I spend a lot of time in front of screens these days, and not just the one on which I write this weekly column. There is the external monitor hooked to the laptop, my phone, my TV, my iPad, and the movie theaters where I catch as many flicks as possible, perhaps to make up for the long stretch during the pandemic when that wasn’t possible.
I mean, part of it is certainly because of my job as a writer — consuming entertainment goes with the territory in both of my professions as a journalist and screenwriter. While some people prefer to write in absolute silence, or with soft music playing, I always have the television on. Always. Sometimes I watch movies, but more often I watch TV shows that have been recommended, either by friends or family, or the pop culture machine that tells us all what we should be watching and why we should be watching it.
Because I am somewhat obsessive about these things, I tend to keep an ongoing list of things to watch, and I’m endlessly chagrined that, no matter how many hours of content I consume, the list never seems to get any shorter. Now, on the one hand, that’s a great problem to have, because it means there is an endless supply of quality things to watch. On the other, though, it means there is an endless supply of quality things to watch.
Do you see my dilemma?
There is simply not enough time for me to watch everything I want to watch. Not if I want to have any semblance of an actual life beyond my couch, that is. And while there were certainly times that I didn’t have much of a life beyond my couch, it hasn’t been that way for quite a while. I mean, I’ve got a wife now, and she likes leaving the house on occasion. Also, there are books to read. And Batman comics. Do you understand? Can you see why this is so troublesome to me? There are only so many hours in the day!
I’m fully aware that the streaming services, in order to survive, want and need to keep people on their platforms and away from others. That’s why Netflix keeps throwing out new shows all the time, even as it suffers ongoing losses. For them, it’s all about what’s next. The streamer boasts so many new series that it will sometimes just toss something out there without any pomp or circumstance and simply hope it finds an audience. Case in point, The Pentaverate, the new show from Mike Myers, who — aside from a couple of cameos in movies like Inglorious Basterds and Bohemian Rhapsody — has not created anything new for 14 years, since he co-wrote and starred in the ill-advised and ill-fated “comedy” The Love Guru.
One would think that the return of such a beloved figure would be heralded, belted out to the back row and announced as if it was the return of Halley’s Comet, which, in a sense, it is. And yet Netflix unceremoniously dumped The Pentaverate two weeks ago and waited for people to find their way to it with limited promotion. It’s possible that the company didn’t give it too much of a push because it knew the reviews were going to be awful — and wow, are they awful — but I sort of can’t believe that Myers’ return wouldn’t have trumped trivial concerns such as critics.
Now, it’s certainly true that Netflix has previously released shows sans fanfare and seen them catch fire, Exhibit A being Stranger Things, but I think that kind of natural phenomenon is a rare thing, hence its classification as a phenomenon. In this case, even with the crummy reviews, it sort of baffles me why Netflix didn’t make a bigger deal of it… or maybe the streamer can also sense the content overload from which we’re all suffering.
It seems an odd thing to complain about, really. It used to be that most shows would end their seasons around this time of year, and then TV was something of a wasteland until September. Summer had reruns and little else, unless you were up for watching baseball at night, which was certainly fine with me, but still, a little variety always went a long way. One does like having options.
Recall, also, that just 30 years ago, no less an artist than Bruce Springsteen himself released the hit song, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On),” which was a lament about the fact that, even with the rise of cable options back then, there was still a dearth of quality programming on the small screen.
Now, though, there are almost too many options — so much good stuff to watch that it’s impossible to catch it all. Try to do so and you’ll feel like you’re spinning your wheels, perhaps even dealing with feelings of inadequacy regarding your inability to have seen all the things that your friends are talking about because you’ve been busy watching the things that your family talks about. Or vice versa. At this point, it doesn’t matter because it’s all the same.
It’s easy to say that we’re living in the age of Peak TV, but is that really the case when there is so much of it that you can’t actually keep up, or did Peak TV refer to a time when you could consume the very best the medium had to offer? I honestly don’t know, and this whole conundrum has me somewhat flummoxed because it’s hard to complain about the variety of entertainment choices when our right to choose is being restricted in other, more important areas of life.
One side effect of all this is the dearth of good options at the multiplex. Three or four new movies used to come out every week during the summer, which brought lots of chances to sit in a darkened theater with a tub of popcorn, a trough of soda, and a bunch of strangers, because there was no reason to stay home. Now, the opposite scenario is playing out, which is oddly disheartening for someone who loves going to the movies as much as I do and has long cherished that communal experience.
Sure, this may be small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, because it’s always better to have too much to watch than not enough, but it’s still more than a bit disorienting. Maybe I should just give up on trying to keep up with TV and go sit in the park and read a book. I could probably use the fresh air.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.