Tim Goodman on TV's Newest Trend: 'Hate Watching'
Watching anything just to complain about its faults seems like a colossal waste of time -- and with so much great television, who has time to squander?
If you're a fan of television and use social media at all -- or troll for recaps and the comments they elicit -- then you know all about "hate-watching."
And on Tuesday night, the scripted drama that's probably the poster child for hate-watching, Smash, returns for its second season. Already people are hating on it. Or hoping it's not "fixed" so they can still hate-watch it without being let down by, say, an improvement in quality or the shoring up of some characters.
I'm not a hate-watcher. As a professional television critic, I already watch plenty of shows I hate. Because I have to review them. And then I have to check back to see if they stayed awful or, unicorn time, got better. Once a clear assessment of a show can be made, I snap off the rearview mirror and go forward.
The essential issue here is time. We're living in a TV world of unprecedented options. There are a staggering number of shows on television to choose from, and if you focus, like I do, almost exclusively on scripted series, there's still an unholy, time-sucking amount out there to follow. The blessing (curse?) here is that so much of those choices are good. Many of them great.
We are in that era where the drama renaissance shows no signs of faltering. And hell, comedies are better than they have been in years, though most of them are low-rated and fall prey to the numbers game. For some viewers, the choices are confounding, and they seek a kind of freedom from choice. They want their friendly favorite television critic to cut through the clutter and tell them what to watch. Unfortunately for them, even doing that leaves a breathtaking number of options.
If 75 percent of television is crap and 25 percent is great, these days that 25 percent includes more shows than ever before.
I've even told people who are way behind on such seminal and/or influential series as The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, etc. to drop cable entirely and just rent or stream the shows. There's been so much amazing television in the past decade that, like readers trying to pore over the classics they never got to, the existing inventory is so immense that everything current can wait. That certainly rules out wasting time on series that get canceled after you've invested time in them, plus you don't get a situation like The Killing. And it allows debates, like the one involving whether Homeland frittered away its greatness in season two, to play out definitively while you're busy watching Breaking Bad.
For those of us who are essentially all caught up and current in television, we don't have that luxury. Instead, we have the burden of time, of selective elimination. For example, how do you keep up with -- a random and conservative number -- 15 very strong television shows (including some nightly examples like The Daily Show, etc., plus David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel), go to work, maybe take care of family or kids or go to college and pay bills, get your car fixed, clean the house, find time to work out, see big-screen movies and then have enough time left over to hate watch a show that mostly annoys you?
I do not get that. At all.
Maybe because I go out of my way to avoid shows I hate. Or maybe because I find an overwhelming multitude of other things to hate or at least be annoyed with in this world, subjecting myself to Smash lacks a certain appeal. I don't know. Way back I coined a term -- TiNo -- to describe all the stuff I recorded but hadn't watched and maybe wouldn't ever watch on my TiVo. This remains an issue today, part of it for professional reasons, obviously. But when I look at my DVR, all I see are stacks of shows I'm desperately trying to keep up with. I'm not going to add Here Come Honey Boo Boo or Two and a Half Men just so I can hate watch them and vent on Twitter.
Even on my so-called "guilty pleasure" shows, I keep a fairly tight leash. I watched Revenge until I couldn't take it anymore. I gave up SportsCenter on ESPN a long time ago (and in the process managed to increase my screen time spent since I now regularly visit or record shows on the NFL Network, MLB Network, Fox Soccer, etc.).
I do, however, at least partially understand the appeal of rubber-necking something that goes off the rails, provided you believe there's some likelihood of a creative turnaround. Much of Downton Abbey's season two was like that for me -- and the burn-victim cousin (or not) was nearly the opt-out moment. The very last episode provided redemption, at least.
But Smash is not in the same league as Downton Abbey. It seems to be a series that's grabbing more attention than it's ultimately worth for merely falling short of unrealistic expectations in the first place. Behind-the-scenes wrangling happens on a lot of shows, and that turmoil often turns up in the quality of the onscreen content. But to hate-watch Smash just to bitch about its shortcomings while periodically clapping out loud about certain scenes just seems like a time-management mistake to me.
Yes, I know, it's your life (if you're a Smash hate-watcher), and you can do whatever you want with it. You can watch a bunch of trashy reality shows -- the true staples of hate-watching because there are so many more offerings, from The Bachelor to The Real Housewives collective to Survivor.
But count me out. Because I can hear that clock ticking. I can see that list of things I didn't get to cross off. I know there's pleasure or soul-satisfaction to be found doing something else.