Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Haterz Gonna Luv: The Joys of Hatewatching TV

So, my husband's been on my case about my TV watching habits.

No problems here.

See, he thinks I watch too much of it. Hah! Just because I found Law and Order on Comcast OnDemand doesn't mean I watch too much! Just because whenever he comes home I've got the TV going for background noise as I obsessively update my posts on Television Without Pity doesn't mean I watch too much! Just because I threatened his life the last time he tried to speak when Mad Men was on doesn't mean I watch too much, okay? I can handle it! I can quit anytime!

Okay, I can't. But that's all the frustrated actor in me. If I can't be on TV I can at least watch other people on TV. And then go on TWoP and enjoy reading fifty five page threads with others who feel the same way! Thoroughly dissecting In The Hall of the Mountain King or Lay Down Your Burdens on the boards makes watching TV all the more rewarding.

"Okay, fine," says stubborn husband. "But you watch stuff you don't even LIKE!"

Ahhh, here we go. Here's where we separate the the fluffy watcher, the casual, the dillettante, from the serious viewer. The viewer who has something to say, and is using a truly wretched/pretentious show as a channel to say it.

Feh. It only kills pussies.

Everyone who's a hatewatcher hatewatches their own style of show. Some enjoy ripping apart reality TV. Some take issue with older shows that are no longer on the air. Some follow YA shows and revel in the delirious and depraved versions of teenagers that shows from Gossip Girl to Vampire Diaries would have you believe exist.

However, I am a hatewatcher whose personal taste leans towards the dramatic. Specifically, the hour long drama, most often a cop or thriller type show.

Allow me to introduce the Holy Shit Really? Duo: The Killing and The Following.


It's the matchup of the century--if the century had nothing else going on. Like at all.

Here are the rules for a show to be a successful hatewatching candidate:

1) The show must be heavily marketed on network or cable TV.

I suppose you could hatewatch some little indie series on the Net, but for me that feels too much like kicking puppies. The show has to come into the ring like a champ with his gaudy, multicolored robe streaming in his wake as his entourage patters and scrambles behind him and his theme music blares out over the sound system.

Or you could just kick this tiny puppy, you heartless asshole.

2) The show must be heavily advertised and critically praised before ever appearing on air.

Again, I'm not here to slap kittens in the face. Don't insult me. If  I'm hatewatching, I'm hatewatching the adolescent tiger who's full of piss and vinegar. Bring it on, you stripey bastard.

What, seriously? I thought that was a metaphor.

3) The show must have high production values and good acting.

This seems like a contradiction, right? Why wouldn't I revel in mocking boom mike shadows and performers who deliver their lines as if they had never heard spoken language before being shoved on camera? Well, I don't need the show doing the work for me, get it?  I'm here to pick apart why the show goes wrong despite these things, not because of them. Plus, a show with absolutely nothing to recommend it is going to be way too boring/insulting to bother with. A polished turd brings a lot more to the table.

See how it shines!

4) The show must start with an internal logic that is repeatedly and shamelessly violated.

If it's a police procedural, it must ignore all basic rules that the viewing public is familiar with, such as search warrants, adequate backup, and not allowing the main character's thirteen year old son to disseminate  horribly graphic crime scene photos on the web (The Killing). If it is a thriller set in recognizable modern day America, it must do all those things plus make every single member of every branch of law enforcement both state and federal such outrageous morons you cannot believe they haven't all blown their heads off by trying to suck stuck bullets out of their guns (The Following). Also, any bad guys must have the kind of contacts with levels of government and power that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet would envy, plus the cash to pony up for truly sick amounts of technology and weaponry, plus have a rotating skill set that allows them access to the most arcane or specialized knowledge at a moment's notice.

My mustache rules you all!

Basically, the show's not worthy of hatewatching unless every third scene, at the very least, contains something--dialogue, action, something--that makes you howl "Oh, COME ON!" at your screen as your spouse irritably calls out from the kitchen as to what the hell you're watching now.

5) The show must have a trick or conceit that grows more and more unworkable/irritating as the episodes go on.

For The Killing, it was the idea that each hour of the show represented one day in the investigation of Who Killed Rosie Larsen? The show was supposed to slowly unravel the layers of corruption in Seattle while simultaneously being a real hard hitting portrait of the devastation the murder of teenage girl would have on her family, friends, and even strangers. For The Following, it was the main antagonist be a Poe-obsessed serial killer who has recruited hundreds of "followers" who do his bidding, carrying out grotesque murders that theoretically were shaped by the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, as this guy "writes" a sequel starring his nemesis, ex-FBI man Ryan Hardy, who captured his ass after his first killing spree and had an affair with his wife.

Wow, huh? Pretty good concepts, right? Well, concepts, yes. Workable in the confines of a TV drama...not so much.

The Killing's "one day a time" thing may have sounded good, but stretching two weeks worth of investigation over two seasons of showtime created a feeling of cognitive dissonance--wait, we're still looking at this angle/clue/suspect? It's been weeks now!--and made everyone involved in the investigation look like utter idiots. Plus, the escalation of events into truly absurd Olympian heights made sense from the two seasons point of view, but made no sense from the "it's only been two weeks" world of the show--how the hell could they have found all this stuff out already?

The same thing affected the whole "family wiped out by grief" angle--the Larsen family basically had to barrel through Kubler-Ross's stages in double quick time, while at the same time being so constantly ripped and wracked that it felt like walking through a bog in cement boots.

Hey look, the audiences' will to live.

The Following's premise of a Svengali with a Poe complex and taste for removing the eyes from young ladies was much campier from the start, but it too ran into troubles. First, the whole thing is structured around the idea that the antagonist, Joe Carroll, is a mesmerizing and enthralling teacher who is so fucking incredibly amazing and astounding that the tender young things that take his classes fall into his thrall, becoming his victims or minions with nary a protest.

I don't know who I'd cast as a person so magnetizing and charismatic that organizing a legion of lethal followers would seem like a plausible premise, but James Purefoy ain't it. One or two dumbshit kids, okay. But this guy is supposed to have lured literal dozens of formerly high functioning adults from their lives, loved ones and families into giving up everything to commit murders or die at his command. I don't know who I would cast for this role--it seems so subjective as to be undoable--but that wasn't my job.

Plus, Carroll's whole shtick is an obsession with Romantic literature, specifically Poe, and his slaughter sprees therefore are supposed to copy/be inspired by the themes in Poe's ouvre. And they are...for about three episodes. Then the kinds of murders that a) show up in Poe's work and b) are remotely workable in a modern day context (what, you're going to head on down to the Home Depot to make inquiries about pendulums?) meant the entire thing was pretty much dropped like an empty laudanum bottle.

This is totally terrifying! Shut up! It is!

6) The protagonist must be a tortured soul who has Very Serious Issues Indeed.

In the current incarnation of TV dramas, the protagonist cannot be a happy go lucky guy who has everything he wants in life. He can't even be a humorless yet honorable sort who's truly driven by justice. No, to be interesting, the reasoning goes, the protagonist must be driven, riven, and barely holding his/her life together in any kind of functional way. Frankly, they have to be so on the edge that it's hard to believe they can get it together to put their socks on, let alone chase down a murderer.

In The Killing, our protagonist Sarah Linden is a deeply damaged detective (say three times fast!) who is, in the opening episodes, on her last day as a member of the Seattle PD. She's quitting to get married and move to sunny California! Hooray!

The happiest Sarah Linden has ever been.

But on her last day on the job, a murder is dropped on her desk. And not just any murder, but the highly publicized and lurid murder of a teenager. Plus, she is assigned a partner [last day on the job! Did I mention it's her LAST DAY ON THE JOB??] who is an ex methhead from narcotics whom she's supposed to bring up to speed while investigating said murder. Right, okay.

But Sarah isn't just any detective. She's a former foster kid who worked herself into such a tizzy over her last murder case, involving a child, that she ended up in a mental hospital. (Give this woman a gun! What could go wrong, I ask you?) So of course the whole thing is Sarah working against her demons as she races to solve the crime and keep her life from falling apart. The hard part is believing she ever had it together enough  to retain her job, keep custody of her kid, or get engaged in the first place.

"So according to this, my mental health drowned itself in despair."

In The Following, ex FBI agent Ryan Hardy is enjoying drinking himself to death after his last case, the capture of Joe Carroll, that left him with a pacemaker (Carroll stabbed him in the heart), a reputation as a nutjob, and a fairly open social calendar.

"Hey, anybody wanna get a drink and hear my pacemaker story? ...guys?"

Oh, but that's not all! His mom died of cancer! And his dad got shot by a convenience store robber! And his brother as a first responder on 9-11! ( I know!)  Frankly, his life seems to be coasting nicely to a "expire in front of the TV and nobody finds your corpse for months" ending all on its own. But of course Joe Carroll has a bone or two to pick with our boy Ryan and has come up with a truly Byzantine scheme to do so: He's writing a book in murders with Ryan as the protagonist! All righty then. Again, this seems like gilding the murder lily, but I guess if I were locked in a little room awaiting execution I might dream some crazy dreams.

"Oh, like it's any crazier than that time you dreamed a giant platypus bought you ice cream."

7) A hatewatch worthy show must attract a fervent cadre of online mouth-frothers.

Hatewatching is only as much fun as the compatriots you watch with, and Television Without Pity brought some real pros to the table in both cases. The Killing thread contains delirious streaks of how long it takes to recover from a bullet to the spine (longer then three days), whether Native American casinos stand outside all law (they don't) and if the fakeout at the end of season one was a good idea (IT WAS NOT.)

The Following is a new show that's still putting out first season episodes, but it's been so fantastic at portraying hardened veterans of law enforcement  as unbelievable morons and the bad guys as the kind of villains that a Bond scriptwriter would reject as unbelievable and overwrought that it would take very dull posters indeed not to make a feast from the offering. And feasts they are making, oh yes.

A good hatewatch discussion of an episode builds on itself, as poster after poster notes all the little idiocies that stick out from every angle, and other posters pick up on those notes and elaborate further, until you can't wait for the next episode, not because the show itself is good, but because the conversation afterwards is so FAN FUCKING TASTIC.  You may not be getting the entertainment promised to you by the network, but you are making your own. It's like Etsy for grumpy perfectionist critics with too much time on their hands!


So that's why I love hatewatching. It's basically taking something absurd to the point of insult that is being offered to you as a worthy way of spending an hour of your life, and bare hands forcing it to actually do so. It's wrenching control from the TV zombie making ray and  flipping the switch from "braiinnns" to "are you kidding me?" It's meeting people online who are full of smart and hilarious things to say and making room for them to say those things. It's having something to look forward to in which you've carved out an active part for yourself.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must run and find out what the TWoPers thought of a Federal Marshal spotting two masked men with Uzis heading towards his flimsy motel door, and standing directly in front of said door to confront them. My guess? It won't be good, but it'll be great.

For hatewatching at its finest, here's links to the TWoP's threads for The Killing and The Following. I post under Snookums. JOIN US.


  1. My hate-watch used to be C-SPAN.

    Not good for you, wouldn't recommend it.

  2. Gosh, I feel all left out; I don't have a hatewatch of my own!


    Maybe, someday, the right show will come along.

    I think . . . I think I could've made it work with "First Wave", back during Farscape's run on the (former) Sci-Fi Channel . . . god, I hated that show so much, and I never even saw a single episode (fucking Nostrodamus quatrain secret codes about a stealth alien invasion conspiracy, Jesus wept) . . . ahhh, but I let it slip away from me.

    {: [

  3. Hello, hello :) Yeah, this is my made up name and I've yet to stick a picture of my dog in my profile, but I figure you likely know who I am.

    Nice piece, Snookums. As we draw nearer to the almost certainly maddening end of The Killing, I'm glad that we can snark-watch together.

    I randomly shout "Key Lime Pie!" because I'm prone to that and bid you a good fourth.

    Aha! I think I have successfully flogged the reluctance out of Blogger. Yay team!