Culture

3 TV Shows You'll Love Not Watching

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I am hopelessly addicted to TV show recaps. I’ll read them for shows I’ve never watched and have no intention of watching. I read them to keep up with what’s moving in pop culture, and for the curiosity of seeing how many ways a single hour of television can be interpreted — humorously, solemnly as a cultural commentary, or passionately by people who care about the characters as deeply as if they were real people.

It speaks to the power of these programs that viewers become so immersed they start to feel as though they know the characters better than the director, the writers, or even the actors. Writing up a weekly criticism of a bad show is a boring waste of time. The fact that a show is painstakingly critiqued every week is, ironically enough, proof that it must be pretty good; or at least, significant in some way (good or bad).

These are my favorite shows not to watch. Okay, I cheated — I do watch some of them, but I tend to read the recaps before I get around to seeing the latest episodes.

3. Mad Men

I stopped watching Mad Men after marathoning the third season left me in a blue funk for two weeks. But the recaps didn’t end there. The virtue of Mad Men recaps is getting all the drama and cultural commentary with less than half the depression. Since it sounds like the show is starting up the long ramp toward jumping the shark, I don’t regret tuning out — but I do enjoy checking in, if simply to answer the question, “How much more miserable can they all get?”

2. Game of Thrones

I watch Game of Thrones, and read the books, but since I don’t have HBO I generally have to wait for the DVDs to be released to catch up on the latest episodes. So instead, I play a fun thing I call Game of Critics. What makes Game of Thrones recaps so entertaining is everyone does them differently — as different as, say, the leadership styles of the stern and fanatical Stannis Baratheon, and the gentle but powerful Daenerys Targaryen.

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There’s Wired‘s delightfully dense summary every week, which opens with a scene-by-scene comparison to the book (with book spoilers painstakingly blacked out) before the writers even get around to critiquing the episode as a whole. Then there’s The XX Factor, which posts weekly Lady Power Rankings covering nearly every female character, from Littlefinger’s prostitutes to the queens of Westeros. And then there’s The Atlantic, where critics seem to spend most of their time talking about how show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and even author George R. R. Martin upon occasion, are not as well equipped as they are to fully understand and explore Game of Thrones‘s complex characters and world.

Complete this sentence: In the Game of Critics, you either win or you…

1. Girls

I’m so glad the recaps of this show are very thorough because it spares me the necessity of having to ever watch it. Every single character sounds too insufferable to spend an hour with, but the recaps are a whirlwind 5-minute dollop of all the best drama. Drama addiction isn’t the only reason to read Girls recaps, though. The show has been widely lauded as the voice of the Millennial generation’s romantic and financial struggles, and its episodes often invite a broader discussion of issues like the hook-up culture and youth underemployment. My opinion (gleaned from recaps) is, if anything, Girls is the voice of a bunch of brats equipped with daddy’s credit card and stuck in emotional adolescence, but I happen to know a lot of Millennials who got over themselves and grew up, so maybe they’re the exceptions.

What shows would you rather read about than watch?