Have you ever found yourself following a TV show purely by osmosis? We have. It’s a pretty amusing experience, but also quite bizarre behaviour. Some of our staffers tell the story of how and why they got sucked into this situation for a number of shows past and present.
Welcome to our Staffer Subjectivities column, where we cap off the week with a group post rounding up thoughts from some of our Subjectify team on a large variety of topics, both broad and niche. This weekend, inspired by the impending Succession season 3 finale, five of our staffers have compiled a list that answers the question: Tell me your stories about how you’ve followed a TV show without watching it.
Everyone’s got one – well, everyone who’s terminally online has got one. That show that you know about purely via osmosis – maybe a lot of your friends are fans, or maybe it’s just the wider internet conversation, but you keep hearing about the events of this show week to week, sometimes against your own will.
Sometimes you don’t choose to mute those keywords, when the noise about the show inundates you. Sometimes, you instead choose – is it a choice? Is it a compulsion? Is it laziness or active interest? Or Stockholm Syndrome? Who knows? – to let it continue to wash over you and marinate, burning up valuable brain cells. Sometimes this is casual – enough to carry on a conversation or understand the memes. Sometimes it ends up in a sick fascination, where you are actively looking up information and reading articles about the property even though you know that you really don’t actually want to watch the show.
Why do we do this? Is it merely nosiness? Is it an attempt to stay a part of the cultural conversation? Is it a spark of genuine interest, but like, not enough to spend 40 minutes a week on, or however long it takes to catch up on the backlog of seasons? Sometimes, it’s down to the sheer what the fuckery of what you’re hearing (looking at you, Riverdale) and for some of us (and three — plausibly four if you count Succession — of the entries below fall into this category) it was simply that we saw some gay shit on the horizon calling to us. But nevertheless, this strange stickybeaking is definitely a thing.
So today, we’re talking about those shows. The ones we haven’t watched, likely won’t watch, yet weirdly follow the news about and somehow are on top of. What is it about them that we know, what stands out, and what keeps us interested from afar? Here are eight of them from the Subjectify team. A couple are past-tense examples, most are currently airing. Let us know your own examples, as well.
‘Succession’ – HBO
As I’ve gotten older and more exhausted, my tolerance for people has gone way down, and I just don’t like to spend time watching characters being the worst for my entertainment. I like it when people try their best and attempt to treat each other well when it counts, even if there’s darkness along the way. I like to have someone to root for. I can guarantee that I’m never going to come out of an episode of Succession feeling better about the world, or even refreshingly distracted. It’s going to feel like I’ve just spent a hard day doomscrolling the salt mines on Twitter. I don’t like a slow motion train wreck, I don’t like schadenfreude, but apparently I’m compelled to microdose it.
“All the rich white folk are going to argue. And then whoever’s best is going to win a kiss from Daddy.” This theme song parody by Demi Adejuyigbe was the gateway drug last year and I must admit I sing this song absently to the walls of my house 4 out of 7 days a week. Via memes and snippets, articles and Twitter threads, I began to absorb Succession via osmosis, so I read a little bit of Wikipedia to get the basics straight and casually laugh more heartily at the commentary. But during season 3, which ends this Sunday, I broke.
It was round about the time Tom promised that he’d castrate and marry Greg in a heartbeat. Might have even been earlier, the watch thing. As I tweeted last month: “I will not be watching Succession any time this decade but every week I tune into the internet to see what weird psychosexual nonsense Matthew Macfadyen next inflicts on that seemingly gormless tall one and boy oh boy what is going ON over there may I ask you.”
Friends have been watching it recently, and I just had to ask for assistance. “Help. This is full-on psychosexual insanity. I do not want to watch this show about mean people but please keep me updated about what the ever living fuck people are meant to make of this.”
“If I ever figure it out you will be the first to know,” my friend replied.
I’m even up to date with all the current Jeremy Strong drama (for the record: I think the Michael Schulman profile is great, I don’t think it was intended as snarky, and I don’t think it makes Strong look bad in any way – intense, but not bad. It’s fascinating and, in a way, fond. The defensive celebrity backlash is outlandishly nuts to me) and recently, my friend has explained the ongoing Roman/Gerri plot (“At one point he tells her, and this is a direct quote, I’d lay you badly but I’d lay you gladly. I might make it my tinder bio.”) because we both fucking love a Culkin, but even for Kieran, I don’t think I can bear it.
I repeat: please keep me updated about what the ever living fuck people are meant to make of this. Who will Daddy kiss? Who will Daddy kiss? Who will Daddy Roy kiss? – Natalie Fisher
‘Riverdale’ – The CW
Sometimes, I genuinely think that Riverdale fans are pulling an elaborate and convoluted prank on the rest of us. Surely these can’t be real plot points they’re discussing on Tumblr. Surely someone has just been rewriting the episode descriptions on Wikipedia for comedic effect. Surely the entire town of Riverdale didn’t band together to cut out Archie’s heart as part of an alternate-universe ritual sacrifice. Surely.
I watched the first episode of Riverdale back in 2017 and decided it wasn’t for me, but thanks to several friends—and a small handful of TV writers I follow on Twitter—I’ve remained loosely aware of the comings and goings of Archie and the gang for the six seasons since. At first, the plot points I’d read about made sense, even if they did seem a little much for a bunch of (thirty-something) teens to be dealing with. Hitman on the loose? Sure, why not. Archie surviving a grizzly bear attack? Seems unlikely, but I guess it’s still vaguely in the realm of possibility. A drug called “Jingle Jangle”? A frankly wild marketing choice on the fictional dealer’s part, but okay, whatever, I can see it.
But then… a character keeping her brother’s corpse in the basement? A pair of floating babies? Organ-harvesting? Poison chalices? Teens running a speakeasy? A GARGOYLE KING? Literally calm down. Or, I guess… don’t. Keep inventing new kinds of shark to jump so that I can continue to read my friend’s delighted and horrified tweets in bewildered fascination. – Cass Cooper
‘9-1-1’ – Fox
As one of the few people in the United States under the age of 60 who still pays for cable, I tend to stumble upon a network drama I would have otherwise not sought out every now and again (it’s usually how I end up watching many, many CBS procedurals). This is how I happened upon an episode of 9-1-1 one evening that set me on a week-long nerve-wracking journey to assure a friend that a main character did not die the following episode.
First, some context. Number one, I have a bad habit of watching every single thing Ryan Murphy has a hand in and an even worse habit of getting invested only to be let down when he becomes bored by his own creation and sets his sights on something new. Number two, I am a sucker for a queer storyline. Number three, I have a wonderful friend whose taste in television that I have come to trust because it aligns with my own, but even I have a line and 9-1-1 is it. And finally, number 4, I secretly love the previews of 9-1-1 (which air a lot during football season). The plotlines are so ridiculous it reminds of the good old days of Grey’s Anatomy when a ferry boat would crash, an icicle would impale a surgeon, or people would literally have a pole running through several bodies.
This brings us to season 4, episode 13 of 9-1-1, an episode I happened to leave on, seeing a very dramatic moment at the end. As if the fates aligned, I had a note on my phone from a friend that read: “Brit do you watch 9-1-1? … I need to freak out at either someone who watches and is up to date or doesn’t watch and has no intention of doing so.” Could I fit the bill any better? Not only had I seen the episode, but I have no plans to watch this ridiculous show, save for one more episode to deliver the outcome of the inciting incident that led to this text. In the context of the show, everything worked out, save for the fact that I became deeply invested in the character arc of Buck and Eddie in the week leading up to the next episode. I can chronicle every single smile between the duo, I know every single time their arms brush in 4 seasons of the series. Want to know when Eddie has smiled in the background of a scene Buck isn’t even in? I got you, and I probably have a few posts of the scene in my Tumblr likes if you need a gif set.
Will I ever sit down and binge 9-1-1? The odds are slim. A quick scroll of the gifs and the occasional updates via text about what the boys are doing are enough for me. Plus the fan accounts I now see trickle on my Tumblr feed give me a pretty decent idea about what is going on with Athena and Bobby, Maddie and Chimney, and, of course, Eddie’s son Christopher. I will continue to root for Eddie and Buck to finally realize they are meant to be from a far and perform any future sensitivity screenings for friends. – Brittany Lovely
‘Legacies’ – The CW
Kristen and I have been living together for close to seven years now, and one of her favorite shows is The Vampire Diaries. I’ve seen the first four seasons, but after that, my interest in the series (and the universe at large) kind of tanked. Even as The Originals and Legacies have proven they’re great shows in their own right and have expanded this world in interesting ways, I’ve found I have zero intent in ever finishing what I’ve started.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know what happens. There were a few characters from Vampire Diaries that caught my attention (like Klaus and Caroline), but at the end of the day, I find the characters of Legacies, and especially Hope, to be far more interesting. A tribrid, really!? It’s great because I know enough about what came before Legacies to understand how all this works, but I’m still simply bursting with questions about what’ll happen next.
Even though I don’t want to watch the show, I can’t help but check in with Kristen every couple of episodes. I know some of the characters by name, and enough of the plot to keep up to date every week. And she fills me in when she’s bursting to talk to someone about what happened in the latest episode. It really is a win-win situation because I still get to know what’s going on without investing my time in the show, and she gets to share her enthusiasm with someone who’s genuinely interested in hearing what she thinks. Plus, it’s just fun to experience my friend’s enthusiasm and be able to (somewhat) keep up with the conversation. – Karen Rought
‘Shameless’ – Showtime
So the first reason I never watched Shameless – the American version – is because I actually watched a few seasons of the original British version back in the day (I’ve been a fan of James McAvoy since he was on that show!) and I had a strong-held conviction about UK to USA adaptations being unnecessary, insulting (to both the original version, and to the intelligence of American audiences by assuming they won’t be able to understand the weight of various cultural differences and need them spoon fed into American metaphors) and sometimes almost xenophobic. I still feel that way a lot of the time, and I think there’s a massive problem with the insular, lowest-common-denominator lens of some American entertainment, but I can appreciate the value and the nuance of these choices on a case by case basis.
From what I know now, Shameless (US) really does deserve to stand on its own two feet. While the whole Manchester council estate setting, poor large rough Northern working-class family element of the original is something I wish more Americans were exposed to when it comes to British culture, the trials of American poverty and the Chicago Gallaghers’ “white trash” wrong-side-of-the-tracksism are a really different kettle of fish, and that cultural niche IS a massively relevant thing to make a show about.
But, I’m here for one thing, and one thing only, and that’s the gay people. As mentioned, quite a few of these entries are down to a queer ship – canonical or not – making enough noise that those of us always keen to know about queer or potentially queer shows spot the gay bat signal from across the maze of fandoms. Shameless (US) took Ian’s story as a gay teenager to a much better, more interesting, and ultimately happier place than his UK counterpart, and while I don’t read fic of it or anything, I have watched a LOT of compilation videos of scenes and read a lot of in-detail plot lines about the threads of the show that follow Mickey and Ian, from their first time through prison on to their wedding and beyond.
Just now, while writing this article, I got distracted by watching three or four or five more Gallavich videos, so I should possibly stop kidding myself and just watch the show, but… I’m not sure. Still seems like the Succession problem of a good handful of really irredeemable characters and a lot of awful people treating each other awfully, so will this messy, passionate, organic queer representation make up for it? I’ve heard that Noel Fisher, in particular, is world-axis-tiltingly good in this role, so maybe I’ll end up caving sometime soon. – Natalie Fisher
‘Killing Eve’ – BBC America
On paper, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve is so far up my alley it’s practically inside my house. Even typing out the premise—an obsession develops between a psychopathic assassin and the intelligence investigator tasked with catching her—fills me with a visceral kind of thrill that most series fail to elicit in me after several seasons of buildup. But therein lies the rub: I want to like it too much. My expectations are far too high.
So, rather than actually watching when an episode drops, I instead jump online to seek out updates on Eve and Villanelle’s latest encounter. Did they have another charged moment? Was Sandra Oh utterly flawless for every second she appeared on screen? Did Villanelle do something deeply unhinged, and was she rocking a Killer Look™ when she did it? (Of course, according to what I’ve been able to glean through assorted blogs and articles, the answer is invariably yes.)
Perhaps one day, once the show’s fourth and final season has aired, and the voices of eight thousand people telling me, “Oh, you HAVE to watch Killing Eve!” have faded to a distant memory, I’ll be able to binge my way through the series and love it on its own terms. Until then, I’ll continue to watch vicariously through fashion blog breakdowns and the increasingly excited tweets of Villaneve shippers, and enjoy the imaginary version of the show as it slowly unfolds inside my head. – Cass Cooper
’Game of Thrones’ – HBO
I only ever watched the pilot of Game of Thrones and found it horribly dry. A lot of my friends followed the series, so out of some FOMO I decided to follow the major beats of each season. And I mean follow. I’ve watched compilations of all of the death scenes, I read intensive passages on Wikipedia about the mythos, and I skimmed many episode recaps every week.
There were some details and arcs that seemed specifically odd and offbeat. Like the hairbending. Daenerys is the queen of evil (I think?) mother dragon fashion, but her hair seemed like a whole character itself. Oh, and apparently we’re not allowed to call her Khaleesi, because that is a title, not a name. Jaime probably has an evil arc, and I think he goes away and/or is presumed dead for some time. All I know about him is that he came back seemingly on horseback sporting a new fuckboy buzzcut, thus the makes-you-hotter hairbending.
Jon Snow, like, died at some point, but yeah that didn’t matter. Even though I wasn’t actually watching the show, I got the impression this was a fakeout/resurrection type scenario from the lack of mourning screen time. Arya turned into a vicious killer, and she was close to dying from multiple stab wounds, but she came back, no problem. Littlefinger and Jojen were the roles I should have known Aidan Gillen and Thomas Brodie-Sangster from, but for me, that was The Maze Runner series.
Natalie Dormer had that perfect posh swagger, I assume she died in the Red Wedding. I was irrationally concerned about the hair timeline, because Dormer stars in the later Hunger Games movies with the side of her hair shaved. Joffrey was such a strange evil baby tyrant prince whom I knew nothing about but was very excited when he got his just-desserts; made of poison.
I was told by many close friends that I would love GoT if I just gave it another shot, but for me, it was much more fun seeing The Starbucks Cup and who in the hell gets the throne from afar. No emotional turmoil, all of the pop culture relevancy. Whenever the final A Song of Ice and Fire book comes out, you can bet I’ll find a list to compare all of the major beats changed from the show. I’ve missed the boat on other big series like Schitt’s Creek and Outlander, but no other has invited me to spoil myself more than GoT. – Mitch Clow
The Toronto Maple Leafs – NHL
Not quite a TV show, but in the spirit of this assignment: You could not pay me to watch a NHL game, but I could have a full conversation with you about the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team circa 2020 – present. One Sunday, I watched the Amazon Prime series All or Nothing, specifically the 5-part season chronicling the Leafs season during the pandemic. in which they played in the newly-formed Canadian league due to the borders being closed. The series, narrated by Will Arnett, showcased the highs and lows of a team who just cannot seem to make it beyond the first round of the playoffs. I’m all for a good sports story and this series hit the spot given I have no investment in the sport, let alone a team whose name I just learned is “Leafs” not “Leaves.”
By the end of the series I was following them on Instagram, looking up beat writers who cover the team’s games (I genuinely enjoy sports reporting even on sports I don’t necessarily watch), and beginning to recognize players by their faces not the names on their jerseys. I can tell you how their season is going (very well) and that Austin Matthews has (gasp) shaved his mustache and that he is scoring goals left and right (recently 4 in a game!).
I have no idea what the rules are in the sport, beyond throwing off your gloves means a fist fight is coming and they just let that happen? With the Leafs poised to make another run at the Stanley Cup it seems as if it may be time to jump on the bandwagon officially. Instead I think I’ll keep my cold weather gear tucked away for the late winter football games. Best wishes on the rest of your season, but I’m content to see the final scores from your social media manager. Go Leafs! – Brittany Lovely