Cocktail Crossfire: Is Too Much Good Sunday TV an Actual Problem?

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In Today's New York Times, Brian Stelter uncovers a burgeoning problem in American living rooms: Too much good Sunday night TV. Even the advent of DVRs can't handle all this quality programming. "It’s just too much!" one overwhelmed viewer told Stelter. But, is this quality television overload a real problem? 

No. But Your TV Addiction Is.

This is a classic case of too much of a good thing. You know when you eat so much chocolate cake on your birthday that you end in a food stupor so deep you can't leave the house to get boozy as planned? (Anyone?) This TV thing is like that. Stelter lists 17 possible shows that air on Sunday night: That's an entire chocolate cake's worth of shows. Of course you want to eat them all, but it's probably bad for you. Moderate! Otherwise you might end up like one tired human Stelter found, who forwent sleep to squeeze in two additional shows at the end of her night. 41-year-old Meredith Dropkin had already watched an hour of Mad Men before squeezing in another two hours with Chopped and The Good Wife.  "I went to work tired, but ready for the water cooler," Dropkin told Stelter over e-mail. If you're giving up sleep for another hour of television, you probably don't have time for all that television. If you're willing to give up sleep, how long will it be until the bathing, eating, and laundry goes out the door, too? 

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Plus, this thing isn't even that good. There are lots of enjoyable shows on television. But are these shows any more enjoyable than any of the other leisure activities in which we partake. (Like, SLEEP? Eating chocolate cake?!) I say no. Not enjoyable enough to focus our non-work time on squeezing in another hour of TV. As Stelter points out, it can take the entire week to get up to speed on Sunday night. "By Thursday, she still hadn’t caught up with Mad Men," he wrote, speaking of TV fan Kelly Foster.That's an entire week of free time, which could be spent running errands, doing yoga, or just not staring at a screen, which many of us do all day already.

Further, this TV deluge isn't great in the health and public wellness department. Remember all that fear of television rotting our brains and eyes and ruining America and literally killing us? Again, moderate!

Did I mention this is a good thing? "I think the current crop of shows on Sunday night is the biggest glut of great TV that I can remember," said radio host Gary Lee Webster recently, notes Stelter. There's probably a hashtag out there for this type of complaining, right? #FirstWorldProblems? #SpoiledPeopleProblems? #AmericanProblems? #21stCenturyProblems? I don't know. But, it falls under that category of annoying. American media now includes quality programming. Rejoice and stop trying so hard to keep up with the zeitgeist. 

Rebecca Greenfield

Before you judge me, here is what my Sunday night television schedule more or less looks like:

7:00 p.m. 60 Minutes (don't care if it's a rerun, probably skipping over Bob Simon segments even though they're cute and involve a hippo or elephant or something that would normally capture my attention if it weren't Bob Simon narrating and asking cheesy questions).

8:03 p.m. Flip on the DVR to figure out if Don't Trust The B is as good as Happy Endings; make faces while ignoring the Amazing Race.

8:13 p.m. Give up on Don't Trust The B; try to keep up with Scandal and its fast talking (faster than Gilmore Girls) and fully acknowledge that Kerry Washington has the best sour face on television right now (yes, this includes contestants from Rupaul's Drag Race).

8:47 p.m. Get anxious for Good Wife; hope Scandal finishes fast.

9:00 p.m. Good Wife, with commercials (muted), because commercials give my roommate and me the chance to discuss how much we love Eli Gold, whether or not Will is supposed to be sexy, and when did Grams from Dawson's Creek get so mean? Game of Thrones begins recording.

10:00 p.m. Game of Thrones cued up, Mad Men starts recording.

10:30 p.m. Comment and giggle about gratuitous and wildly unnecessary nude scene in Thrones; hope something bad didn't happen to Joan (she's been through so much in the past week); start recording Girls; feel sad I will be missing Super Mario or whatever his name is on Shahs of Sunset.

10:45 p.m. Cannot change channel since two recordings are going on at once; enjoy the gentle limbo of watching GoT and not dealing with said problem.

11:00 p.m. Mad Men

11:30 p.m. Remember I'm watching a recording, start fast-forwarding through commercials.

11:50 p.m. Yawn; fill Brita; uncoil, un-slouch, and feel full effect of being a sedentary human for the past four hours. Idiosyncratic nighttime grooming ritual.

12:15 a.m. Go to bed; forget about ruined posture; forget about the middle 20 minutes of Mad Men, which will be the topic of a recap; forget about Girls until Tuesday after The Voice.

And that's it! 

The sad thing is that I'm not even a heavy DVR user. You'll notice no GCB on that list, nor The Client List, Nurse Jackie, Oprah's Next Chapter, The Amazing Race, or any of the shows the New York Times' Brian Stelter mentions in Friday's 960-word piece on the glut of Sunday programming. I'll fully admit that this could be summed up in three simple words: First World Problem. But just because it's an insular problem of the 43 percent who own DVRs and lead a life unplagued by the horrors that say, haunt the coup-prone country of Guinea Bissau, doesn't mean that it isn't a valid problem.  Here's why:

I Want to Be a Functioning Member of Society: When I'm not hunched over in my cubicle pounding away at keys to make sense of the world and hopefully give you a better sense of it, I do like to participate in conversation. And since I have terrible taste in music, and talk about The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins, you dummy, did you not see the flaming train wreck that was Water for Elephants? And you guys still picked him?) and Finnick Odair more than anyone my age should, television is as good a conversation-starter as any. Sharing in a simple "ooohs" and "omgs!!" over how and when Wendy Scott-Carr got her comeuppance a few weeks ago with one of my cubicle-mates was a satisfying human connection--something that even The Atlantic says we're lacking nowadays despite our social media connectedness. You could also argue that these connections and riffing off of art (yes, TV, even with the presence of Teresa Giudice, is art) are what makes recaps, blogs, and Vulture all exist in the first place (it's said in some circles that when two Good Wife aficionados are in the same room, Emily Nussbaum manifests).  And seriously, how am I supposed to begin to type in an argumentative comment on a recap or with another commenter I don't agree with if I haven't had the time to watch the specific episode?

I Am a Functioning Member of Society Who Has Bad Taste: Yes, I watch Shahs of Sunset and the 30-minute gabby turd that is Watch What Happens Live more than I should. But letting me talk about the implications of domesticity in the latest episode of Mad Men and the rigid definitions of '60s masculinity that Pete Campbell can't seem to fit into makes me feel less ashamed of my being and my English major. Depriving me of that .. well.

I Am a Functioning Member of Society Who Hates Spoilers: Twitter, Facebook, tumblrs. You need these to be on the pulse of what's happening now. If you're Ant De Rosa or some other social media sparkle, you might even be tweeting choice quotes during the episode. If I don't gorge myself on four or five hours of television on Sunday, I not only would be unable to participate in pop culture conversations, I'd probably be spoiled by other people participating in them. Vicious cycle, really.

I Am a Functioning Member of Society Who's Been Told His Generation Is All About Having ADD-like Attention Spans: For years and years I've been part of the generation touted as the "right now" kids. Music, instant-messaging, tweeting, text messaging--the knock on us is that we're not used to the slow-cooked type of patience our parents cultivated by living in the dark ages of technology. Quality television, and building a fidelity for shows like Buffy the Vampire SlayerMad MenOz,The Wire etc. have always been our, or my way of pushing back, beating my chest and screaming into the soundless void before me: "See (Mom)! I stuck with this!" I guess I could start playing tennis again, or invest time into a musical instrument, but you get the picture.  And by having this many great shows on television at one time, we run the risk of blowing our ADD-satiated culture palates in the opposite direction. 

I Am a Functioning Member of Society Who Can't Have Nice Things: I don't even want to think about the awful future in which too much good television bingeing leaves us fatigued and with no incentive to push these great shows into renewal. So let's just say,that if I didn't have this very real problem to complain about, I'd find something more irritating and facile to complain about and still call it real. It's your choice, reader. I could easily invoke the Kardashians and Snooki. Remember her? 

--Alex Abad-Santos

Image via Shutterstock by Levent Konuk; Mad Men by Michael Yarish/AMC

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.