something like The Big Bang Theory. There is a huge amount of really bad, not funny or smart TV that is too bad to be good for having on in the background because when you do pay attention to it, you recoil in horror at the sexist, homophobic garbage being spewed.
There does not seem to be much of a demand for shows without vast mythologies and serialization that is fairly repetitive. Ironically, I am basically looking for the TV equivalent of the Marvel Movie franchise. Those movies are awesome. They are basically the same story over and over again with some variation in the setting and the primary hero.
I realize that by writing this huge blog post complaining about not finding bad TV to watch that it makes me seem like a couch potato neck beard who never leaves my parent’s basement. I think of this stuff as white noise going on in the background. It’s like trying to find a good radio station to listen to while you work. It’s hard finding music that helps you focus and doesn’t just make you flip through stations going “Nope, nope, hell no, aw this is the end of my favorite song and now they’re playing something I hate!”
I will continue my mission to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new shows and new storytelling. To boldly go where lots of other people have gone before!