Wednesday, June 12, 2024

How to Survive TV Season Without Watching It

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Fall is here! Leaves [theoretically] changing, flavoring added to coffee that has simply no business being there, and yes, another season of television shows. In most ways, this is an exciting thing; there’s stories and worlds I can’t wait to revisit, and new ones that are either promising, or at least have the potential to meme fast. However I’d be lying if I said that the fall season doesn’t also come with a bit of anxiety for me, and that’s for one simple reason: I can’t keep up.

I never really thought of myself as having FoMO, and I’m not sure that’s exactly what’s at play. The thing is, with how increasingly connected we are as a society, we’re able to engage with our media as never before. And those of us who make a daily habit of visiting social media sites, or like, talking to people, bear witness to this engagement in its varying forums. Carol in HR might try to talk to you about Hayley Atwell’s new show (which from what I can tell is some kind of Good Wife, Suits, and Scandal fusion), while your Tumblr feed is going to be nothing but gifsets of Natasha Negovanlis in a bra for reasons unknown.

Oh sure, you can try to carve out your own space and become Highly Engaged™ with a couple of shows of your choosing, but boy will you be in for a rough semester when your teacher insists on beginning each class by pulling aside a group of favorites to discuss Lost spoilers, one of the shows you didn’t pick, thus making you give up Veronica Mars mid-Season 2 to board the hype train that took you *nowhere* after six dang years of riding it. Nowhere, I say! But you’ll get over it…yeah. You’ll get over it.

Completely over it!

My point is, we can’t watch or discuss every show that might be of interest to some aspect of our life. We also can’t necessarily justify the cost of a cable package when the internet exists and is just dandy. So where that leaves me is that there’s a lot I want to watch and want to know about, especially as someone who tries to participate in geeky spaces, but I don’t have the time for all of it, nor the means in some cases.

What’s there to do? Admit the limits of my knowledge? Of course not! Instead, I have perfected the masterful art on keeping up with TV shows without actually watching them. The following are the best practices.

Never watch promos

It’s a rookie mistake, albeit an understandable one, to go for this option. After all, promos are widely accessible on youtube, take about 15 seconds of your time, and theoretically vault you into the middle of whatever action just happened. But trust me: they’re never worth it. And no, it’s not just because I’m jaded from 20 seasons of Bachelor finales being described as “the most dramatic yet,” though that doesn’t help. It’s because their whole reason for existing is to service a hype train.

Take this Agents of SHIELD promo from last year. If you’re familiar with the plot, you’ll see that some of this is overblown (we’ve been waiting for this? Really?), though to be fair, somewhat is accurate (there really is a major reveal in this episode). But what we’re after aren’t vague allusions to something big — we want to know the actual plot, damnit! Promos rarely, rarely give you any kind of recap or context, with the exception of the episode following a *shocking* moment, such as a main character death. This one from Season 5 of The Good Wife serves as a prime example. However, if there’s a moment big enough to make it into the promo like that, you will definitely have already heard about it through other means.

A promo exists to get you to tune in. There is no low to how this will be achieved, and none serve to paint any true image of the show. My favorite example was back during Gilmore Girls Season 3 when they dubbed over Rory saying “it just wasn’t time [to have sex with Jess yet]” so that the sentence became “it just was time.” Tune in to hear her sex confession, guys!

Sensationalist nonsense. I often skip promos for the shows I’m actually watching.

Navigating Social Media

“Just keep up with it through social media!” Well, yes, that’s generally good advice, but how? And which platforms?

The best thing you can do to stay in the loop is to be on a social media site that lends itself to live reactions, namely Twitter, while the show is airing. I saw the rise and fall of Clexa (over the span of 5 minutes) purely from Tumblr sidelines. However, chilling in show tags as it’s on TV kind of defeats the purpose of saving yourself time, or allowing yourself to focus on other things at night. You could check in during the last 5 minutes or so, but even that requires a forethought and timeliness for a show that isn’t in your docket.

The answer is to be smart the day after. Show subreddits are your friend here. Yes, Reddit in general has a demographic skew, and it’s pretty self-evident when you get into the threads themselves. But I’m not talking about actually reading the discussions; just go visit the subreddit (for noobs, the convention is and look over the thread titles on the first couple of pages. Chances are, the most material thing to come out of an episode will be there in some form, be it a question or an article someone found.

Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the mile-high understanding of the drama this show offers, you’re ready to dive into other social media sites. And yes, none of these are free of demographic slants either (though actually Tumblr has the most even gender split). But here’s the thing — you’re not after impartial news about the show…you’re after the news over which people are losing their shit.

To do this, I strongly recommend avoiding general show tags. Why look at #The100 when you can go into #Bellamy and find all the views anyway (or #Blorke if you really want to get into it)? Because trust me, people do not stay in their lanes, and the more popular a sub-section of the fandom is, the more dirt will get kicked up. If you’re unsure what side-tag to search, after the first couple of episodes in a season, do one general search and see what the other tags are. I know next to nothing about Wynonna Earp (yet…it sounds quite worthwhile), but I could have told you within the third week of its run that #WayHaught was where the action was.

Find the fandom’s most contentious tag, and you will only need to search on that baby for 5 minutes to get the gist.

When deeper research is needed

There will be times when social media research only takes you so far. This is for one of two reasons: something happened so momentous that it’s overshadowing discussion of any other part of the show, or something happened so momentous and upsetting to the fanbase, that no one is talking about it in specifics, but rather expressing disappointment in the creators. Which is completely valid, by the way. In such cases, you will probably want to hunt down the episode itself and watch choice clips.

Now, you could certainly click through the video and hope to land on what you were looking for, but jeeze…why not just actually watch the episode then? We’re trying to avoid this as much as possible, while still being able to speak to the show. Instead, the first thing you should do is look for screencap databases. These are your friends.

Not all screencap sites are created equal! Though it may seem counter-intuitive, you’re going to want to choose the sites that take the snaps at a lower frequency. Yeah, if you’re writing an essay and need the perfect shot of Qyburn monologuing at Pycelle, you’ll want the banks with almost 5,000 photos per episode. But to simply catch up on content, the ones with a third of that will serve you fine.

Most have a thumbnail viewing mode that spans a few pages. Click through those, if need be hone in on a specific image in a new tab (so as not to disrupt this process), and then when you land on the moment you want, estimate how far into the episode it’s likely to be. Sometimes, you get enough of a feel for what happened without actually needing to watch any footage at all. This is also helpful since you’ll see what scenes proceed and follow any clip you’re interested in, helping your video navigation even more if you choose to seek it out.

If you don’t mind watching a few minutes of footage, you may also want to consider getting in the habit of watching the final plot scene. Now, it’s not necessarily the last scene, and to do this, you have to have some base-knowledge on how the show is structured. For example, Agents of SHIELD usually has a closer that serves more as a teaser for the next episode than anything else. But the scene before it will almost always be Coulson talking to *someone* in his halting, dramatic manner about the events of the episode. Find those out, and you can understand 20-episodes worth of material by devoting under a half an hour of viewing time throughout the season.

And there you have it, foolproof tips to help you get caught up on TV shows without watching them! Now you’ll have more time to sit back and enjoy the programs you really care about, and judge the people who apply this method to them.


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