Television used to be a weekly thing. You would check in once a week on your favorite characters and their crazy goings-on. There has always been a surrogate-family quality to television. It is one of the appeals of the medium: it’s like having a really active social life without the messy aspects of actually knowing someone. But television of today has taken the idea of surrogate-relationships to new heights.
We don’t just watch TV shows anymore, we date them.
Lately I’ve been playing the field. I’m between relationships and like a young man going to clubs or bars, I’m now thumbing-clicking my way through Netflix. Selecting a show has become a bit like Tinder. I judge candidates by their title-card image and either swipe them aside or watch the first episode. Sometimes I just watch the first few minutes of the first episode. They say you can determine if a potential mate really is a potential mate in just a few seconds. The same probably holds true when dating a television show.
The candidates I’ve been trying out recently are season two of “Stranger Things,” the creepy FBI profiler show “Mindhunter,” and the dark western “Godless.” All passed the swipe test. There were some that didn’t. I’m not a huge fan of comedies, especially the wry sardonic comedies Netflix seems to favor. Wry and sardonic are excuses to not be very funny. I’m also not big on relationship stories that rest on the viewer caring deeply about whether the people on screen will find love, get pregnant, or reconcile with an aging parent. Yawn. I’m also not big on revenge stories and ulra-violence, which rules out “The Punisher.”
So far, “Mindhunter” has made the best impression. It’s creepy, but not gross. Remember that scene in “Silence of the Lambs” where Starling visits Lector in his dungeon cell? This show is like that scene for ten episodes. I’m pretty sure that is exactly how the show was pitched. “Stranger Things” is still strange, but lacks the focus and clear throughline of the first scene. It keeps calling me but I never pick up. I’m sure I will someday and hope all the goonies will come back together in the final episodes. “Godless” is based on the same brooding dread that fuels many modern series. Like all such shows, the goal seems to engineer a sweet gentle moment…and then have someone’s head blown off. The threads have been meandering lately, like a date who talks endlessly about the same damn problems. But the show is beautiful to look at with lush wide-screen landscapes. Are there really parts of America that still look like this, or is it all CGI?
All such series are constructed around a short season of around ten episodes, give or take. It’s long enough to get past the flirting stage of a relationship. You swap back stories backstories, trade pet peeves, sample some great local restaurants or watering holes. That’s exactly what their producers want. They want to reel you in. But you can’t have sex until season two and maybe not even then.