By Kate Emswiler
“Glee” starts up again this week, forcing me to ask myself, “To hate-watch or to not watch at all?” Hate-watching a TV show is a strange and complicated thing. It requires that you like a show enough (or at least have residual feelings of liking a show, as I do with “Glee”) to keep watching it, but you are also savvy enough to kind of hate it because it’s not very good. For me, I also feel oddly betrayed, as though my viewership and loyalty have been abused or deemed worthless. “I don’t have to be good,” the show seems to say, smugly, “I just have to have enough colors, random flashiness and pointless guest stars to keep the dumb masses distracted.”
Well, that won’t work with me! I think to myself. I’m too smart to waste my time on this turd of a series. And yet … it does work with me because I continue to watch said turd-like show. Enter: hate-watching, wherein I reluctantly (but diligently) watch a show, but sit there grinding my teeth the whole time. Hating it. Kinda hating the version of myself that is a viewer of turds.
If you type “hate-watching” into Google, the second option in the drop-down is “hate-watching smash”. As in, that other TV musical, “Smash” on NBC. I watched every episode of “Smash” and without fail, every week, I had a brief heart-to-heart discussion with myself on why, exactly, I was routinely watching a show I didn’t really like. I don’t have the kind of vitriol for “Smash” that I reserve for “Glee” because in many ways, it’s a slightly better show. It makes thismuch more sense. There’s a relatively identifiable narrative, albeit a tired, stale one.
Many other people must also be hate-watching “Smash” for the Google result to pop up so readily, or at the very least, people are Googling Emily Nussbaum’s eloquent New Yorker piece on the topic, “Hate-Watching ‘Smash’”. I highly recommend taking a peek at this article, if you’ve ever had conflicted feelings about this show. Nussbaum mentions that she loved “Smash” at first, but as the season ran its course, it took a violent fall from grace in her eyes. She outlines the reasons she dislikes the show (peppered with a few things she still admires about it, such as Megan Hilty, the dazzling lead actress playing Ivy), all with a thread of bafflement at how terrible this show somehow became … and even more bafflement at the fact that she still watches it. Or, hate-watches it, more accurately.
But she muses, “[W]hy would I go out of my way to watch a show that makes me so mad? On some level, I’m obviously enjoying it … I do find the show so critically destabilizing that I can’t decide whether I disliked that Bollywood hallucination or thought it was a glorious masterpiece of camp.” A friend of mine Tweeted the same sentiment during that episode: “I don’t know if I’m hate-watching this Bollywood number on ‘Smash’ or if I legit love it”.
This Entertainment Weekly piece on hate-watching clarifies that “‘Hate-Watching’ is NOT the same as a guilty pleasure … Generally speaking, hate-watching requires a TV series with high ambitions and features a certain amount of aesthetic perfection — ‘Smash’ and ‘The Newsroom’ are both glossy productions with talented actors — yet fails consistently and badly enough to make it compelling.” The Slate‘s Tara Ariano echoes this with yet another “hate-watching ‘Smash’” piece, calling “Smash” “the worst TV show I’ve ever loved.” Why? “Because of the endless entertainment provided by the yawning chasm between what the makers of ‘Smash’ think they’re doing and what’s actually on the screen … ‘Smash’ is that most delightful of misfires: the crummy show that thinks it’s important.”
One could argue that “Glee” doesn’t necessarily have this genuine self-importance thing going on, but it continues to earnestly suck, somehow, in ways that make me groan, yell and throw things at the screen.
To me, “Smash” is much more cringe-worthy than hateful (though for whatever reason, the performance at the Bar Mitzvah made my skin crawl), and there are moments of pleasure — legitimate enjoyment — that surface from time to time. “Glee”, on the other hand, is just so painful (with the exception — usually — of Jane Lynch’s spectacularly cruel one-liners). Is it because the kids on “Glee” are, well, still kinda just kids? Is it because the Ryan Murphy schizophrenic storytelling on “Glee” nauseates me, or the fact that “Smash” has more original numbers? Is it the settings: Broadway vs. small town Ohio?
It doesn’t totally matter, really, because for some reason, I will continue to put myself through the cringe-ringer every week with both of these shows — a self-inflicted cruelty that only I can stop … but probably won’t.
What shows do you hate-watch?