My Year (Sort Of) Unplugged: A TV Love Story

Sometimes I think my favorite place in the world is my couch, with the lights turned off and Netflix on. I’m wearing sweatpants and drinking a vodka tonic, ecstatic about the fact that I don’t have to talk to another human or breathe fresh air or move my body. I can just stay flopped across the cushions forever, glancing out the window occasionally to see the seasons change, a Rip Van Winkle situation where I’ll emerge in 100 years with great pop culture knowledge and truly immaculate leg hair.

Hi, my name’s Megan, and I’m a TV addict. And this year, I’m finally doing something about it.

I know, I know, I’m rolling my eyes too. In general, people who brag about not watching TV are people you want to avoid at parties. But don’t worry, I do own a TV. And a Hulu account, and a Netflix account (okay, it’s my roommate’s) and a big stack of DVD box sets. The problem isn’t that I’m too good for TV. It’s that I love it too much.

When I was a teen, my relationship to television was pretty take-it-or-leave-it. I watched a lot of Friends and Queer as Folk (that I coaxed my big sis into buying for me, since I was too young for the NC-17 sticker on the DVDs). But I would always opt for hanging out with friends over parking on the couch with the remote.

TV only became an issue to me when I graduated college and hit the first real depressive episode of my life. I knew the things I could do to make myself feel better–shower, draw, see my friends. But it was easier lay in my bed and binge-watch Torchwood. Streaming shows on my laptop became a safety blanket I could drape over myself, a way to black out the rest of the world around me.

My depression comes and goes, but watching TV remains pretty constant. I’ve learned that these days, I’m pretty all-or-nothing when it comes to television. If I watch one episode, I watch five more. My lack of self-control mixes terribly with our binge-watching culture. It baffles me that there are human beings who watch their shows only after they’ve scrubbed every dish and completed every laundry cycle. I know people can have healthy relationships with TV–I just don’t.

When I’m sad or lazy or apathetic, the days can feel like tally marks. TV offers an alternative. I can step sideways into someone else’s narrative. Instead of worrying about my student loans or freelance deadlines or the Blue Apron meal rotting in my fridge, I can worry about if Kourtney will finally kick Scott to the curb.

Lately, though, watching the newest “it” show feels like this big, looming obligation. I mostly watch TV alone or with my roommate, but I constantly talk and text and G-chat everyone else about it. When I’m making smalltalk with my coworkers as I microwave my Campbell’s Soup-to-Go, I automatically ask what they’re watching. As default conversations go, it’s easy and fun and makes me feel like I’m stepping into a ready-made community.

But when I’m not watching a popular show, I feel this pressure to keep up on the conversation anyway. Right now, I get asked about Making a Murderer five times a day. If I watched an episode, I’d probably get hooked. But god, I’m exhausted. We’ll be on to a new show next week, and the week after that, and I’ll still be over here feeling guilty that I didn’t get past the first episode of Master of None.

I guess I’m ready to switch from what’s easy to what’s good for me. I’m starting to accept that it’s okay to opt out. To be conscious of my media habits, and to pick and choose what I spend my time on.

How do you learn self-control as an adult? I’m only 25, but I worry that my habits are too deeply ingrained. This is a dumb concern; people change all the time, for better and for worse. Sometimes I see my options laid out in front of me, two roads diverging like rabbit ear antennas. 1) I quit my job and commit to watching TV full-time, forever. 2) I go cold turkey and become one of those insufferable anti-TV weirdos at parties.

I’m desperate to find the right middleground. So here’s my 2016 TV plan: one month on, one month off through the rest of the year. I’m watching TV in January because I need to finish season 3 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. (Priorities.) Come February, my screen will be blank. On in March, off in April, so on and so forth. I’m allowed to go to movies, and I’m allowed to watch TV at friends’ houses. (The goal isn’t to massacre my social life–if it gets me out of my apartment, I see that as a victory.)

It sounds sort of daunting. It sounds like a relief.

I didn’t actually dream this up on my own. I learned from my parents. When I was a kid, they instated intermittent No TV Months, bribing us with limitless treasures at the end of the month. (Okay, okay, it was a Build-a-Bear). Instead of watching TV, I drew horses or organized my Littlest Pet Shops. Sometimes we’d go on family field trips to the zoo or the Art Institute. Over the years, I learned to see these months as a sort of vacation from our routines.

Now that I’m grown, I can see the moral here, and it’s pretty saccharine. Picture me looking towards the night sky and whispering, “The prize wasn’t the Build-a-Bear after all.”

I don’t have Littlest Pet Shops to tend anymore, but I already have plans for my off months. For February, I want to work on a new zine and clean out my front closet and finally give that new Carly Rae Jepsen album a proper listen. In my mind, turning off my TV gets me one step closer to my ideal life. Ideal me reads challenging books and grows her own herbs and always properly hydrates. I know hiding my Apple remote won’t transform me into a sparkling version of myself. I’ll find new, creative ways to waste my time. I’ll still have bad days. But I’ll be more likely to hang out with you on a weeknight if I know I can’t just veg out on the couch and rewatch 30 Rock.

The thing is, I don’t think watching TV is always a waste of time. For me, TV can be rewarding, even formative. Daria taught me about female friendships. Buffy taught me about bravery and grief. My sense of humor was formed during early viewings of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. I get a lot of joy from (over)analyzing shows, writing criticism, and cornering you at a party to talk about that one episode of Pretty Wild. I don’t want to leave these things behind.

So this year is about finding my right balance. This won’t be the same as your right balance. Maybe you only watch TV every fortnight, or maybe you marathon three seasons a week. I’m trying to find what works best for me. Maybe month on/month off is my perfect middle ground, or maybe I’ll have to do some adjusting. Right now, though, I feel pretty excited for what this year will bring. I don’t think I’ll emerge perfect in my media consumption, but I hope I learn to think of TV as something I can enjoy instead of something that fills me with guilt or dread.

My hopes for 2016 are varied. I want to write a lot and read a lot and learn how to stop overcooking chicken. I want to thrift weird clothes and explore new train stops and maybe even get a new tattoo. And you know what? I hope I watch some good TV, too.
Megan Kirby writes all over the Internet. You can follow her at @megankirb.