While waiting to board a flight the other week, I flipped through an Entertainment Weekly and felt baffled—almost anxious—over all the worthy crap that’s out there. There were glowing notices about two new Netflix series (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Bloodline), plus articles telling me why I should be watching The Americans (already in its third season) and why Madonna still matters (I hadn’t even come close to listening to the new album, much less her Howard Stern interview). Also, HBO was premiering three documentaries (on Scientology, Frank Sinatra and the guy who co-created Eloise), while still hyping The Jinx, its six-part, true-crime special that’d been in my mental “Watch” queue for weeks. Even the obit for Albert Maysles made me want to screen Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter and everything else in the great documentarian’s oeuvre.
What glorious bounty, no? I should rejoice, giving thanks and praise to the Apple TV gods, who bequeath so much to my fingertips! Alas, when I got home, instead of diving in and drinking deeply from the Hulu stream, there was just a lot of clicking and scrolling and self-sabotage: Shall I start with the Scientology documentary? Nah, that’s two hours long. The Americans? Don’t get hooked on a new show, not when you still aren’t caught up on Mad Men. Alright, so Mad Men? Well, you haven’t watched one episode of Better Call Saul, and you did pay 26 bucks for it… This goes on and on, and some nights the only thing I watch is a steady stream of Netflix thumbnails.
The future wasn’t supposed to feel like this. Back when I was a teenager in those hazy-crazy ’80s, I used to read Rolling Stone and daydream of a life where I was rich and well-connected enough to build a home library full of every movie, every album, every book, every piece of pop junk I could ever want. But there was obviously something in not having access to everything. As Nick Hornby wrote in Billboard last month, “You bought an album, and for the time being, that album was all you had. You liked some tracks more than others at first … but you couldn’t afford to play favorites, so you listened to your one album over and over again until you liked all the songs equally. A couple of weeks later, you bought another album.” (One can play favorites these days, which unfortunately explains why I never finished Hornby’s lackluster new book.)
Every other week or so, I do manage to temper my FOMO-induced anxiety, see the trees from the forest (or the shows from the thumbnails) and cross a thing or two off my list. I’m happy to say I’m now caught up on Mad Men (God, I hate to see them go). I did finally watch the Scientology documentary (Jesus, I’m terrified of David Miscavige). Perhaps I’ll even start watching The Americans tonight. Or maybe I’ll do Bloodline first. Or finally get around to watching The Wire. Or revisit The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. Or …