October 20, 2013
I've missed a few episodes of "Breaking Bad." All of them, to be precise.
I haven't caught much (any) of "Scandal," "Orange Is the New Black" or "The Good Wife."
I love TV — the dialogue, the narratives, the way characters and their conflicts sink into your psyche. A good show is just as moving and transformative as a good book.
And yet, I'm not watching.
I feel less interesting for missing the indelible characters and blindsiding plot twists that everyone from NPR hosts to my co-workers kicks around. It's like listening to everyone talk about the party you weren't invited to.
Actually, it's like listening to everyone talk about the party you were invited to, but skipped to watch "Dog With a Blog." I see my kids' shows. I just haven't watched grown-up TV in four years.
There was a tiny window when my son was just born and my daughter was an early-to-bed 3 when I caught up on several seasons of "Mad Men."
My son was doing the newborn thing: eating at all hours, crying inconsolably, requiring constant bouncing. I had spent my daughter's newborn months crying alongside her, sobbing lullabies in her nursery glider and feeling like the most inept, exhausted human alive.
I hit the couch with the second baby. He cried and ate, ate and cried; I distracted myself with Don Draper. A win-win.
That was 2009. My watching habits have since dwindled to nil.
Education policy researcher Jessica Smock recently fueled my TV anxieties in a Huffington Post essay.
"If you're not watching television," she wrote, "you're missing a chance to become a better parent as well as a better spouse, a happier person, a better writer, an engaged critic of popular culture and an informed and compassionate citizen."
Now, research does not necessarily bear this out. A 2008 University of Maryland analysis of 30 years of time-use studies and social attitude surveys found that unhappy people watch 20 percent more television than happy people.
But those time-use studies started in the '70s. I'd be unhappy too, if I were stuck watching "The Love Boat."
In 2013, I think Smock has a point. So I called her.
She and her husband watch an hour a night after their toddler goes to bed. They rarely get sitters and they've given up movies.
"I don't feel like we're missing anything," she told me. "TV is a great way of connecting. My husband and I have endless discussions about 'Breaking Bad.' There's so much I've learned, like his views on being a provider based on his judgments of Walt, the meth dealer. My whole family watches 'Walking Dead.' We have family discussions on Facebook as we're watching it."
It's like being in a book club without reading a book. So, actually, it's exactly like being in a book club. Above all, it's a ritual.
I asked Laura Vanderkam, a time-management expert and author of "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast" (Portfolio/Penguin), how to ritualize a little TV into my schedule.
"TV is generally a huge time suck," she answered. "But if you want to add it into your life, there are ways to do so without simply losing the time. If you're a member of a gym, maybe you can load your favorite shows onto your iPad and watch them while you're on the bike.
"Another option is to turn TV time into social time. Have friends over for a party and watch a few episodes of your favorite shows together."
Lovely suggestions. I'll try them. More to the point, I'll stop suspecting everyone of having more free time than me.
I'm always marveling at people who find time to do things I wish I did more of (exercise, TV watching). I rarely consider the calculations and sacrifices involved.
James Brooks, a guy who knew a thing or two about TV (he helped create "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi" and dozens more), has a quote I've always liked: "I took some time out for life."
We don't find time. We take it. And I'm determined to take more of it on my couch.
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