In August 2012, Entertainment Weekly writer Darren Franich broke down a new TV phenomenon called “hate-watching,” inspired by the countless viewers of HBO’s The Newsroom whose sole purpose in tuning in seemed to be fueled by contempt, not pleasure. With their figurative fangs sharpened, many Newsroom viewers checked back in with Aaron Sorkin’s fictionalized broadcast journalism office just to see how the show could piss them off that week. You know, to give them things to complain about on Twitter to their fellow Sorkin-hating social media pundits.
Since then, hate-watching has risen in frequency, trickling over into equally maligned shows like the Fox serial killer drama The Following and AMC’s recently canned The Killing. But as The Following, currently in the heat of its unsurprisingly problematic second season, continues to frustrate viewers who appreciate common sense and justifiable character decisions, it’s time to ask an important question: When is the right time to give up on a TV show? There are too many worthwhile shows on the air and precious few hours in one’s lifetime—why keep watching something you know isn’t good?
Complex deputy editor Justin Monroe, senior staff writer Matt Barone, news editor Tanya Ghahremani, and contributing writer Brenden Gallagher discussed their own personal takes on the matter, which, you guessed it, vary in approach and personal tastes.
Matt Barone: As I was watching The Following earlier this week, I noticed that my phone became more and more distracting throughout the episode. As did the window in my bedroom, and that little ant that was crawling on my bedroom wall. And then it hit me: I'm officially over that show. Its stupidities and horrible writing have broken me. But then, I kept on watching, unable to just change the channel or walk away. I thought, well, I've gone this far... Shouldn't I see this disappointing story through?
So the question I present is, when is the right time to just throw your hands up, say, "Fuck it," and stop watching a TV show you know isn't good and is wasting your time?
Brenden Gallagher: I'm a pretty weird case. For me, I watch the pilot, and if I am hooked, I'll usually stay the whole season. I was actually deeply disappointed by Parenthood, but since I was in after the pilot, I endured the saccharine overwrought, "family eating dinner outdoors under white Christmas lights" for a whole season. Conversely, I left New Girl and Mindy after the pilot and never returned despite the love my friends and co-workers have for it.
Ross Scarano:What is it about a pilot that will make or break you? Because, as a general rule, I often dislike pilots, feel like I have to power through them to get a sense of what the show is via a second or third episode before really taking the plunge.
Brenden: If I don't see a consistent vision, I'm out. I don't need perfection, but for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I saw something so incomplete, with the tonal dissonance between characters and lack of a concrete "Brooklyn" of the show, it would have to take a lot to get me back. The Golden Globe did that for me, but I was still underwhelmed by the episode I recently saw. I have hung with Game of Thrones and House of Cards despite their flaws because they have a honed point of view supported by the different creative aspects of the show.
Matt: It's interesting, The Following actually had a strong pilot, one that included the few things the show actually does well: its ability to shock with violence you wouldn't expect to see on Fox, the initial intrigue of its premise. But then it very quickly started turning Kevin Bacon's character into the world's dumbest investigator, and started getting more and more idiotic. The pilot, frankly, deceived me.
Brenden: Another big thing for me is disappointment. If I have low expectations, I might stick around and see how something grows. But these days, I can't stand it when a powerhouse shows drop and disappoints me. I thought Spoils of Babylon and Chozen were terrible and I was expecting them to be appointment viewing. They broke my heart and I couldn't go back.
Justin Monroe: I'm with Ross on pilots, generally speaking. There are pilots that blow me away but so few shows are perfect from the outset. In the beginning, I'm primarily looking for a quality concept that can be built on. Also, is the acting and writing horrendous? Is there potential that, if it is poor quality, it could be stepped up?
I don't think The Following has gotten more idiotic over time. It was ridiculous very early on and has maintained that level of idiocy. If you can laugh at it, it's a lot of fun.
Matt: But The Following isn't supposed to be idiotic. They're trying to make a serious show, which, in theory, should make it more fun to watch since I love watching bad-meaning-good movies, but I don't see the point of wasting my time anymore when they're clearly not good at what they're trying to do. There's too much TV out there to waste time on The Following.
Tanya Ghahremani: I went through something similar with Heroes back when that show was on—I watched the first season and loved it, so much so that I gave it a pass when it started to get slightly shaky plot-wise in the last few episodes. Then when season two premiered, it sucked, but I felt like the show eventually had to recapture how great it was in season one at some point since they'd already done it once, so I stuck around for the rest of the season, as well as the next. But when they didn't by the end, I felt like I had wasted four years on the thing, and now I hate even hearing its name. I think if you're losing interest now, it's best to stop watching.
Justin: But back to the point of show development, there are some very high quality shows that stumbled out of the gates, unsure oh what exactly they were, like The Office (U.S.), Justified, and Parks & Rec. It took them a few episodes or even a full season to get the tone and even the cast right. I can ride with shows if there's promise (I'm enjoying Brooklyn Nine-Nine for what it's worth) but if the acting is just plain awful or execs are clearly tinkering wildly on a week-to-week basis, I just don't have the time.
Justin: The Following can be a matter of taste. Quite honestly, the difference between the plausibility of that show and the plausibility of Banshee is not great. But somehow Matt seems OK with the latter's ridiculousness. I've come to find them both enjoyable in their own way.
Matt: Because Banshee is tongue-in-cheek, always has been. It's meant to be over-the-top. The Following is supposed to be a serious serial killer drama. A serious serial killer drama with elaborate kills, that is. And a sense of showmanship with its violence. Just read any interview Kevin Williamson gives.
Justin: Matt... You're bugging.
Matt: You think they're purposefully writing a terrible character like Ryan Hardy? To wink at us?
Brenden: Actually, Matt took the words out of my mouth. That is why Sleepy Hollow continues to kill it. It knows what it is and doesn't try to be more than that. I can abide weaknesses, but pretension is hard for me to swallow.
Matt: Yeah, Sleepy Hollow is a lot like Banshee in that way.
Justin: 100-percent. How did you decide that the absurdity on The Following is unintentional? You know how much goes into a production. It's not accidental. Can't be. And I think even more so with season two.
Matt: Because I've read interviews from its makers and Entertainment Weekly features on it. They're not trying to make something like Banshee or Sleepy Hollow.
Justin:It doesn't have to be exactly the same thing as those two shows for there to be a conscious playing with the ridiculousness of it. C'mon!
Brenden: Mo Ryan and Ryan McGee talked about this in their initial review of The Following. They corroborate Matt's story. That being said, authorial intent is tricky especially because so much of the audience could care less. We aren't talking Faulkner here.
Justin: You're missing my point: It's cartoonish from the beginning precisely because they're not taking a real-world approach to FBI profiling. And from the serial killer angle, look at the silly Poe origins. To me, it doesn't matter if they set out to be funny. They are funny.
Matt: And, because there's so much better TV out there I'm not watching, I don't see the point in laughing at their inefficiencies anymore.
Justin: Which is your right.
Ross: Is it a failure of the show if it doesn't teach you how to watch it? Seems like any show allowing for this kind of dissonance is maybe coming up short.
Brenden: Ross, that’s my problem with Spoils of Babylon. We're a melodrama parody spiraled quickly into we are an absurdist parody of TV and film from 1950 to the present. I didn't know what to show up for. Also, that seems to be why people left Homeland en masse: we’re not a superficial suspense show, we're not a superficial suspense show…OK, we're a superficial suspense show.
Justin: With Spoils of Babylon, all I need is Will Ferrell. The bookends are highly entertaining to me, but those could easily have been sketches, not a show.
Brenden: True, but I wanted so much more.
Ross: What's the longest you've been with a show before quitting?
Brenden: True Blood. Somehow I watched six seasons of that. Not proud.
Ross: [Laughs.] Same with me. Three seasons of True Blood. Then, nothing.
Tanya: Literally what I was about to say too, Brenden. It’s True Blood. I got to season six as well.
Brenden: Why did we stay? Why?! It’s like looking back on a bad relationship.
Matt: I did almost two seasons of Glee before stopping.
Brenden: Glee broke my heart after season 1. Such promise and then it flamed out. I still think Glee’s first season is one of the best satires I've ever seen on TV.
Justin: It wasn't by choice exactly (cable fuckery cut me off) but I was maybe five episodes into the final season of Dexter. By the time I had access again, I was behind, and then I had the end spoiled for me by so many disappointed fans. I just walked away because I already knew that the end we'd all wondered about for so long went horribly awry.
Matt: I may never get over the Dexter finale. Like Brenden said, it’s similar to when you're in a long relationship that, after like four or five years, ends horribly, when she or he cheats on you. It affects your future relationships. I now watch, say, Hannibal in love but, in the back of my mind, sort of waiting for it to cheat on me and start sucking. All because Dexter Morgan became a fucking lumberjack.
Is one possible solution here that if you find yourself getting agitated when talking about a show (like I do with The Following), there's no reason to keep watching? I know people who feel that way with The Walking Dead, and I always ask why they still watch if it angers them so much or makes them so indifferent now.
Brenden: Hate-watching can be great though. I'll never forget the Rock of Love Tool Academy power hour that helped me get through college.
Ross: My brother and his roommate bond by hate-watching The Walking Dead.
Justin: We should discuss home video/streaming. It's changed the game.
Matt: Good point. If, yes, The Following was on Netflix and I could watch it whenever I want, without it either taking up DVR memory space or factoring into my weekly schedule, I probably wouldn't get so mad at it.
Brenden: It just intensifies this process. If I stop binge-watching a show I'm streaming, I'll probably never come back.
Justin: I feel less need to watch something when it airs, knowing it will see home video release later. Now that's not without its pitfalls, as your failure to watch initial airings can lead to a good show getting canceled.
Matt: Maybe that makes it easier to know if you want to stay on board or not, though? Because you can just keep watching rather than having to wait and devote more time. "More time" meaning weeks on end.
Justin: It may seem trivial but DVR space is a precious commodity.
Matt: DVR space has determined whether I give up on shows or not many times, honestly. If episodes keep piling up and I realize I have no desire to watch them but also see that I'm running out of memory. That happened with The Newsroom's first season.
Justin: Same for me, with The Newsroom. And I knew it was also on HBO GO.
Tanya: The Newsroom for me, too.
Brenden: Oh, yeah, The Newsroom was one season and done for me. So was Girls. I'll say this about Girls, though: I didn't leave for lack of quality. it was the first time I left a show because I didn't like how it made me feel.
Justin: What is on Death Watch for you all?
Brenden: True Detective. I think I'll stay all season, but I'd better see a little less ponderous car chatting and a little more gun firing in short order.
Tanya: For me, it would be Shameless on Death Watch. I'm still watching every week, but I felt like they really lost their way last season with the whole Jimmy/Steve plot wrap-up, so I'm hesitant to trust the show again.
Matt: Homeland is on Death Watch for me, mainly because I don’t think it needs any more seasons. The story concluded itself at the end of season three and should stay done. But as far as a show that's currently on and not titled The Following, I'm going with Modern Family. It's still funny, but has felt repetitive to me lately. That show doesn't evolve; it stays in cruise control, and I'm starting to get bored by it.
Brenden: Modern Family is the most vanilla show on TV, as daring as a GAP print ad.