This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
It’s a wild situation. The biggest movie star of her generation is in a TV series with one of the most celebrated actors, she in glorious glam, replete with a teased blonde bouffant and a brassy Southern accent, and he swaddled in a melted wax museum’s amount of prosthetics. More, the show is a juicy thriller about Watergate. Did you know that Gaslit exists? Or where to watch it?
There was a time that something like this would be a capital-’E’ Event in pop culture, and, in the world of Kevin Fallon, akin to a religious experience. Now? It’s just exhausting.
That “tree”—Gaslit—premieres on Starz on Sunday, amidst a dense, crowded forest of more than 15 shows that are airing their season or series premieres on that one night alone, not to mention new episodes of already running programs or streaming releases that audiences could theoretically be mid-bingeing. Roberts, Penn, Watergate: It’s a tall, proud, fancy tree, but we’re all too distracted with the other ones to notice it fall. Maybe it does make a sound, but it’s merely a whimper. And that’s not a slight on Gaslit. In the current television climate, that’s all any tree—I mean show—can hope for.
Now that I’ve given myself a migraine trying to make that tree-forest metaphor work, which it absolutely does not but I spent far too much energy on it to delete it, here’s the real point, the point besides “I Can’t Believe We’re Not All Supporting Julia Roberts the Way She Deserves.” It’s that the lack of buzz for Gaslit is emblematic of a larger industry problem.
We’ve reached the Too Much TV Apocalypse. It’s a dystopian level as we approach the end of April. But, at a time when over 500 scripted TV series alone come out each year, there is something sort of existential about it, in terms of the industry and for us as fans. When there’s this much content, so much of it that people don’t even realize it exists because it would be impossible to have awareness, let alone interest, in all of these projects, then what is the point of it all?
The easy answer that smug industry folk have at the ready in relation to, at least, why right now seems so busy is: Emmys. The deadline for TV shows and episodes to be eligible for Emmy consideration is the end of May, which means weekly series need to launch now in order to qualify. But when there are dozens of these series coming out at the same time to the extent that my beloved Julia Roberts alongside Sean Penn-in-a-fat-suit can’t command people’s attention—because none of the series can—I again ask: What’s the point?
Let’s take this last week and next week alone, two weeks in April when, sure, you’re probably done with Bridgerton and still reeling from the Severance finale and could use something else to watch. But maybe not 100 things. (That’s not an exaggerated number. There are literally 100 premieres in those two weeks. Actually, there’s more.)
Sure, a lot of those are niche docuseries, innocuous home renovation shows, or kids’ fare—the kinds of shows that sort of exist in the background of our lives. I call them White Noise TV, and I could not mean that more lovingly.
But there are also a ridiculous number of series premiering that, in other times, we’d all be at the water cooler buzzing about—star-studded prestige series that would dominate the zeitgeist and be at the center of every social conversation. Now if you were to bring any of them up in the coffee room, there wouldn’t be buzzing so much as a collection of blank stares and a few errant huh’s.
This last week, a series in which Viola Davis plays Michelle Obama and Michelle Pfeiffer plays Betty Ford premiered, and it somehow wasn’t the only thing people are talking about. The second season of Russian Doll, one of the best reviewed comedy series of the last few years, came out, which is probably new information to many of you. A TV show starring Nicole Kidman, Issa Rae, and Cynthia Erivo premiered. Were you aware of that?
Kaley Cuoco’s super-fun show The Flight Attendant is returning. Bill Hader’s Emmy-winning dark comedy Barry is finally back. A TV adaptation of The Man Who Fell to Earth, the 1976 sci-fi film starring David Bowie, arrives. The Wire creator David Simon has a new series called We Own This City, which returns him to the corrupt streets of Baltimore. A big, splashy show about the making of The Godfather, called The Offer, hits streaming.
Andrew Garfield continues his run as the year’s most-booked lead actor with the limited series Under the Banner of Heaven. Elisabeth Moss leads the unsettling thriller Shining Girls. The underrated gem Made for Love returns. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are back for the final episodes of Grace and Frankie, which will become Netflix’s longest-running original series.
Then there’s the silly fun stuff. Selling Sunset is back. The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans reunites the show’s best cast. (I won’t budge on that one.) They Call Me Magic gives The Last Dance/Michael Jordan treatment to Magic Johnson. I Love That for You, which, praise God, stars Molly Shannon and Vanessa Bayer, aka your new favorite comedy, debuts. Stanley Tucci is about to search for Italy again.
And these are things that are new. That’s not to mention the big shows that are already airing weekly—WeCrashed, Atlanta, Top Chef, the final season of This Is Us—and all the stuff you’ve meant to binge but haven’t gotten around to yet.
Sure, there’s a way to look at this and celebrate. What a gold rush of content! Manna from heaven for couch potatoes! (Chips from heaven?) But what good is TV, especially good TV, if it’s not possible to watch it? I’ve seen a lot of these series, and many are definitely not worth your time. But a lot of them are!
How do you figure out the queue of things to watch during the little free time we all have when the queue is so long you’ll never make a dent in it anyway? Why make a very expensive series with very famous people in it when, barring some shift in the space-time continuum, it’s not possible for people to watch it?
And then there’s the most existential question of all, the doomsday inquiry, the harrowing truth: What is the point of anything when we’re all just going to watch The Ultimatum anyway?