Thanae Sideropoulos can’t wait for Sunday night’s “Breaking Bad” finale. One of the show’s millions of fans? Hardly. The Simmons College nursing student just wants the pressure to stop. “My family is obsessed with it — they’re always telling me to watch.”
If there’s a downside to living in this Golden Age of television, it’s this: We’ve become a nation of televangelists, relentlessly badgering pals, loved ones, colleagues to tune into the shows we love. Friends don’t let friends miss “Breaking Bad.” Or “Homeland.” Or “Orange Is the New Black.” Or “Game of Thrones.” But what happens when they do? The groaning strains on the ties that bind become palpable.
My husband, a man who hasn’t nagged me in 14 years of marriage, is suddenly on my back. “Have you made progress?” he asked recently. It was less a question than an accusation. He knew from our Netflix account that I remain stuck 11 minutes into season one, episode three, of “Breaking Bad,” one of his favorite shows.
I’ve given him two children and a loving home, but I can feel his disappointment as he watches me power through “Scandal” while his recommendation remains stalled, rejected.
Never mind that a Netflix executive armed with actual data says that we’re no more likely to enjoy a loved one’s show than we are our dentist’s, or a former colleague’s — some people can’t rest unless they can discuss Skyler White or Brody with their nearest and dearest.
“But people don’t tend to become friends because they like the same TV shows,” said Todd Yellin, a vice president of product innovation at Netflix. “They become friends for other reasons.”
Yellin’s insights into the human heart are based on two sets of statistics. It turns out that TV (and movie) suggestions from a person’s closest Facebook friends are no more likely to turn out to be a program the person will like than the suggestions of a more remote Facebook connection.
Netflix’s research also shows that the methods the company uses to suggest shows for its members — a specially developed algorithm or the Facebook suggestions of a user’s friends — are equally likely to produce a successful recommendation, Yellin said. “But the algorithm doesn’t get its feelings hurt.”
Here’s another thing that doesn’t happen with an algorithm: It doesn’t berate you with statements like “I can’t believe you have not watched yet. You have to watch!”
That’s what Alex Iacobacci’s friends and clients tell the owner of the Avanti salon when he doesn’t follow their suggestions to watch “Downton Abbey,” “Mad Men,” and, of course, “Breaking Bad.”
“Sometimes I pretend to watch, just so people leave me alone,” said Iacobacci. He found “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men” “kind of boring” — except for the hair — and he’s never even seen “Breaking Bad.”
“But I can carry on a conversation about it,” he whispered.
Although this may be hard for Millennials to comprehend, there was a time when people who watched television actually tried to cover their tracks. TV was considered a lowbrow pastime, and those caught being too familiar with a program would make excuses. “I only watch when I’m folding laundry.” Or: “I was flipping the channels on the way to a PBS documentary.”
But today? The TV shame belongs to those who don’t watch. They’re rubes so out of the national conversation they can’t be hurt by spoilers.
Today’s viewers are not only proud to be up on TV, but social media gives them the mistaken impression that “everyone” is watching a show — except the target of their pestering, said Matt Roush , senior critic at TV Guide Magazine.
“You get all this reinforcement from strangers,” he said. “And the people you’re actually close to can feel like strangers because they’re not watching the same show you are.”
Kristine Greco, a Northeastern University student, admitted to feeling “hostile” to pals who don’t like shows she knows they’d love if they’d only give them a chance. “My roommate couldn’t do it,” she said, somewhat bitterly describing a failed “Breaking Bad” recommendation.
But it’s not as if Greco wrote “Breaking Bad,” or stars in it, or has any role whatsoever in the series, so why does she care so much? “I feel personally connected to shows,” she said. “It hurts my feelings if people don’t like them.”
Nicole Zangara, the author of “Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” feels the same way. “It’s an insult when someone won’t watch your show,” she said. “It’s like if they care about you, they’ll watch. They’ll make the investment.”
Those feelings are ramped up with couples, said Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan psychotherapist who says he has treated a lot of patients for TV addiction. “People feel rejected if they feel the other person doesn’t care about the things they care about,” said Alpert, the author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.”
“They blow it out of proportion. It’s a TV show. It’s 48 or 60 minutes. My job is to help them take a step back and say, ‘It’s just an hour. What’s the big deal?’ ”
But for shows like “Homeland” or “Downton Abbey,” or “Arrested Development” that one hour can turn into weeks of conversation — and bonding. And thanks to streaming services offered on Netflix and Amazon, and a growing backlog of shows with a cultlike following, a person who escaped the original run is never really off the hook.
“I’ve been promising people that I’ll go back and watch all of ‘Breaking Bad,’ ” said writer and humorist Laurie Notaro. “I feel like I’ll be ostracized if I don’t.”
Her husband is suffering from a related problem, she added. It’s the TV equivalent of frantically flossing before going to the dentist. He needs to watch “Game of Thrones” before he gets together with a pal who has been insisting he watch it. “Otherwise they’ll have nothing to talk about.”
Sometimes it’s not that a person doesn't want to watch a friend's favorite show it’s that her mental and emotional TiVo is full. As Stephanie Wright, a Northeastern University student, points out, television has so many good characters now that it’s hard to jump in casually. “It’s a big emotional investment,” she said.
Like many people who are fighting off recommendations, she’s been on both sides of the “you must watch this” conversation. After being nagged for years to watch “Breaking Bad” she finally gave in — and now likes it so much she’s hassling others. “I’ve transitioned from nag-ee to nagger.”Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.