I went skiing last weekend for the first time in five years and all I got was an anxiety attack on a bunny hill and a bad head cold. The latter, I’m happy to say, kept me shut in for the first three days of this week, during which I used my stomach as a desk (don’t pretend you don’t know) and proceeded to watch all 10 episodes of the Netflix reality TV masterwork: Love is Blind.
I’m not really a reality TV junkie. A large part of me thinks that I’ve purposely avoided it, knowing that all my waking/non-work hours could easily be devoted to the drama. But if there’s one thing I really hate, it’s being pop-culturally irrelevant. And since the only non-upsetting yet mind-melting thing that’s occurring in the media right now is an absurd TV show in which people talk to each other through a wall and get engaged after one week, I had to dip my pinky toe in. And then wade waist-deep. And then drown.
By episode one I resented everyone for their delusions and had a lot of questions about Nick and Vanessa Lachey as hosts. By episode two, I was very irritated with (albeit invested in) the madness of saying “I love you” to a person you haven’t ever seen after spending four days talking to them in a “pod.” By episode five, I was screeching alone in my apartment, slapping my hands against my personal pile of snotty tissues next to my stomach desk. I fell in love with the audacity of the editing, the lunacy of the cast of characters on the show, and the theatrics that came with the scenarios into which they were shoved. (Cameron and Lauren are the exceptions to the madness rule–we mostly stan.)
This is certainly not a hot take, but it’s clear the cultural fervor around these recent reality Netflix shows like The Circle and Love is Blind—not to mention the non-Netflix staples like The Bachelor, Love Island, Are You the One—is a product of our collective desire to turn our brains off in the wake of a vicious and often terrifying news cycle. Surprise!
But there’s an equal and opposite draw to the other side of the spectrum: prestige TV, and nothing less. Succession, Game of Thrones, Insecure, Euphoria, Watchmen, The Leftovers, Atlanta, Fleabag. In a culture that is increasingly pushed to extremes, when it comes to TV I find myself oscillating between only two camps: “low” (real shut-off-your-brain-and-escape type stuff) and “high” (real thought-provoking-thematically-dark-high-production-value type stuff). I ride this pendulum swing so often that I’ve realized I rarely find joy in the in-between. A show needs to either liquify my brain into pulp or challenge me emotionally to the point of tears. We may be trending toward being medium online, but I’m not even close to trending toward being medium TV. I’m extreme TV and extreme TV only.
And I’m not the only one: After posting my general Love is Blind hysteria on my Instagram stories, my friend/culture writer/reality TV evangelist Laura welcomed me to what she calls her “pit,” encouraging me to start with her personal favorite, 90 Day Fiancé, through which she’s “lost many brain cells.” (I can’t wait to dive in.) Her sentiments echoed those of many others I’ve encountered on the internet: that the low-brow and the high-brow are the only shows that merit entrance into the zeitgeist.
All that said, are you an Xtreme TV watcher too? Or do you dwell in the middle with the likes of cable staples like Bones, Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, or streaming in-betweeners like This Is Us, Younger, Riverdale? If you do—and I suppose many must, because they keep getting renewed (hi Harling)—do you just keep quiet about it? The middle, on my corner of the internet at least, seems all but irrelevant. I’d like to think this means we’re becoming less tolerant of mediocrity (lol), but it probably just means our attention spans are shot. Please weigh in with your thoughts.
Or just meet me in the comments to go off on Love is Blind.
Feature photos via Netflix and HBO.