I LOVE TELEVISION

1950s family of four watching black and white television program of a cowboy riding a horse

 

There. I’ve said it. I know there are lots of writers who don’t “waste time” watching television, but I love it. I’ve loved it since my family got our first black and white set when I was five years old. I loved watching Perry Mason and Bonanza with my grandmother when she lived with us when I was in elementary and junior high school. She had the “mother-in-law suite” in the house my parents built in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1957. My brother and I would crawl up onto her four-poster bed while she relaxed in her recliner chair and lose ourselves in the latest courtroom drama or exciting shoot ’em up.

By the time I was in high school, my mother and I had begun to bond watching late night shows, especially the Tonight Show. My brother went to bed early because of his 4 a.m. paper route, and my dad usually fell asleep in his bed watching the 10 o’clock news. So Mom and I ended up in the den with a bowl of popcorn and Johnny Carson.

I missed a year of television when I was a freshman at Ole Miss. No one had TVs in their dorm rooms in 1969-70, and this was before computers. And for a few of the early years of my marriage, I continued my media drought, when my husband and I were part of a radical religious group that eschewed such secular activities. The first shows I remember watching when we got a new set in the mid ’70s were mostly sports. I especially loved watching Chris Evert play tennis.

Fast forward to the 1980s when we were raising three kids and being very (over?) protective about what they could watch. Fortunately our kids were so busy with sports and school they didn’t really have time to get hooked into too much bad television in those days. They still kid us for not letting them watch The Simpsons (I still don’t like the attitudes in that show) and later for boycotting Friends and other such “worldly” shows. But by the time our kids were in high school, we were all hooked on ER, which we often watched together.

In the mid ’90s I went through another radical spiritual phase and once again removed myself from watching TV for a couple of years. (I also quit listening to secular music and only read spiritual books during that time.) But once I returned to the secular world, I got hooked on television dramas.

I’ve never liked comedy, so I began following lots of drama that some people call night-time soaps. I still love to watch tennis, as well as golf and the Olympics. And my husband and I enjoy watching some singing reality shows, like The Voice, together. He doesn’t have time for dramas (he works all the time) so I record my favorites and watch them when he’s working on a paper for a medical journal or preparing slides for a lecture. So, I thought maybe I’d do a “top 10” list of my favorite television shows. Here goes.

This-Is-UsThis is Us  The writing and acting are superb, and the main topics—especially weight and food issues, mixed-race families, and adoption—hit close to home for me.

Law & Order SVU  Again, terrific writing and acting, and I’m into stories about rape, probably because of my history of sexual abuse, although I was never actually raped. Mariska Hargitay is one of my favorite actresses.

Scandal  Maybe I just love the name “Olivia,” since Kerry Washington and Mariska Hargitay’s characters in Law & Order SVU and Scandal share these names. I will say that I have to fast forward through the torture scenes. The show does get a little too dark at times.

The Brave A new show this season, which I’m really enjoying. I’ve always liked war shows, and this one harks back to a show I watched a few years ago, The Unit. Anne Heche is terrific, and I’m also enjoying watching an actress I’d never seen before, Natacha Karam, who plays Jasmine.

The Handmaid’s Tale  I actually binge-watched all of Season 1 on Amazon fairly recently. As dark as it gets, I couldn’t quit watching it. The Guardian says it’s “too disturbing, even for Margaret Atwood.”

Grey’s Anatomy  It’s not as good as ER was back in the 1980s (okay, sure, I had a huge crush on George Clooney), but I do love a good medical drama.

 

The Good Doctor  A new show this season, it features Dr. Shaun Murphy, an autistic surgical resident, played beautifully by Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) with one of my favorites, Richard Schiff as Dr. Aaron Glassman.

 

 

Madam Secretary  A much lighter drama than many I enjoy, but there’s something about Téa Leoni. Maybe it’s her hair. I’m drawn to strong female protagonists, as you can tell from my list. (I miss The Good Wife!)

How to Get Away With Murder Also a bit dark/violent, but again, it’s the strong female protag who draws me in. Viola Davis can flat out act. I enjoyed the scenes at the law school in early episodes (remember The Paper Chase?) but recent episodes have really gotten dark.

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders  This is fairly new, but I’m already drawn in.  Edie Falco is excellent, and I’m always interested in how people (like the Menendez brothers) react to abuse.

Jaimie Alexander in Blindspot

Jaimie Alexander in Blindspot

So, that’s 10, but coming in as a close #11 is Blindspot. New season starts October 27!

And two shows that I really miss are Parenthood and Nashville.

And in a different category than these dramas, I also love The Voice and So You Think You Can Dance.

If you’re wondering how I find time to watch so much TV and also write (I published three books this year, remember?) and read (so far I’ve read 33 books this year)… I record all my favorite shows and don’t watch commercials, for one thing. This saves 20 minutes for each 60-minute show. I also watch while I’m on the elliptical. And after spending most of my days working (writing, editing, marketing, social media) I watch TV at night. Hope you enjoyed my list. What are your favorite shows?

Why Binge-Watching a TV Series is Like Reading a Novel

Cast of The Newsroom

Cast of The Newsroom

I miss Will, MacKenzie, Charlie, Jim, Maggie, Sloan, Don and Neal! This weekend I finished binge-watching the HBO series (three seasons) “The Newsroom” on Amazon Prime Video (using Roku). This wasn’t my first time at binge-watching. A couple of years ago I did two posts about this activity:

The Anatomy of a Binge

Binge-Watching Continued

The shows I have binge-watched so far include: House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Rectify, and recently Switched at Birth and The Newsroom.

binge-watch-tv-860x442

 

So this morning I woke up thinking about how binge-watching a TV series is like reading a novel. When you watch a TV show as it comes out—one episode each week—you can sometimes lose momentum. Sure, you look forward to the next show, but 7 days later you might have lost some of the immediacy of the plot. You probably haven’t even thought about the characters since the last episode.
But when you watch three years’ worth in a few days (or even a week or two) it’s so much more like reading a good novel. That feeling that you can’t put it down. That you have to know what happens next. (Although this article says that binge-watching just might be changing out brains!)

Yesterday afternoon when I watched the finale of the final season of “The Newsroom,” I found myself sad to be saying goodbye to these characters I had come to care so much about. Will and MacKenzie got married and they’re having a baby! How will that affect MacKenzie’s new position as network president? Maggie and Jim are together but she’s interviewing for a field producer position in DC and Jim just got promoted at ACN in Atlanta! How will their long-distance relationship work out? And Charlie (Sam Waterston) died.  For me he was the glue for the show, so maybe it helped to have him die as the series ended. But I have to admit that I cried. 

Switched at Birth cast

Switched at Birth cast

I recently also binge-watched another series on Netflix, “Switched at Birth.” Not nearly as well written or acted as “The Newsroom,” but the story-line was unique and I was sucked in. Again, when it ended, I found myself wondering what would happen next for Bay, Daphne, Emmett, Toby, and their families? I was fascinated by the partly deaf cast and the ASL (American Sign Language), which I realized I was learning a bit as I watched each episode. I’m excited that they plan to air 10 new episodes beginning in January 2017 (ABC Family) but now I’m wondering if I’ll watch one each week, or wait until they’re over and binge-watch all 10 of them?

Now I find myself wondering also what I’m going to read next. Having just finished a wonderful (nonfiction) book, Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant, I also didn’t want it to end! I’m looking at three books next to my “reading chair” in my office and considering how well it will work to read all three at once: Robert Walker (a novel about a homeless man in Memphis)by Corey Mesler, A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life (Pat Conroy); and A Charmed Life, the 1955 novel by Mary McCarthy, author of The Group. I’ve already read parts of the Conroy book, and I’m excited to see his wife, Cassandra King, who wrote the introduction, this Thursday night at the Thacker Mountain Radio Show at Off Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s the two novels that I might have to read one at a time. Here goes. Have a great week, everyone!

Mental Health Monday: Favorite TV Shows of 2014

I’m not sure what this says about the state of my mental health, but I decided to do this instead of my usual 2014 “End of Year” List—a list of my favorite TV shows. I’m sad that “Parenthood” only has four more episodes. I’ve seen every episode since the beginning. I only wish it had been out when I was raising kids. Anyway, here’s my list.

Parenthood - Season 4

Parenthood

 

Madam-SecretaryParenthood

Nashville

The Good Wife

Law & Order SVU

Scandal

Madam Secretary

Grey’s Anatomy

Halt and Catch Fire

Halt and Catch Fire

State of Affairs

How To Get Away With Murder

Downton Abbey

The Paradise

Halt and Catch Fire

Black Box

 

I guess competition shows should be in their own category:

 

The Voice

American Idol

So You Think You Can Dance

 

I binge-watched all seasons of the following four shows this past year and loved all of them. Just finished “The Newsroom” this weekend, actually, and wish it wasn’t over! Of course it reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time, “Network News.” I wanted to be Holly Hunter. Wouldn’t it be a kick to direct a news show? (To direct anything.)

 the-newsroom-season-3

The Newsroom

Orange is the New Black

Breaking Bad

House of Cards

 

Looking forward to my favorite shows returning this week after the long holiday break. And wishing for something to replace “The Newsroom.” Any suggestions?

Mental Health Monday: The Anatomy of a Binge

My essay, “Eat, Drink, Repeat,” which was published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul, last November, chronicles a three-day binge. But it was a food-and-drink binge, which is what most people think about when they hear the word, “binge,” right?

sketch2

 

But last night there was a piece on the news about binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, and how much less pleasurable that is than watching the episodes over a period of time. After the news I Googled the topic and found this post by Melissa Dahl in New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog, “Why You Shouldn’t Binge-Watch ‘Orange is the New Black.’” Dahl points to studies that show the added value of waiting—anticipating—the pleasure of the next show. (Check out her article to read more about her research, which included sources like The Journal of Consumer Research, and a book by psychologist Sonja Lyubormisky called The How of Happiness.)

BreakingBad

 

This was never an issue before I recently purchased a Samsung tablet, because I’m not going to watch old episodes of a TV series in our living room (where my husband watches sports) and I don’t know how to move the Apple TV gadget to my office TV. And I don’t like to sit at my desk chair and watch Netflix on my computer screen. But oh how easy and fun to watch on my new tablet while the NBA finals are on in the living room. My first TV series to watch on Netflix is “Breaking Bad.” And not just because it won “Best Dramatic Series” at the 2013 Emmys. I decided to watch it because Julie Cantrell, author of two best-selling books, told me the writing is incredible. I agree. And also the acting. But watching the show is addictive! It’s sooooo hard to only watch one episode, when the next one is waiting at my fingertips. And since I’m starting with Season 1, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

If you haven’t seen the show—or if you watched it and loved it—you might be interested in this in-depth article by Notre Dame Doctoral candidate, Leonard DeLorenzo. A brief teaser from the article:

The complexity of “Breaking Bad” comes from the depth of its exploration of the human psyche, the moral fabric of communities, and the relationships that bind people together, for better or worse.  This multi-layered, unified drama opens up in three major, interlocking themes, which will guide our analysis: pride, responsibility, and the social nature of humanity.

51jZQYoFhfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_But back to the binge-watching issues. I’m limiting myself to no more than 2-3 episodes in any single day/evening. The show is so intense that I need time to recover after watching a couple of episodes. It feels good to let the plot simmer a bit before jumping into the next episode—kind of like putting down a good book at the end of an exciting chapter, which leaves me wanting more and having that to look forward to the next day. Maybe that’s some of what Lyubormisky says about anticipation, that it

generates positive emotions and helps us savor future positive experiences.

Delayed gratification. That’s my plan for today. I’m only going to watch two more episodes, and only after I do several hours work on novel revisions. I’ll let you know on Wednesday if I was able to stick with my plan!

Do you binge-watch TV episodes? Do you enjoy watching that way? What’s the longest binge-watching you’ve ever done (how many hours at one sitting)? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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