Required in a pre-pandemic submission package was a list of my Top 10 TV shows. I spend what I assume is too much time creating this list each time I have to submit this package. I think there are multiple ways to go about choosing the Top 10 but mine always remains a reflection of my youth. If you ask anyone about their favourite decade of music, most often people will reply with the decade that is tied to their formative years. For me, it’s the 90s – my mother introduced me to music of all genres in long car rides, and my eldest brother, whom as a kid I idolized, had a taste for alternative rock and grunge which rubbed off on me. To this day, my most played songs on Spotify are from that decade. Same goes for TV.
My favourite TV shows from those formative years include Friends (1994), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), Dawson’s Creek (1998), Grey’s Anatomy (2005), Veronica Mars (2004), and The West Wing (1999). This submission package required me to outline my selection criteria and while I also gave individual tidbits for each show, my general criteria was: (1) will likely rewatch; (2) if landing on the show while flipping channels, strong likelihood that I’ll stay; and (3) least likely to be doing something else while watching. Criteria (2) assumes that I have cable TV which at the time of writing the list I did; it also speaks to privilege, but I’ll get to that later. I could rewatch each of those TV shows just as often as I listen to my favourite songs. Case in point, I restart Grey’s Anatomy every couple years, and in particularly stressful times, I search out the epic episodes like S2E17 “As We Know It” as a form of self-soothing. I just finished rewatching Buffy, and I’m currently on Season 4 of Angel; I’ve recently had an itch to restart Veronica Mars. Hands down, these shows will always be in my Top 10. But I often wonder, what is the selection committee gleaning about me from this list?
The other four shows I included on this particular iteration of the list were Fleabag (2016), Russion Doll (2019), Killing Eve (2018), and Feel Good (2020). For me, these four shows have strong queer representation, feminist values, push the boundaries of their genre, and can make me laugh and cry in the same episode. I mentioned earlier that I gave individual tidbits for each show as well, and I wanted to talk about my explanation for Feel Good – “home grown pride being created and starring a Canadian and it’s the first time I’ve seen anything close to my relationship depicted on screen.” In actual fact Mae and George’s relationship is nothing like my relationship with my partner. Re-reading my tidbit made me realize that when it comes to queer content, I accept any representation over no representation. A broadcaster need only suggest a character in their upcoming show has a whiff of queer and I’ll give the show a chance. Essentially, the bar is on the floor. So in actual fact, Feel Good is not one of my Top 10 TV shows, the first season was simply the only representation of a relationship between two queer women around my age, living generally normal lives, i.e. not in prison on smuggling charges or on a farm cursed by demons.
Another reason it started feeling wrong to include Feel Good on my list is because every episode is written by two people, one of whom is the star. Has this been done before? Yes. Seinfeld (1989) is a prime example. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld co-created and have writing credits on 172 episodes. The next most credited writer is listed on 40 episodes, but didn’t start until 1991, two years after the show began. When it was done before, was it done well? Sure. Seinfeld is one of the biggest shows of all time. Isn’t the fact it was done well before, reason enough to only have two writers now, at least for the first two seasons like Seinfeld? No. I have to do a lot of brain contortion to make myself believe it’s okay that the first season of any current TV show was written by only two people, both of whom are white. There is a legion of established and aspiring writers from every background who could have helped create fuller characters. But maybe there were budget restraints for season one. And it was a star-vehicle based on Mae Martin’s life so who better to tell the story than her? Fair point. But Michaela Coel wrote every episode of I May Destroy You, it too was a star vehicle based on her life, and a quick IMDb search reveals three other story consultants credited. It is impossible to convince myself that it’s okay for the entire second season of any current TV show to be written by two people without so much as an outside story consultant. Am I truly supposed to believe that Netflix didn’t give season two a big enough budget to hire a couple story consultants, let alone a full writers’ room? Was there really no push from key creatives to diversify? Assuming conversations were had after the first season, I just don’t understand a world in which the end result of those conversations is to keep such a limited writers’ room for the second season. I was hooked off the premise of the show, but to return to my earlier point: that is because I settled for some representation over no representation. For current TV shows, the bar must be higher than for the shows from my formative years, and no matter what I’m seeing on screen, inclusivity has to be just as apparent behind the camera for a show to truly be Top 10 worthy.
And now, as I suggested earlier, I want to speak to privilege. When I created this iteration of my Top 10, I lived with a roommate who wanted cable for live sports. Because I rarely watched TV on a TV, my portion of the cable bill was smaller, but I did have access to shows like Killing Eve and I May Destroy You, which never aired on streamers I could afford. When she moved out, so did the cable. I didn’t purchase a new cable package because (1) I despise commercials, but more importantly (2) I couldn’t afford it. And that remains true whether there is a pandemic or not. And with streamers popping up all around, I can’t afford to subscribe to all of those either. Even the ones I have, I mostly have because of sharing capabilities. I have Netflix because my brother pays for it. I have Disney+ because my best friend pays for it. I have Apple TV because I bought a new phone which came with a one-year subscription. I only pay for Prime, but I stop subscribing whenever I don’t have a show I must watch on the platform. And I have never been able to subscribe to Crave, let alone Crave+HBO. Because of these financial restrictions, my Top 10 TV list will represent what I can afford. It speaks to privilege. From this list, a selection committee can glean that (1) I’m poor; (2) I’m starved for queer content; and (3) I find rewatching shows comforting. But does it truly reveal anything about who I am as a writer?