24 votes

I barely enjoy television anymore, and it's really tiring me out

Hey folks, I thought I'd bring up something that I've been struggling with for the past few years. As the title suggests, my issue is that it's been really, really difficult for me to watch television lately. I rarely find anything that looks appealing to begin with, and even when I do, I almost always end up in a constant state of—for lack of a better word—cringe. This happens with some movies, but almost every single TV show I try to start.

The moments when I start getting uncomfortable are pretty consistently dialogue scenes. It's not the idea of two characters interacting that bothers me, but rather how they do it. The way that people talk on TV (especially protagonists) is unrealistic to the point where it is distracting enough to make me stop watching, because it makes literally no sense as a part of human society. I understand that no show is going to replicate real-life conversations 1:1, and that makes sense (filler words, useless tangents, etc. would just be distracting), but so many characters are direct to the point where any characterization that their words are supposed to provide seems utterly contrived, and I consequently ignore it.

I seem hyper-aware of the fact that everything that a character is doing serves a specific purpose to either stretch the plot or artificially deepen their personality, but not in a meaningful way. The somewhat cheesy premise of The 100 (as a random example) kept me watching for a little while, but literally every conflict was forced. I could tell that there was a writer behind every, "Hey, look at Mr. <humorous adjective> here" and, "I'm telling you right now, stop! Don't do this!" and, "Just leave me alone!" trying to provide multiple sides to a character. The fourth wall may as well not even exist. Yes, I understand that your characters are all very complex human beings, but only because you're using every method known to man to imply it. It's just so heavy-handed that I can't pay attention to your broader message and instead focus on how ridiculous every word out of their mouths are.

Okay, I understand that this character is supposed to be a symbol of feminine empowerment because she just kicked 14 guys and made a witty remark about having been underestimated. Okay, I understand that these scary-looking buff guys are bad because they keep explicitly saying how much they like murdering people. Are audiences really so stupid that they have to have characterization spelled out for them in dialogue? Can actions alone not be enough to convey meaning? Why does every meaningful interaction have to coincide with a ridiculously on-the-nose explanation of why it's relevant?

It's ruining almost everything I watch. My immediate thought after hearing any TV quote that's supposed to be remotely funny or attention-grabbing is, "Ugh, that is such a 'television' thing to say," and it instantly makes me think negatively of the work. I've noticed that the feeling is somewhat dampened when watching foreign TV (in a different language), although it still feels sort of formulaic. Are my standards unrealistically high? Am I being a massive elitist? If so, how would I even change the way I look at television at this point? Or am I too far down the meta TV tropes rabbit-hole to be able to enjoy the medium fully again?

14 comments

  1. [7]
    tomf (edited ) Link
    Have you watched any of these? The ratings won't be current -- The Wire (2002) - The first season of The Wire (2002) concentrated on the often-futile efforts of police to infiltrate a West...

    Have you watched any of these? The ratings won't be current --

    • The Wire (2002) - The first season of The Wire (2002) concentrated on the often-futile efforts of police to infiltrate a West Baltimore drug ring headed by Avon Barksdale and his lieutenant, Stringer Bell. In Seasons Two and Three, as the Barksdale investigation escalated, new storylines involving pressures on the working class and the city's political leadership were introduced. Season Four focused on the stories of several young boys in the public school system, struggling with problems at home and the lure of the corner - set against the rise of a new drug empire in West Baltimore and a new Mayor in City Hall. The fifth and final season of The Wire centers on the media's role in addressing - or failing to address - the fundamental political, economic and social realities depicted over the course of the series, while also resolving storylines of the numerous characters woven throughout the narrative arc of the show. ~93.0%
    • The Young Pope (2016) - The Young Pope tells the controversial story of the beginning of Pius XIII's pontificate. Born Lenny Belardo, he is a complex and conflicted character, so conservative in his choices as to border on obscurantism, yet full of compassion towards the weak and poor. The first American pope, Pius XIII is a man of great power who is stubbornly resistant to the Vatican courtiers, unconcerned with the implications to his authority. ~79.0%
    • 11.22.63 (2016) - Imagine having the power to change history. Would you journey down the "rabbit hole"? This event series follows Jake Epping, an ordinary high school teacher, presented with the unthinkable mission of traveling back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Jake travels to the past in order to solve the most enduring mystery of the 20th century: who killed JFK, and could it have been stopped? But as Jake will learn, the past does not want to be changed. And trying to divert the course of history may prove fatal. ~80.5%
    • The Good Place (2016) - The Good Place is a smart, unique comedy about what makes a good person. The show follows Eleanor Shellstrop, an ordinary woman who enters the afterlife and, thanks to some kind of error, is sent to the Good Place instead of the Bad Place, which is definitely where she belongs. While hiding in plain sight from Michael, the wise architect of the Good Place (who doesn't know he's made a mistake), she's determined to shed her old way of living and discover the awesome (or, at least, the pretty good) person within. ~79.5%
    • Fleabag (2016) - A six-part comedy series adapted from the award-winning play about a young woman trying to cope with life in London whilst coming to terms with a recent tragedy. ~78.0%
    • The Deuce (2017) - The Deuce was inspired in part by the career of twin brothers who were players in the Times Square world and became fronts for Mob control of the volatile and lucrative sex industry from its origins. This drama will chronicle the legalization and subsequent rise of the porn industry in New York's Times Square from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s ~75.0%
    • The Little Drummer Girl (2018) - Blurring the fine lines between love and hate; truth and fiction; and right and wrong; The Little Drummer Girl weaves a suspenseful and explosive story of espionage and high-stakes international intrigue. Set in the late 1970s, the pulsating thriller follows Charlie, a fiery actress and idealist whose resolve is tested after she meets the mysterious Becker, while on holiday in Greece. It quickly becomes apparent that his intentions are not what they seem, and her encounter with him entangles her in a complex plot devised by the spy mastermind Kurtz. Charlie takes on the role of a lifetime as a double agent while remaining uncertain of her own loyalties. ~76.0%
    • Legion (2017) - introduces the story of David Haller: Since he was a teenager, David has struggled with mental illness. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, David has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. But after a strange encounter with a fellow patient, he's confronted with the possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees might be real. He's based on the Marvel comics character Legion, the son of X-Men founder Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the films), first introduced in 1985. ~79.5%
    • Catastrophe (2015) - Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan write/star in a comedy that follows a man and a woman who make a bloody mess as they struggle to fall in love in London. ~81.5%
    • Escape at Dannemora (2018) - Escape at Dannemora is based on the stranger-than-fiction prison break in upstate New York in the summer of 2015 which spawned a statewide manhunt for two convicted murderers, aided in their escape by a married female prison employee who carried on months-long affairs with both men. ~80.5%
    • Crashing (2017) - centers on a sweet, wholesome comedian who, after his wife leaves him, has nowhere to stay but on the couches of New York's finest comics. ~64.0%
    • High Maintenance (2016) - High Maintenance follows a Brooklyn pot dealer as he delivers to clients with neuroses as diverse as the city. Ben Sinclair stars as "The Guy", an everyman pot dealer who makes cameo appearances in the lives of various New Yorker City residents, providing them with weed and getting a glimpse at their daily routines and how they light things up. ~75.5%
    • Narcos (2015) - chronicle the life and death of drug lord Pablo Escobar the ruthless boss of the Medellin Cartel and a known terrorist who was also a congressman, a family man and revered by the poor as a new Robin Hood. ~87.0%
    • Documentary Now! (2015) - From the minds of Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers comes a new series Documentary Now! that looks back on 50 years of excellence and integrity in documentary filmmaking. See Fred and Bill investigate drug cartels, join an indifferent ‘70s rock band, reenact Iceland's annual Al Capone Festival, take part in a dramatic exposé of the world's first documentary about the Inuit and much more. ~78.5%

    edit: adding Barry!

    • Barry (2018) - is a dark comedy about a depressed, low-rent hitman from the Midwest. Lonely and dissatisfied in his life, he reluctantly travels to Los Angeles to execute a hit on an aspiring actor. Barry follows his "mark" into an acting class and ends up finding an accepting community in a group of eager hopefuls within the LA theater scene. He wants to start a new life as an actor, but his criminal past won't let him walk away - can he find a way to balance both worlds? ~78.0%
    11 votes
    1. [3]
      UniquelyGeneric (edited ) Link Parent
      Yeah, I think Atvelonis's issue is that they need to just watch the better TV that's out there. I think the best shows (like movies) draw you into a hypnotized state where you experience the...

      Yeah, I think Atvelonis's issue is that they need to just watch the better TV that's out there. I think the best shows (like movies) draw you into a hypnotized state where you experience the actors' emotions through some empathic mental connection. It requires good acting and good writing to draw you into a story, and even just those two alone can carry a show through poor storywriting.

      The way that people talk on TV (especially protagonists) is unrealistic to the point where it is distracting enough to make me stop watching

      You're gonna get this with more mainstream broadcast content. Forced dialogue is rampant and formulaic plotlines abound in "play in the background" shows, and "reality TV" is all sensationalized melodrama. If OP is looking for something refreshingly more "real talk", I would suggest High Maintenance or the show Easy. Both have a very conversational tone that makes the characters seem more human and less mechanical.

      A few years ago I might have suggested the show Louie as well, but now it feels a little dirty. But if anyone is willing to toe the line of the uncanny valley, I think Dating Around has an odd realism to it as well.

      Perhaps it's just TV shows themselves that cheap and artificial, in which case there's plenty of movies that can truly captivate an audience with the acting alone. However to keep with the theme of the shows I listed above, here are a few movies that rely more heavily on dialogue:

      7 votes
      1. tomf Link Parent
        it definitely wasn't for everybody, but you (specifically) might enjoy The Romanoffs. You (still personally) should definitely check out Documentary Now if you haven't already. Hader and Armisen...

        it definitely wasn't for everybody, but you (specifically) might enjoy The Romanoffs. You (still personally) should definitely check out Documentary Now if you haven't already. Hader and Armisen have such a knack for capturing the spirit of a documentary while parodying it. The one they did on Grey Gardens is exceptional.. but every single one has been unbelievable. This last week they parodied Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present -- and its perfect.

        Back to television -- the core issue, to me, is that there's really great TV (the stuff mentioned above, Star Trek Discovery, Rubicon, most of Mad Men, etc), and then there's a good-sized gap to the pretty-good stuff like some of the more iconic network shows. Stuff that isn't perfect, but its still mostly enjoyable / redeemable.

        At the high end of this I'd put in some favorites like House and the first few seasons of Criminal Minds (before Mandy Patinkin left.) Then we see a MASSIVE gap where its like everybody is reading off of cue cards, the stories are taken from some sort of 'write your first screenplay' workshop book, etc. Yet the stuff in this low tier is all over network TV and rakes in the ad revenue.

        I have an ongoing list of TV shows I've watched just to keep track of the sheer volume of it all. When I compare lists with friends, they have no idea wtf I'm talking about. When Animals was on, I was in love with it from the get-go and was talking to everybody about it --- to this day I think I only know a handful of people who saw it... and that's on HBO.

        Long story short, there is absolutely no shortage of amazing television, but I think the options are overwhelming to some, where others just aren't aware of what else is out there (not to mention foreign series like Tokyo Diner or Gomorrah.)

        Speaking of Easy, I loooooooved Jane Adams in Hung. Not the best series, but some really great scenes here and there.

        3 votes
      2. Greg Link Parent
        On a slightly different tangent, take a look at pretty much anything Anthony Bourdain made if you want to see what the reality TV genre could be without the sensationalised melodrama. It's...

        On a slightly different tangent, take a look at pretty much anything Anthony Bourdain made if you want to see what the reality TV genre could be without the sensationalised melodrama. It's somewhat bittersweet to see now knowing that his mental health struggles won out in the end, but I'm re-watching Parts Unknown and he paints thoughtful, honest, sensitive and above all very real portraits of the people and places he visits.

        3 votes
    2. [3]
      elcuello Link Parent
      Great list overall and I agree OPs not looking the right places. Is this seriously good? I finished the book a while ago and loved it. I was so disappointed in Under The Dome for TV that I haven't...

      11.22.63 (2016)

      Great list overall and I agree OPs not looking the right places. Is this seriously good? I finished the book a while ago and loved it. I was so disappointed in Under The Dome for TV that I haven't even considered watching this.

      2 votes
      1. tomf Link Parent
        so, the series is good --- its not as good as the book, and some things are different, but overall it covers it nicely. There are also a lot of subtle details from the book that they just didn't...

        so, the series is good --- its not as good as the book, and some things are different, but overall it covers it nicely. There are also a lot of subtle details from the book that they just didn't have time to cover that are there, but not mentioned.

        Typically King's series are somewhat disappointing, but this one stood out.

        2 votes
      2. ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
        My experience with it was disappointing. The book was thoughtful, detailed, a little contemplative. The series seemed in a rush to complete itself, and the changes to the original seemed...

        My experience with it was disappointing. The book was thoughtful, detailed, a little contemplative. The series seemed in a rush to complete itself, and the changes to the original seemed unfaithful.

        Take my word with some salt: I quit after the first 10 or 20 mins, because it felt out-of-place for a book that good. I loved the book (sans that silly ending), and wanted to see the series get it right. In my opinion, it didn't.

        2 votes
  2. [2]
    escher Link
    It's not you, it's them. The sheer amount of bad writing / characters is ridiculous, and it does ruin shows. Nearly all characterization and dialog is surface-level -- there's little to no...

    It's not you, it's them. The sheer amount of bad writing / characters is ridiculous, and it does ruin shows.

    Nearly all characterization and dialog is surface-level -- there's little to no subtlety. I think it's telling that I am a mediocre writer and I'm finding the writing of most modern shows to be pretty awful.

    There are the occasional bright spots, like the first season of Westworld that, if not note-perfect, are still orders of magnitude more watchable and enjoyable. But they're depressingly rare.

    literally every conflict was forced

    I think this stems from a practically religious but rote-literal interpretation of "a story needs conflict", like they think that the reverse is true and if they just cram in conflict everywhere, they'll have a story.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. escher Link Parent
        That's the thing, though -- when you have high-concept cheese is when you are in most need of subtle characterization. That's the balance that makes it work. You can pull off even the most...

        Cheese is the opposite of subtle.

        That's the thing, though -- when you have high-concept cheese is when you are in most need of subtle characterization. That's the balance that makes it work. You can pull off even the most outlandish concept if your implementation understands what it needs to do.

        You're right about the increase in production. With Netflix, HBO, and Amazon all looking for their "killer app" shows (and a frightening abundance of big-data customer information to drive things), they've been pumping out shows like mad. Still, with all the people who want to write movies and series, you'd think they could hire a slightly better class of writer.

        2 votes
  3. welly Link
    I don't remember the last time I saw a TV programme that I didn't think was a waste of my time. I remember watching Walking Dead and quite enjoyed that for the first two series. And then I got...

    I don't remember the last time I saw a TV programme that I didn't think was a waste of my time. I remember watching Walking Dead and quite enjoyed that for the first two series. And then I got onto the third and thought "Hang on, this is exactly the same as the first two but in a different location". The same stories were being regurgitated with very slight differences. I felt a bit cheated actually, so stopped that one. I suspect my attention span suits movies more than series after series of TV programmes and find that the way TV programmes are written frustrates me as the protagonists always seem to have such bad luck so as stretch out story longer and longer.

    Now I think about it, Black Mirror was one I did enjoy. One story per programme with a vague running theme throughout and then you're not left hanging at the end.

    I don't have much desire to involve myself in a TV series for years on end. Give me a story for an hour, let it conclude and then I can get on with my life or dip into another story later if I so wish.

    5 votes
  4. Qis Link
    The list someone posted here is alright, I guess. A bunch of stuff in there is snobbish, presumptuous, self-congratulatory nonsense. I especially cannot recommend The Deuce (entrancing and lurid...

    The list someone posted here is alright, I guess. A bunch of stuff in there is snobbish, presumptuous, self-congratulatory nonsense. I especially cannot recommend The Deuce (entrancing and lurid setting gives way to indulgent filler) or The Good Place (joke-a-minute fun but discards its premise quickly and never stops expositing) or Barry (redemption story bends over backwards to give its character reasons not to redeem himself just yet)

    But it's also alright if you're just not into it these days. I stopped enjoying TV as my generation started to get hired into writing rooms. I started to recognize the vocabulary as coming from specific sources, and felt a repetition set in as multiple waves of artists made their responses to messages we were told as children. You start to get a sense of the intention behind things, like you're doing, and that really effects whether you can enjoy something on its own terms -- so it's okay to check out on a medium if it isn't speaking to you.

    3 votes
  5. onyxleopard (edited ) Link
    I feel like there has definitely been a proliferation of vapid television programming over time, but since The Sopranos, there has also been a proliferation of what I can only characterize as...

    I feel like there has definitely been a proliferation of vapid television programming over time, but since The Sopranos, there has also been a proliferation of what I can only characterize as incredibly high quality, episodic cinema, if you look for it. Some recommendations:

    • Better Call Saul
    • Fargo
    • Halt and Catch Fire
    • Hannibal
    • Mr. Robot
    • The Deuce
    • The Handmaid's Tale
    • True Detective
    3 votes
  6. ThatFanficGuy Link
    Unless your awareness of it is pathological, painful, you're doing alright. You just have taste. My perception changed when I watched Breaking Bad. It's so well-written that almost everything...

    Unless your awareness of it is pathological, painful, you're doing alright. You just have taste.

    My perception changed when I watched Breaking Bad. It's so well-written that almost everything after it seemed like a waste of time. Nuff said, right?

    Well, I also watched a little series called Person of Interest. It's filled with the exact problems you list: overtness, mechanical dialogue with too much exposition... But it's also one of the greatest post-cyberpunk shows out there, because of the way it deals with topics like ASI, cybersecurity, vigilantism, and a handful of others later in the series. The dialogues might be bad, but the background is pretty damn good. It deserves its reputation, despite all the flaws in its storytelling. (The later seasons get smarter about it, mostly because they get focused and refined down the line.)

    There's also Intelligence. I doubt you heard of it: it seemed like it was small. It's a US show about the first-of-his-kind government agent with a prototype microchip in his brain that allows him to fetch digital data on-the-fly with the power of thought. Same problems, but it had a bunch of redeeming qualities – the exploration of the cyber side not the least of them – that more than helped me through the series. It's one of my favorites now, and I'd saved it on the backup drive knowing I'm going to rewatch it eventually (did twice already).

    You're not alone, and the problem isn't you. However, most shows will not be enough to satisfy you completely. There's a handful of superb TV stories, all of which deserve the praise they get. Most... aren't as superb, though they still have their strong sides. Find those you where you can tolarate the clunky exposition because it has something else you'd rather enjoy. And if you can't – well...

    You could try some of the more obscure entries: maybe you'll pick up on where the big execs didn't. There are some pretty good web series out there, like Cobra Kai, the sequel to the original Karate Kid films, told from the other side's perspective.

    Or, you could switch to books, where the problem is much rarer because of the naturally-wider pool to choose from. For many, you could probably get a digital sample, to see if it suits you.

    2 votes
  7. 2942 Link
    It's not you, it's TV. Take solace in the fact you're smarter than the dolts the average tv show is made to pander to. I could make a few recommendations if you want or you could just let tv fade...

    It's not you, it's TV. Take solace in the fact you're smarter than the dolts the average tv show is made to pander to. I could make a few recommendations if you want or you could just let tv fade away into the realm of former hobbies. I feel/felt the same about tv and now just have a few shows I watch(mostly documentary series) but even then it's mostly background noise or something to fall asleep to.

    1 vote