The Quinn Quandary

(If you watch Homeland and are not caught up with the latest season, be warned, here be spoilers.)

I wasn’t always the cool, level-headed, detached TV-watcher I am today. Back in my youth, I was part of the what is called “the fandom”, the many-headed beast that exists for every show and series, made up of fans that take characters and plotlines… well, too seriously. Most people, by the time they’ve watched a complete season of a show, have formed at least some sort of attachment to it. They have their favourite characters, the ones they don’t care about, the plotlines they enjoy and hope to see more of, and the ones they could just do without. Most people can also drop shows when they stop feeling invested or when the quality of the writing goes down. Fandoms are where that attachment is hugely intensified, made of people who not only have favourite characters and plotlines, but get genuinely angry or upset when they are not done justice.

Now, a big part of television is character deaths. Game of Thrones might have made it a big thing, but shows were killing off beloved characters long before anyone got attached to the Starks. These days, it’s a way to raise hype, to change a show dramatically and give it new direction, and it’s almost always accompanied by fandom drama. The leads on a show are usually safe (although even that is being challenged these days, RIP Ned), but every other character is fair game. Back when I was watching television hardcore (that adjective sounds extreme, but I swear it’s justified), I remember spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about whether my favourite characters were going to get killed off (somehow I never got attached to the leads) and preemptively getting angry about it if it seemed like a show was heading in that direction.

Back in my days of fandom, a favourite character getting killed off meant I was as good as done with the show. Looking back now, I think it reveals a little bit about how and why I watched the things I did. For every show I watched, I found a character I liked (I only allowed myself one favourite per show) and grew attached to the point that my continuing to watch the show was dependent not so much on the plot, but on how much of this character I got to see on a weekly basis. This, of course, meant that the minute this character was killed off, my interest in the show immediately plunged to zero and I had nothing left to stay invested in. This clashed directly with my being a completionist, which meant that I hated, hated, leaving a series unfinished. I would therefore hate-watch these shows to their bitter ends, angry at the writers for the direction they’d taken and angry at myself for not being able to just stop watching.

I’m a much more relaxed TV watcher now. I don’t watch nearly the volume I used to, and when I find my interest level dipping, I drop shows like hot potatoes, because I just don’t have the time or energy to watch something that doesn’t give me joy. That completionist streak is gone – it’s been a very long time since I followed a series through to its end. The shows I pick to watch these days also reflect my new, relaxed policy – they’re usually plot-heavy (so the interest sits not so much with a particular character as it does with an overarching story), with an ensemble of characters I either like equally or am ambivalent about in general, because the plot is much more interesting than any one of them in particular. Of course, I still have my favourites on a couple of shows, but the attachment is not so ride-or-die.

Or so I thought until – and here be the spoilers – they killed off one of my favourite characters on Homeland, Quinn, after putting him through the wringer for the entire season. In a way, I’m glad the torture is done – they were just piling the hurt on the poor guy. However, I feel my interest in the show has now dropped several notches, and that’s despite my really liking the lead, Carrie, and the actress who plays her. On the one hand, I hadn’t expected to feel emotional about Quinn’s death, but I do, and that makes me feel like my teenage self again. On the other hand, I feel obligated to continue watching on behalf of my grown-up self, who cares more about plot and storytelling than such juvenile things as the presence or absence of a particular (handsome) character (who had great, unresolved chemistry with my other favourite, SIGH). On the third hand, being a grown-up television watcher means I can drop a show whenever I want because life is too short to spend on things you don’t enjoy anymore.

My, oh, my, what a quandary. How ever will I get myself out of this quagmire?

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T is for TV

I watch a lot of TV, but I haven’t actually switched on my TV in ages. I watch mostly American and British shows, but don’t live in either of those places, so most of my TV watching happens on a laptop. The actual TV stopped being a part of my life when I started university, but I hope it hasn’t gone out of my life forever.

My early memories of TV all revolve around fighting with my father over channel rights, back when we didn’t have cable and only had two channels (DD1 and DD2). On Sunday nights, I’d want to watch Superhit Muqabla and my parents would want to watch Surabhi, and we’d spend the entirety of the hour trying to switch back and forth between the channels during commercial breaks.

During my teenage years, I discovered American shows, but this was also the time when studying was becoming a thing I had to do, so TV time was limited. Also, this was before TV became accessible through other means, so the only way I had of keeping up with a show was watching it when it aired. This was particularly frustrating during the exam periods, when TV was almost completely banned, so during the hour that one of my favourite shows was airing, I’d sneak into the room periodically to watch whatever I could on mute. I remember, once, turning down an offer to go to dinner with relatives on the pretext of having to study, but really, because I didn’t want to miss the glorious once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of watching an episode of Roswell with no one else in the house. (This was also the time I started understanding the concept of being embarrassed about the things I liked. It’s so funny to me now that teenage me was too embarrassed to tell people I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when it’s considered a cult classic these days.)

When university and free internet happened, my TV consumption went up by leaps and bounds. I watched EVERYTHING. Not only that, I read online discussion boards, wrote my own little think pieces, and participated in what they call the “fandom”. I got deep into the TV-watching culture, and I loved every minute of it. Though a lot of my TV friends remained the online kind, I even managed to convert a few “real life” ones. My friend Macho Girl and I watched a truckload of stuff together during our four years in university, the quality of which ranged from terrible to legitimately decent. We didn’t really care – being able to watch stuff and then talk about it (whether that was complaining or praising) was enough fun in itself.

Possibly the worst transition for a TV-lover is to go from being a sporadically busy university student to a round-the-clock busy working woman. Within my first month of working, I knew that all my old habits would have to go – most days after work, I had strength only to eat my dinner and hit the sack. I fell behind on everything I was watching, and it was when that situation didn’t seem to have any hope of getting back to normal that my addiction slowly went away. I dropped shows I was watching only out of some weird sense of obligation, I started getting picky about starting new ones (I only went in if it felt like there was a chance for me to stick around on a long-term basis) and I simply stopped caring for a lot of the ones I’d fallen behind on.

I now watch my shows at a far more manageable level, but surprisingly, I’ve found a lot more people in real life who are as into TV shows as I am. Maybe I got on the bandwagon early, which is why I felt like the odd one out in university, but now, practically everyone I know follows at least a few shows religiously. I still watch quite a bit now, but I wouldn’t be as confident in saying that it’s more than the average amount. It’s funny to me – I spent so much of my life being secretive and feeling guilty about my TV-watching habits, and now, it’s slowly becoming a major catalyst for socialising. How much conversation revolves these days around the latest Game of Thrones episode?

Much of my TV-watching experience has been solitary (except for those few years in university). I watch my shows in bed as I’m having dinner, and later, read forums and discussion threads as a way to be part of a conversation. Some day in the future, I hope I’ll have actual people watching TV with me. I hope there’s fighting about what to watch (even if things like DVR and online streaming have made them non-issues) and I hope there’s something that the whole family likes to get together for at a certain time on a certain day and discuss afterwards.

Some day, I hope watching TV on an actual TV becomes a thing in my life again.

M is for Marathon

I think I’m too old for marathons. Every time I feel like I might be able to pluck up my strength and do one, I think of the time and effort I’d be spending, and I just lose all courage.

When I was younger, these things didn’t seem as intimidating. I just had to get off to a good start, and somehow, I’d be able to convince myself along the way that it would be worth it at the end. I didn’t check the time, I didn’t pause for breaks – I just kept going. And that was enough. On rare occasions, I could even do it without realising how much effort I was expending, because I was actually enjoying myself.

These days, even if I do get the courage to try, I don’t get far before realising I’m doomed. It’s just so much harder, you know? I tire more easily, my attention wanders quickly and I lose focus, and the end goal just doesn’t seem as worth it. What am I really going to achieve in the end? Nothing, really. A sense of achievement, maybe, but at what cost? At what cost?

I know you have to train for this stuff – you can’t just get up one morning and decide you’re going to do it. You need to condition your body and your mind and actually prepare for it in advance. But, honestly, who has the time for that these days? With 12-hour work days, and weekends jam-packed with social activities (without which we’d be robots, completely devoid of human connection), where are you supposed to find time for yourself?

A lot of people suggest including a friend in the process – someone to train with, to encourage and be encouraged by, especially during the rough patches, and to generally have fun with. And yes, I do see the merits, but man, sometimes you just want to be by yourself, you know? You don’t want to have to talk to anyone, and there’s just no nice way to stop in the middle of a marathon and tell your really chatty friend to “just shut up and let me do this in peace”. I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I just don’t even try to get into it with other people.

At this point, I just have to accept the ugly truth – I just can’t do marathons any more. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s the mindset, but that’s how it is.

Sorry, dearest TV show. I’ll just have to watch you one episode at a time like all the other mere mortals.

P.S.: Speaking of marathons, we’re just about halfway through this one! Anyone feeling the burn yet? 😀

U is for Unagi

If you read the title of this post and thought of sushi… good for you, but we’re probably not going to be the best of friends. If you read it and thought of Ross Geller with two fingers to his forehead and a silly expression on his extremely slappable face, hello and welcome to my life.

I can’t remember when Friends (I refuse to write it with the periods in between) came into my life (it has to have been more than 15 years now) or who introduced me to it, but from the time I started watching it, it became an essential part of my life. Maybe it was because it aired at a time when Indians were just starting to mass-consume Western media, but 90% of my friends have watched the show and remember it well enough to quote it.

I remember watching every episode when I was younger and laughing my head off, and then rewatching all of them when I was much older, realising how much stuff had completely gone over my head earlier and wondering what exactly I had found funny if I’d missed so many of the jokes. Still, Friends was always a great conversation starter. Who you liked best invariably said something about you. I shunned people who claimed to love Ross or Rachel because I couldn’t stand them or their stupid romance, and while this view remained unchanged through the years, I was able to admit, with the help of age and maturity, that David Schwimmer was probably the best actor in that group.

Between my own friends, “remember that Friends episode when…” was a common occurrence. Everything and anything could and would be tied back to Friends, and the people who weren’t obsessive as us about the show would find it a chore to take part in the conversation. There wasn’t anything as fun as remembering random quotes, jokes or moments from the show, and sometimes, I miss that. I miss that level of obsessiveness, of having watched every episode at least 5 times, of knowing exactly what another person is talking about when they make a reference. There’s so much stuff out there these days, it’s hard for us to be single-mindedly focused on just one thing, and so there just isn’t that level of bonding over the love for one show.

Friends wasn’t uniformly great. It wasn’t the most diverse cast, the characters were not all given equal screentime or importance, some of the storylines were just downright weird (was there anyone who wanted to see Joey and Rachel hook up?). There was a big downward swing in quality in the later years, and there are episodes of Season 10 that I’ve probably watched just once (I KNOW). Still, there was something about it that gave me and a lot of other people unconditional joy. It still provides for so many fond memories. Whether it’s chuckling at Joey wearing all of Chandler’s clothes because he took his underwear, or imitating Monica’s “That’s not even a wooooord!”, or singing one of Phoebe’s horribly inappropriate songs, or happily indulging in Brad Pitt being snotty at Rachel, there’s never a dull moment when reminiscing about Friends.

I know I’ll never forget it. It will always be the show I first obsessed over. It will always be the show I can quote off the top of my head. In the way that people now get sorted into one of the four Hogwarts houses based on personality, I sort people into Monicas and Rosses and Chandlers and Phoebes. It’s the show I grew up with, and even though I’m all grown-up now, it hasn’t left me.