Television

Television prison: Would a return to the set bring me back to the future?

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For most of my adult life, I was one of those smug boors who quietly bragged about not owning a television set. I had the zeal of a religious convert and the same aversion to sitcoms reformed smokers have to cigarettes. Not that I went around snuffing out other people’s TVs, but I did refuse to split the cable bill with my college roommate. (Sorry, Stephanie.)

What made me so un-American? As an only child of divorced parents, I often had to entertain myself, which meant logging countless hours of television. I still remember the feel of the newsprint TV guide in my hands as I pieced together my summer days. We didn’t have cable, so it was mostly classic reruns (Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched) peppered with ads for personal injury lawyers and ITT Tech.

My mood fluctuated every 30 minutes: Get Smart made me happy, while The Price Is Right caused claustrophobic dread. Lunchtime legal drama Perry Mason? A bit staid for my tastes, but I often watched anyway. Friday nights were the best because they brought ABC’s TGIF lineup: Full House, Family Matters, Perfect Strangers and Boy Meets World.

If I managed to turn off the tube, I felt listless and confused. What was I supposed to do with myself in the physical plane? This was no way to live.

When I went off to college, I broke free, opting against buying a TV for my freshman dorm room (though I did keep up with The Simpsons in the common room). More recently, I’ve kept tabs on the prestige dramas (Game of Thrones, True Detective, The Wire) at my boyfriend’s house.

Last month, when I realized I’d been wasting more time on my phone than I ever had on ALF or Growing Pains, I broke down, buying a 43-inch 4K smart TV for $300 on sale. My boyfriend helped me set it up, and the first thing we watched was Planet Earth. I will never look at shallow seas in the same way. My screen was so luminous! I’d arrived in the future!

Alone, I binged on a sexy series that actually passed the Bechdel test: Witches of East End, about a family of fabulous witches who fight evil. Turns out the show originally ran on the Lifetime network. Embarrassing, but I embraced it. How many other fun shows had I missed?

I raced through the first seasons of American Horror Story (creepy yet enthralling) and Netflix’s Sense8 (dark but life-affirming). Next came Master of None, A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Crown (yes, all Netflix originals—I draw the line at paying for cable).

After a week, I began experiencing diminishing returns. It was like the fifth round of an all-you-can-eat buffet, when nothing looks good anymore. My habit tapered down to a reasonable level, and I turned back to my phone. I still love my new TV—it really makes my house feel like a home—but I think I’ll skip Netflix’s Fuller House. Some things are better left in the past.

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