Square Eyes

Do they still say that if you watch too much television you'll get square eyes? Or is that an expression that went out of fashion when kids started spending all their time in front of the internet? Putting aside the obvious riposte (televisions aren't square, they're rectangular) I can report that I have been doing extensive research in this area and have come to the scientific conclusion: no, you won't.

I have been watching so much television. SO MUCH TELEVISION. I never believed that I could watch such an immense quantity of television. On the whole I don't watch it during the day except for sometimes when I am having my breakfast and also when having my lunch, but in the evenings, when I have finished pretending to work, I might start watching television at about 6pm, or 5pm, or 4pm on a bad day, and keep going until, say, 11pm or midnight. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE. HOW CAN A PERSON LIVE THIS WAY. Well it's easy enough, it turns out, if you're under lockdown in London in December and it's dark from 4pm and raining most of the time and you have the emotional resources of a gnat and reading is too demanding and talking on the phone is too exhausting and the light in the living room is not good enough for doing a puzzle in evening hours and you quit social media a month or so ago because it was driving you out of your mind with anxiety.

I don't watch six or seven or eight hours of television every night. Don't be ridiculous. Some nights I only watch about three hours of television because I have a Zoom call or I'm cooking dinner or I've got stuck into a good cryptic crossword, maybe the Saturday Times Jumbo one because the Guardian ones are too gimmicky, or at last I've found a book gripping yet easy enough that I can't put it down (thank you Robert Galbraith, thank you Marian Keyes), but I would say that three hours is the minimum and my god that is a LOT. EVERY DAY. THREE HOURS. MINIMUM.

But you don't need to me to explain that to you because you are all watching three four five six seven hours of television every day and when you are not watching television you are phoning your friends and first of all talking about the specific way that your own personal lockdown is terrible but then eventually saying 'what are you watching on television' because what else is there even to talk about?

At the start of lockdown there was quite a small pool of television that everyone was watching (that thing about the Tiger King, which I didn't watch because by the time I got back from my early lockdown in Costa Rica you'd all seen it, and Normal People which I didn't watch because I was too embarassed to sit through all the sex scenes with my flatmates, and I May Destroy You, which I didn't watch because about five minutes of it was enough to send me into a massive panic spiral, but I hear was very good), but once we had all (other than me) got through that and Covid dragged on for months, our conversations began taking on the tenor of Vikings crowding around one another as a boat returns from a foray, WHAT IS OUT THERE, WHAT DID YOU FIND OUT THERE, IS THERE SOMETHING OUT THERE THAT I MIGHT DESIRE? And the Viking says yes, there is this thing called Schitts Creek but you really have to push on through the first season because I promise you it gets better and better and you will start to love that obnoxious family. And then we all watched Schitts Creek. (Including me, it's wonderful, you have to push on through the first series you will start to love that obnoxious family, Dan Levy is a divinity in human form and if you want more of him you could do worse than checking out the lesbian Christmas-themed romcom Happiest Season, which you can rent from Amazon Prime.)

And now we are beyond even that and all our lives resonate with the screeching sound of a televisual barrel being scraped and now this is when things get really interesting (or put another way, VERY VERY BORING) because everyone has fractured and we are all watching different kinds of random stuff found in the dusty corners and unloved algorithms of our streaming services. There's the friend who has got into watching obscure French crime series on Netflix (The Chalet! La Mante!) and the friend who is watching every episode of Poirot on Britbox (thirteen series, 70 episodes) (though that pales in comparison with the friend who did a total rewatch of Friends from beginning to end (236 episodes) and finished it ages ago and is starving for more) and the friend who calls me up seemingly every week with a new old show nobody else has ever heard of (such as the early 1990s Nigel Havers and Warren Clarke comedy spy drama Sleepers, which he is watching old-school-style on DVD, and which apparently is like The Americans only with Nigel Havers and funny, and also, you should watch The Americans.)

When I look back on the amount of television I have watched this year it defies comprehension. There were the things I would have watched anyway like the whole of Strictly Come Dancing and His Dark Materials, and the things that took me by surprise, like the stealthily hilarious Danny Dyer gameshow The Wall that was on straight after Strictly and drove me into a total obsession with the way that Danny Dyer says "Drop 'Em" (he's talking about the balls that are dropped down the wall, it's hard to explain, you can find it on iPlayer, but meanwhile if you only click on one link in this whole newsletter PLEASE click on that one), there were the things that were created especially to get me through lockdown (the wonderful David Tennant and Michael Sheen Zoom comedy Staged, which is not only extremely funny but allows you to see inside David Tennant's house which I'm not sure I am technically allowed to watch because of the restraining order? Anyway, new series coming on Monday, fellow DT fans) and the familiar things I watched to soothe me when it all got too much (Doctor Who, starting before Tennant even gets in on the action, right at the begining of the New Who seasons with Christopher Eccleston, because armchair space travel is the only kind of travel we are going to be getting for a while) and the exciting things I watched when I could no longer bear the tedious repetition of every identical day (Line of Duty, in which the famous-for-the-far-inferior Bodyguard writer Jed Mercurio delivers ludicrously compelling twisty-turny stories about police corruption that cannot be predicted for even a nanosecond) and the things that I watched just because I loved them (Fosse/Verdon, the Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon bio-series starring the breathtakingly charismatic Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, which is one of the best-made pieces of television I've ever seen, Love Life, the Anna Kendrick romantic comedy series which was surprisingly touching and truthful about the relationships that make up a life and which didn't make me want to open a vein as a single person the way that many looking-for-love shows do, and Better Things, a sort-of-comedy sort-of-drama written, directed by and starring Pamela Adlon, which began as a collaboration with Louis CK and initially reflected the sensibility of his show Louie, but became far more experimental and interesting once, after CK's disgrace, Adlon took over completely - the fourth series is maybe the closest thing I've seen on TV to a representation of the rhythms of real life, with long scenes of Adlon just cooking a meal on her own, or contemplating the rain, of having arguments with her children that explode from nowhere and end just as suddenly with tears or laughter or nothing at all.) And this entire paragraph is just things that I have watched on the BBC. Not even everything that I have watched on the BBC. The BBC is INCREDIBLE and my license fee has been serious value for money, before you even count all that time spent watching the news [Munch Scream emoji]. But overall, it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of television that I have watched this year.

Though while we're here, have you noticed that sometimes it's more relaxing to watch something bad than something good? Have you noticed that a vapid, cliched show like Virgin River (heartbroken city nurse with a secret moves to small town and falls in love with battle-wounded bartender with a secret), a show that makes This Is Us look like Succession, has the same effect on your brain that taking off your work shoes and putting on your slippers has for your feet? You can rest now, it says, there is nothing more for you to do. Have you noticed how easy it is to chug down, say, four episodes in a row of Designated Survivor - a show designed by a committee charged with taking elements of The West Wing, Homeland and 24, and making something similar but, crucially, much more ridiculous - without your mind even noticing that anything has happened at all? And if you're really ready for something utterly idiotic, might I suggest The Bold Type, in which three twentysomething girls in bonkers designer outfits "work" at an aspirationally "feminist" glossy magazine, and by "work" I mean constantly leave the office in the middle of the day to take care of personal business, and by "feminist" I mean "empowering women by for example having them post selfies of themselves looking perfect but without makeup on social media", a feminism so very feminist that they called the magazine's parent company Steinem in the first series and then had to change it to Safford, I can only presume because Gloria Steinem threatened to sue them. A couple of episodes of that is the televisual equivalent of having a nice relaxing full frontal lobotomy. Don't get me wrong: I love these shows. I owe them more gratitude than I can say. I would be unable to survive without them.

I've managed to watch five hours of television just since starting this newletter 24 hours ago (three episodes of Doctor Who, half a really cheap and very bad Sky Arts documentary about the musical Hamilton, and a travelogue in which Torvill and Dean go in search of a frozen lake in Alaska on which to dance Bolero but can't find one for almost the entire show because of global warming, which made me simultaneously and conflictingly want to give up air travel, fly to Alaska immediately, become obsessed with Torvill and Dean AND wonder how they managed to skate together all these decades without killing each other especially Torvill but also especially Dean). Five hours of TV, sounds like a lot, but with eight hours of sleep, that still left me eleven hours to fill in this boring boring boring boring BORING BORING BORING boring boring BORING boring BORING BORING lockdown. I think I am being incredibly restrained, all things considered.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some time to kill, having finished writing this newsletter, and with at least five hours to fill before bed.

I wonder what's on TV?