Critic's Notebook: New TV Habits to Try Out in 2019

Here are a few tips to help you start fresh and not stress out about a new year of overwhelmingly numerous TV options.
Amazon Studios
Amazon's 'Patriot.'

There's very likely still a vestige of your old TV brain, a little almond shaped thing stuck in there since forever, telling you that even though the calendar has turned to 2019, it's not really a new TV season; it's just a pause on the one that started with the networks rolling out their fall programming in September.

But your animal brain is wrong. It's 2019. There are no TV seasons anymore. Just another year that passed with plenty of unwatched shows you really wanted to see but didn't have time to get to. Let it go. Let's not stress about anything. Peak TV has set us free (at least in some ways), so let's embrace it. Oh, and also, networks don't really control the TV season anymore. Make a note of that.

But maybe now is the time to make some resolutions about a better way to approach your TV viewing — that thing that used to be really fun and then got super confusing and stressful once Peak TV hit like a meteor.

Maybe you should throw out all the old rules and do something different. Hey, maybe you should totally cut the cable cord! It's at least something to think about since it's a new year and you're still watching TV the way your parents did, essentially. I've been writing about cord cutting for a while now, and the Chicago Tribune interviewed me on this topic last year and did a great piece on the concept, if that helps.

Change is good and I've been making a lot of changes to how I watch and write about TV as well — and I'm going to pass them on to you here, as kind of a fresh start to 2019.

For example, I was about to post my Best TV Series of 2018 on Twitter on New Year's Day. That seemed like the right thing to do, yes? There was symmetry to it. But I didn't post them because that's just a false delineation based on it being the first day of a new year and a list that wraps up stuff from the old year. Whatever. Hey, even if it's the second or third or 17th day of the new year, you're still going to be catching up on stuff from the year prior, so don't worry.

That said, here's that 2018 list if you want some ideas about where to start. No rush, you've got a whole year.

And look, let's be honest here. You probably have lots of years of TV to catch up on (2017?, 2016?, 2015?). Nobody's going to judge you. Being current no longer matters. It's the new reality. I started a series of columns called Hidden Gems that looks back on great shows you might have missed. It's a small, hopefully helpful thing. Here's one on The Returned. And one on Moone Boy. Have a read. Then a watch. Those series are both a lot of fun in disparate ways. Also, hey, I've got more of those gems to come.

In fact, I wrote a whole thing recently about how curating lists is maybe the most important thing a critic can do in these Peak TV times, and I think it paints a pretty good picture as to why.

Another good idea for 2019 is maybe making a resolution to give up series you've been watching for so long you forgot why you're still watching. Forget the resolution, just cut those damned things. Truly great shows have a shelf life. If you're on year seven of a series, you're not watching a truly great show unless it's Mad Men. There are no other series with a great seventh season. Period.

But you might be clinging on to some series because they are entertaining and they give you joy. Excellent, keep at that. But if the truth is more that they used to be entertaining or it's only they periodically give you joy, how about discovering something else? It's a big TV supermarket and you should go down some new aisles.

You should also feel OK about limited, periodic check-ins. I love both Bob's Burgers and Archer, but that doesn't mean I watch every episode, every week. It's fine to use your technology and set a reminder on your watch that will tell you in three weeks to watch one of those shows. And when you do, you'll be really happy. And you might watch four or five episodes on whatever streaming platform they've switched over to (hint: Hulu) and then you can check something else out and come back later. Put another reminder on your watch or phone thing. If you adhere to old patterns — I need to watch every episode — you're not going to make it. Real talk. In fact, I started a list of series based solely on how much time you have available to watch. See, curation is helpful.

Maybe another new trick for 2019 is to be less scattershot in your viewing habits. Peak TV can sometimes make you think that what's required is this nonstop shotgun-blast approach to following 39 series at once, but that can be crippling for some people. Why not just treat some really great series as good books you're determined to plow through? If I may, let me suggest trying that with Patriot on Amazon. This works well for several reasons. First, it was a series that was almost universally overlooked in its first season and there were very view people (waves hand frantically!) shouting about it. Now that the second season has just started, there's a new wave of critical support coming in and also a very clear signal that lots more people finally discovered that older first season, loved it and can't wait to march their way through the second season. So technically you're right on schedule with this one, even if you're late. It's like magic! Thanks, Peak TV. (By the way, here's my review of season one and of season two. I made note in the latter that there's literally no chance you can start Patriot in the second season if you want to understand it, so just chill out and start from the beginning.) Let's make 2019 all about not rushing, shall we?

I, too, have actually been rewatching the first season of Patriot and getting so much joy from forgotten tidbits. And guess what — it's even more brilliant the second time around.

Now, whenever you complete this experiment, you will have accomplished three things: 1) Discovered a great series. 2) Stopped stressing about all the other ones you're behind on and used your newfound 2019 powers of focus on just one thing, which is already a pretty impressive feat — well done. 3) Reiterated to your brain what you already know: Streaming is the future. Well, technically it's the now, but conceptually it's the future and you can't stop it. Whatever's happening on linear TV shouldn't really matter to you unless it's sports or you're a masochist and watch the news. Those things are time sensitive. TV series are not.

That brings us, lastly, up to date on another big thing that will happen this new year: More streaming services will arrive. Big ones — Disney, Apple and WarnerMedia. If you're thinking, "Wow, how do I make sense of all of this and which ones should I prioritize?" I wrote about that as well. It's kind of a fluctuating situation, and you can approach it from fiscal value to content value. I hope that column is a good guide.

Here's another handy tip: Google has a relatively new "available on" search result that is making a lot of apps that track where shows are streaming kind of useless, even ones I use a lot and like. Just a heads up. Type a show title into Google search and you'll know where to find it. This is going to be easier than you think. Let's no longer talk of Peak TV like it's a weight on your head. It's 2019 — let's stay at least temporarily hopeful.

My advice for 2019 is to realize that TV is being made and consumed in totally fresh ways and not to stress about it. Hit some of those links above and get some information, some guidance, break old habits, make new ones, etc. New year, new you, never-ending viewing.