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5 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching More (and Better) TV


“We don’t have a television.”

Last weekend a thirtysomething guy said this to me at a dinner. I had just asked one of my new ice breaker questions when meeting new people: “Do you watch Breaking Bad?”

Out of politeness, I didn’t say anything back. I resisted my desire to roll my eyes at this guy’s smug tone, but I’ve been thinking about a suitable response for days.

Here’s what I think: If you’re not watching television — when there’s so much amazing television out there — you’re really missing out and I feel a bit sorry for you. In fact, I would argue that you’re missing a chance to become a better parent and spouse, a happier person, a better writer, an engaged critic of popular culture, and an informed and compassionate citizen.

First of all, I should be clear: I am not talking about mindless flipping through stations. I am not talking about bad sitcoms. I am not talking about sports. (I don’t watch sports and don’t judge people who do — except my husband on some Sundays when he watches football and vacillates between being a beer-induced coma victim and a raging, irrational Buffalo Bills fan screaming at the TV.) I am not even talking about reality television. (Again, I don’t really watch much of it, but I know there are some fun shows out there.)

What I’m talking about is Quality Television, what I will call QT. It’s usually drama, but not always. It has writing that moves you, that sometimes leaves you breathless, and always makes you think. It has plots that are complex and roll out over many episodes and sometimes seasons. It has characters that you connect with, that you either love or hate passionately. It’s a TV show in which episodes end and you’re either crying, sitting in stunned silence, or feel intense joy because it’s tapped into a part of yourself (as a parent, sister, brother, friend, child) that makes your heart sing.

And here’s why you should be watching more QT:

1. It will improve your marriage or relationship with your partner. Since we became parents two years ago, my husband and I always have a “show” that we watch together. Parents of toddlers don’t go out much, but we both look forward to entering a world that we both love. At the end of dinner, when our son is finally asleep and we’re both brain dead, one of us will say to the other, usually coyly, as if we’re suggesting something far more explicit, “Is it show time?” Then we’ll watch an episode of our show. And after it’s over we’ll always talk about it, often for days. Right we’re on the third season of Breaking Bad, and sometimes it will take days for us to dissect an episode, arguing about characters’ motivations and ethical stances. Honestly, I’ve learned so much about my husband and our shared — or not shared — values by talking about the dilemmas and characters in shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad.

2. It will help you stay connected to friends and family far away. If you’re like me, many of your relatives and closest friends don’t live nearby. It’s hard to keep them up to date with what’s happening in your life on a daily basis, and it’s easy for months to go by without any connection. But many of my relatives and I have found a way to have something to talk, laugh, and tease each other about: The Walking Dead. We all watch it, and have Facebook discussions all the time about the show. Similarly, QT can be a way to keep cross-generational connections. All of us sometimes feel that our parents or older relatives live on a different planet; talking about good TV can be a way to bridge that gap.

3. It will help you connect with humanity. That sounds a bit lofty, doesn’t it? But I used to be a political junkie. During the 2008 election, I read and watched about the campaigns incessantly. I loved Sunday talk shows, NPR news programs, even weekly news magazines. While I still know generally what’s going on in the news, I feel that I understand contemporary society better by watching QT. I learn about the lives of people who are very different from mine. Important sociological questions and the greatest social issues of our time are addressed on these shows — crime, drugs, political dysfunction, failing schools — but in a way that makes you learn by feeling, understanding, and sympathizing.

4. It will help you be a better writer. For those of us who like to write, the writing on these shows is incredible. They will make you think about characterization, metaphors and allusions, great literature, techniques for surprising your readers, symbolism, and great dialogue.

5. You will enter a separate world outside of diapers, homework, baby formula, and temper tantrums. Yes, it’s escapism. Pure and simple.

If you aren’t watching QT, here’s a starting guide for where to start. All of these shows are outstanding in quality, but I’m listing them in order from most accessible, lightest to darker, more complex shows. You can start with the easier shows, or just jump right in with the intense and challenging. I’m also including only shows that I think would appeal to both genders. (For instance, one of my favorite shows of all time that I would include as QT is “My So-Called Life.” My husband has no interest in it.)

1. Friday Night Lights: If you have not seen this show, go straight to your library and pick up the first season. Now. If you do not like this show, I’m afraid you may have no soul.

2. Mad Men: Yes, it’s worth the hype. Some seasons are stronger than others, but it’s always addictive.


Mad Men

3. Battlestar Gallatica: Not sure if this show is for everyone. It’s a space drama that’s really about morality, politics, and faith.

4. Damages: I watched the first season and liked it. I’ve heard that it gets very addicting.

5. Homeland: An explosive and addictive show. I worship Claire Danes.

6. The Walking Dead: My favorite zombie, postapocolypse drama of all time.

The Walking Dead (season 2)




Breaking Bad (season 3)


7. Breaking Bad: After a terminal cancer diagnosis, a high school chemistry teacher makes meth to support his family and becomes a leader of a drug empire. Astoundingly good.


8. The Wire: Some may say that it’s the greatest show ever aired on television. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I can guarantee that you’ve never seen anything like it.

What have I missed? What would you add to my list? What do you watch?


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  1. Wendy says:

    Orphan Black. It is on BBC and my husband read about it, and now it is our show. Sometimes TV is a great escape for me, even if only for 30 minutes.

  2. It’s true. My husband and I have a show we watch together, and we usually end up discussing it in depth for days after. It’s a good tool for connection and learning about each other.
    I’ve watched most of the shows you listed, but will have to try The Wire. Sounds good. ­čÖé

  3. It’s true. My husband and I always have a show we watch together, and we usually end up discussing it in depth for days after. It’s a good tool for connection and learning about each other.
    I’ve watched most of the shows you listed, but will have to try The Wire. Sounds good. ­čÖé

  4. Thank you for this post. I love TV. We watch an hour or so together after the baby is asleep and it is “our” time. Yes, I sometimes feel guilty that I am not writing sonnets or making the world a better place, but I am glad that I have Homeland and Top Chef and Orange is the New Black to count on. Our world is so unpredictable and there is so little that actually allows me to relax that my tv time with my husband has become quite sacred. All hail TV… in moderation!
    Surprise Mama recently posted…What a worldMy Profile

  5. Kate says:

    Out of your list I watch Homeland, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. I would add Scandal and Newsroom to the mix- House of Cards was great too! I agree with your post. I definitely learned a lot especially from Newsroom and House of Cards. I do like some fluff TV too- Grey’s, Parenthood ­čÖé
    Kate recently posted…Never ever ever…My Profile

  6. Dana says:

    Homeland is the only show on your list that I watch. That’s “our show” – my husband and I watch it together. He only has time for one show, so we make it a good one. We just finished watching Ray Donovan and really liked that too. I really like this post, Jessica – you make a compelling case for watching good TV!
    Dana recently posted…Fall into a good bookMy Profile

  7. Nina says:

    I cut down on a lot of TV just because of time, but I DO still have some of my favs. And then I’m always hearing about shows I know I’d love, but just never started (Breaking Bad, Scandal, Homeland, etc.)

    I do LOVE Madmen and several others, but different ones from your list. I miss some of old favorites like Gilmore Girls. That was my kind of show–smart and sweet at the same time.

    Anyway, I LOVE the idea of a list of good reasons to watch TV. And I’m not sure I’ve seen one before. Kudos!
    Nina recently posted…Helpful vs. Helpless KidsMy Profile

  8. Emily says:

    My husband and I bond over TV or movie watching too. We still haven’t watched Homeland but it’s on our list to download and start from the beginning. I don’t want much regular TV, but as far as sitcoms, “Modern Family” is great – our whole family watches it together!
    Emily recently posted…I’m Ba-aack…My Profile

  9. That’s where the romance is after years of marriage and a kid…. watching TV! I love your analysis of why television (at least quality television) is good for us. Definitely keeps you up to date on popular culture. And I am ashamed to say I have not seen one episode EVER of any of the shows you mentioned! The one I would add is the Newsroom. But I find I have very little TV time these days…
    Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha recently posted…Do You Struggle with Meditation?My Profile

  10. YES! I admit that the only one on your list that I watch is Homeland but I <3 Claire Danes too! OMG what a great show. I also love The Newsroom, US of Tara, Nurse Jackie, The Big C, and True Blood. I used to love Dexter but they messed it up this year.
    Six Feet Under was OMG awesome for years.
    I love that you wrote this post. Seriously.
    Kristi Campbell recently posted…Our Land – Looking Forward to Giving BackMy Profile

  11. mary kathryn says:

    Well … at the risk of being disparaged … we don’t watch TV. We do have a TV. It sits in the living room and we occasionally (rarely) watch a DVD on it. We have lots of great movies. We all have laptops/ipads/screens of various types. We have Netflix. We watch full-length shows (esp. great documentaries) on Youtube. I watch great TV shows on the PBS website or the ABC website.

    Which all means we do watch some TV, but at our convenience, at our discretion, and without the cost of cable or dish or whatever other outrageously expensive means people get suckered into. Honestly — there’s so much great stuff on Netflix and Youtube, why should we pay for other stuff? My husband watches sports online when he’s in the mood. I can’t even begin to imagine how much time we have saved (and used better) not sitting through commercials or flipping cable channels.
    All that to say, I grew up in the era of TONS of TV, before parents knew it was bad for you, and it was our babysitter, 4:00-10:00 daily, and all summer. And all weekend. Ugh. No thanks. I didn’t want my kids growing up that way, and they didn’t.

  12. Christie says:

    This summer I was that smug guy, all smuggy because we hadn’t watched TV or anything on the computer/iPad for three months. and guess what? Since we started again with the first season of Louis CK, my marriage is better and so is my writing. Great post!

  13. Really, Fri. Night Lights? Isn’t that a football drama thing? Never saw it, but I thought it was on on Fri (from commercials) & that’s where they put the bad programming. I’m also afraid to watch it now b/c I might find out I have no soul. Tried Mad Men & I know people love it & I wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t get into it (too much glorified sexism for me). Battlestar Galactica I am not even going to get into w/ you. Damages I never heard of. Homeland is on HBO, isn’t it? I don’t have fancy cable, but if I did I would give it a shot. I’ll admit, I’m the only person in the whole world who has never seen Breaking Bad. And I’m ashamed. I’m getting NEtfix & I will rectify this situation immediately. (I hope it’s as good as everyone keeps say or I’m gonna be pissed.) I never saw The Wire but I know it’s critically acclaimed. I feared watching it might get too depressing. Now I have 1 for you that’s on this theme of good writing, character development, ect. That has made me think: Girls. HAve you seen it? I loved the very first episode & the writing is really good, the characters are fully developed, the dialog’s great & I love having shows finally displaying the female perspective. It’s totally dead on, but it’s not for everyone. The 1st season was better, but it’s still worth a watch. Also, Colbert & The Daily show. CAn’t get better writing than that.
    One Funny Motha recently posted…Pets, Kitties, Bikes, Kids: Some Free Advice from Me to YouMy Profile

  14. Liz says:

    Oh my I have a confession….I barely watch TV. I watch “Dancing with the Stars” (I know…not QT, but the personal stories are moving). I watch E NEWS. Again, junk, I know, but definitely an escape. I used to lovvvve Up all Night” which was mine and Hubby’s show, but it doesn’t seem to be coming back. At night, I’m usually either reading or blogging…
    BUT I will tell you that I agree. I felt that way about “Lost” and “SATC”.
    Maybe I will break out and try one of your suggestions, though!!!
    Liz recently posted…When your kid flips you the birdMy Profile

  15. Dani Ryan says:

    My husband and I have been buying DVD sets to watch together since we got married. I love having something that we can look forward to doing TOGETHER at the end of the day, and now that we have a 2-year-old and never leave the house after 7 pm (except on those glorious date nights we have once a month), I think it’s really important that we have that to do together. I like almost everything on your list. We also watch Revenge, Californication, The Good Wife, and, I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, The Deadliest Catch. Oh, and you’re right about Damages. It DOES get addicting!

  16. The Wire IS the greatest show ever! But I’m glad you included Battlestar, too. ­čÖé And, of course, Homeland, my current obsession as I”m rewatching the earlier seasons.

    I agree, Jessica — we don’t have cable for the mind-numbing channel-flipping reason. The only time we regret it is during college football, when we have to go out to see the Oregon Ducks smash everyone to pieces. ­čśë But there is some really great, thought-provoking television out there these days. Even sitcoms are better — 30 Rock, Parks & Rec for example.

    You should move to NYC and then we can watch tv together!!
    Deb @ Urban Moo Cow recently posted…Dilbert’s Secretary’s Pity PartyMy Profile

  17. Nancy says:

    I binge-watched “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix streaming) and couldn’t stop talking about it with friends. And if you can find “Bunheads”–cruelly canceled by ABC Family after two seasons–watch it. In fact, “Bunheads”–about a Las Vegas showgirl (the sublime Sutton Foster) who finds herself teaching in a ballet studio on the California coast–could be a good family show if your kids are older than, say, 13. And the dancing and choreography are miles better than anything you’ll see the “reality” shows.

    Both shows have a phenomenal range of roles for women. In fact, if you gripe about the dearth of women characters in movies (as I do), you’ll be thrilled to see how differently TV handles the gender balance.

    I’m not just about the girl stuff: I think “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire” are the two best long-form series ever created — as deeply involving as any novel (and far better than most novels I’ve read lately). I dig the hilariously potty-mouthed “Veep.” And I’ve been known to go on “Boardwalk Empire” binges.

    Cannot abide “Mad Men,” though. Tried, tried again. Too smug, too stilted, too many annoying anachronisms.

    But ain’t it grand that there are so many choices? This truly is the golden age of TV.
    Nancy recently posted…They Cannot LieMy Profile

  18. Michelle says:

    I’m don’t really watch tv but I do unwind with books. My oldest son loves Breaking Bad and I have seen an episode here and there. It does look like a great show. I watch movies with my family. I just have such a hard time committing to watching a show. Most of our spare time is spent with our kids sports or other activities with family and friends. I agree that there is some great stuff out there…I am sure at some point I’ll start watching again.
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