Q. Now that people are returning to nightlife in the United States, I’m wondering if you are disappointed. For about a year, everyone relied on TV for entertainment. Now TV is just another option.
A. Yup, now we return to our regularly scheduled programming. And I couldn’t be happier about it. No disappointment whatsoever.
Sure, it was a satisfying feeling to see more people appreciating a lot of the shows I’ve admired and recommended. Ultimately, most critics want to help their readers find good stuff and avoid bad stuff, along with interpreting and adding context. There was a sudden new hunger for new things to watch, and during the height of the pandemic I heard from readers about the charming “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, Netflix’s enthralling “The Queen’s Gambit,” Pop TV’s warm-hearted “Schitt’s Creek,” the sad Diana season of Netflix’s “The Crown,” the juicy third season of Netflix’s “Ozark,” the revival of Netflix’s “Shtisel,” and FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows,” with its vampire buffoons. Readers were also eager to find hidden gems and older series, and I got at least one person to watch “Rectify,” the under-recognized SundanceTV drama about the struggles of a man released from death row.
Of course, it wasn’t all prestige and perfection. Viewers did embrace some mediocrities — and, when it came to Netflix’s “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” much worse — in order to distract themselves from the crisis. I’m not sure Netflix’s cotton-candy-ish “Emily in Paris” or the streamer’s repetitive “Firefly Lane” would have been quite so popular if we hadn’t been so in need of things to do.
I am a TV critic, but that doesn’t mean I think watching TV is the only thing people should do when they’re looking for entertainment or self-reflection through art. I am eager to resume eating dinner at restaurants, seeing the occasional play, and going to art museums, even if it means the return of FOMO, and I know that many, many others are, too.
I’m beginning to see the increased interest in TV during the pandemic as, among other things, a great teaching moment when a lot of people who weren’t particularly well-versed in the TV landscape learned the ropes. They learned technical things, including how to stream and, importantly, how to juggle subscriptions by signing up and then canceling. And they learned an aesthetic thing, namely just how absorbing some of the streaming and cable shows are.