For two years, I watched a minimum of 24 TV shows every week. From Strictly Come Dancing to The Crown, BBC Four documentaries on canals and the latest ITV crime thrillers – I would park myself in front of my screen daily, sit back and consume it all.
More than just an obsessive hobby, this was my job on the Guardian’s TV desk as one of their preview writers. It had all the trappings of a childhood fantasy: I was getting paid to watch shows all day, weeks before they came out to the public, then writing up pithy summaries for the paper. My younger self would have been stunned by the prospect of his favourite pastime being turned into work – perhaps all those years he spent watching Neighbours after school and Eastenders in the evening were finally paying off. With the telly for company, work could be more fun than shuffling paper in an office, collecting your paycheck and living for the weekend.
And it was glorious. Truly, watching TV for a job felt like being let in on one of life’s greatest jokes, a dreamy existence marred only by the prospect of having to awkwardly skip through sex scenes while viewing shows on my enormous monitor in the middle of the day in the Guardian’s open-plan offices.
When the pandemic arrived, though, things changed. With TV already occupying so much space in my life, once I was sent home for the foreseeable future, it became all-consuming.
The glut of the TV schedules poured forth: Normal People, I May Destroy You, It’s A Sin, Neighbours (still), all providing entertainment to keep me occupied while I slowly melted into the sagging fabric of my sofa. Since I live alone, these shows became more than just a simple distraction – screens became a vital bridge to the outside world, and the Covid-free narratives on TV offered an escape from the chaos of reality.
Yet, as the saying goes, too much of one thing is good for nothing. With shows for work and shows for pleasure, the TV called to me like a paralysing temptation in the corner of the room, offering a chance to check out and channel-surf into oblivion. And once the world began reopening again into the intimacy of real-life interactions, bringing with it the anxiety of adjusting from our “new normal” back into the old one, the TV increasingly felt like a safety blanket with which to avoid change.
Change, though, is necessary. While everyone around me was finding their way back into the unpredictability of the outside world, I began to see that life couldn’t keep existing within the safe confines of my flat. To get me out there would mean letting go of my safety screen.
The conscious uncoupling has now begun, since I left my job on the Guardian TV desk late last year to pursue freelance writing full-time. Twenty four shows a week, I realised, had become less of a fantasy and more of a slog that sucked the pleasure from viewing for its own sake.
Moving into 2023, I’ll now be resisting the urge to watch anything and everything while I work from home and instead take on a new adage to guide my habits: quality over quantity.
I’ll be putting off the binge watches and following recommended series more slowly to let their stories sink in – realistically, that will mean an episode a day rather than a season over a weekend. And between those viewing hours there is a world to explore – time to reconnect with friends and family, get back to live gigs and shows, and hopefully make some stories of my own that are just as tantalising and exciting as those escapist onscreen fictions I once lived for.