Too Much TV

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Scott R. Kline

I saw a headline for TV shows that were being taken off the air, and when I clicked on it, I discovered that I’d never heard of a single one of them. With 200 networks and a zillion streaming services, producers are churning out new shows like the Fed is printing money. Like the stars in the sky, there are just too many to count.

How all these channels and shows make money is a mystery. There are only so many eyeballs out there and they keep getting divided by more and more programming. Soon, there will be a show for each and every living American. Mine will be called The Confused Aging Jew, and you’ll find it appropriately on the Lemon network.

Now that we’re limited in our entertainment options, we’re watching more television than ever. And it was a ridiculous amount to begin with. I was brought up to think of TV as evil and mind-destroying, and I remember that my dad would not allow us to watch certain shows that he deemed reprehensible, like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Munsters. I somehow survived.

There does seem to be a good number of excellent TV shows on now, and I’ve read how prominent film actors who have tired of the ambiguity of film work are proclaiming their passion for television and the opportunity to have a constant job doing quality work.

Despite this acclaim for television today, I remain somewhat embarrassed to discuss what I watch. Though I seem to be spending more time in front of the set, announcing this to others still seems like an admission of intellectual defeat, a negative stain on the quality of my lifestyle choices. I’m ashamed that I am watching any television at all, frankly, thinking that instead in my every off moment I should be reading Shakespeare or studying Torah.

Most of us would have a bit of disdain for someone who watches 10 hours of TV a day, so just where is the cut-off on the number of hours…two, three, even four, that is acceptable? At what amount do you go from just watching a bit of TV to becoming an intellectual twit who wastes his life away in front of the boob tube, as we use to call it in my home?

I can’t watch TV during the day, unless it is a sports show on the weekends. There’s just something about having the TV on when the sun is shining that inhibits me from turning on the set. If I’m not working, I go find a chore to do, and I have an endless number of them on my list. I’d feel creepy and weird turning on The View (which I’ve never seen) or a rerun of Mad Men.

Recently, in our regular rather large family gatherings (there are 14 in my immediate family now), I notice that we are often discussing our personal TV-watching. I admit that it’s fun to compare notes and, best of all, to hear about new discoveries of shows “that we should absolutely be watching.”

I readily take suggestions and give them a shot. But, like an all-you-can-eat buffet, if I’m not hooked after a couple of bites, I’m ready to move on. I tend to go more for the dramatic, well-written shows like Mad Men, Ozark or Better Call Saul. The only reality show I watch is Alone. Still, I’m a “half-watcher,” meaning that I always have my laptop open and on, and while a show is playing, I’m also reading the news or watching “Jack Nicklaus’s 50 Best Saves” or seeing how they make truck tires. I can watch a show and then have no idea what it was about.

There is only one show that I fully engage in: Fauda. If you don’t know this Netflix show, it’s about an undercover unit of the Israeli special forces engaged in battle with Hamas. While it is absolutely the most gripping show I’ve ever seen, the real reason I can’t have my laptop open is simple: subtitles, and fast ones at that.

TV has come a long way in my lifetime of watching. We started well, went through some sketchy years and now have some pretty decent dramas. I recently watched the first episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Beautifully written, funny and sentimental, Aunt Bee and Andy are still charming, and Opie steals your heart. Even with the 10,000 programs that have followed in its place, it’s still the best show on the boob tube.