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?

I remember exactly when I first heard about the TV show Dawson’s Creek, I was at a sleepover at Laura Van Der [something]’s house. A few ten or eleven-year-old girls huddled in the basement gabbing about their favourite TV shows. Laura expressed her love for the teen drama but despite her enthusiasm, I didn’t watch the show. That was likely a mixture of one, Laura not being cool enough for me to think her opinion was credible, and two, it not being what my parents or brothers decided we were watching, the likes of which included Sailor Moon, Star Trek TNG, Jeopardy, Xena, Hercules, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Ninja Turtles, and Power Rangers. Little did I know, not watching the show when it first aired would have pretty drastic effects on my High School career.

By 2002, the show had been syndicated and appeared on TBS channel 47 in Ottawa. From 10am-noon every weekday, TBS would air two back-to-back episodes of the show. Initially I stumbled upon it on the Friday of a long weekend, and because daytime programming didn’t have much to offer at the time other than talk shows, I decided to finally check out Laura’s recommendation. I quickly got sucked in. As I am still want to do, I immediately subscribed two people in my life as the Pacey and Dawson to my Josephine Potter. Each episode I’d get to live within the characters experience, which often mirrored the tangled relationships I was living. The only real difference was that none of us spoke in the verbose, thesaurus-mandatory way that the show employed. Also that I never dated my Pacey or Dawson – in the show of my life it was a will-they-won’t-they saga spanning a decade without any kind of satisfying ending. Perhaps then, less similar than my imagination allowed me to believe.

This difference was the reason I needed to continue watching the show. To have the satisfying ending that my love triangle was lacking. It was the reason that when TBS got to the end of the series and then started back at the beginning, I rewatched it, almost religiously. And because I wanted to live in Joey’s reality so much more than my own, I used every excuse I could on my parents to skip school. They rarely took the bait. And so I kept up with my studies, excelling in school, but always looking forward to the times when I would get sick so I could see if this time, Dawson smartened up and broke up with his girlfriend before sleeping with Joey on her birthday giving their future together a fighting chance. Spoiler: he didn’t.

joey_dawson_sex_1

In my last semester of High School, I strategically chose to have a spare first period so I was always able to take my time in the morning (read: watch TV), but sadly I’d have to leave before Dawson, Joey, and Pacey could pedantically torment themselves and each other for two hours. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for my grades, I am a January baby. I am always hitting milestones before my friends. I got my driver’s license first, I was legally allowed to drink first, and I was able to sign myself out of class High School first. So, instead of thinking about my ability to secure a future education, I thought about my love for these characters and would ditch second period regularly. It got so bad, that I went from being an honours student to going into my final Chemistry exam with a failing grade, a class I needed to pass to graduate because I had given myself so many spares over the years, that I had no supplementary credits.

With intervention from a guidance counsellor and the head of the science department, coupled with an intense two weeks of learning a semester’s worth of Chemistry, I passed the exam. I lost my status as an honours which also meant I lost the favour of my mother, but that’s a whole story for another day. Despite what I lost, I gained much more. One, an encyclopedic knowledge of Dawson’s Creek, which I still reference today. Two, a masterclass in writing characters who are all intellectually smart (however emotionally stunted), a device that Aaron Sorkin also uses in his writing. And three, a first glimpse into how deep my fascination with television truly goes.

The world may credit Dawson’s Creek for providing us with one of the best memes to date:

dawson

I credit it as being one of the first clear signs that being a TV writer has always been my dream.

 

I’m never sure if Netflix is recommending things I’ll actually like or simply the latest release. Because of this I end up giving most of the recommendations a shot. Recently, I gave the British comedy drama Sex Education a chance. The show, created by Laurie Nunn and starring Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, and Emma Mackay, follows Otis, an awkward teen and son of a divorced sex therapist, who gives dating advice to his troubled classmates despite himself having no sexual experience.

A great hook, a diverse cast, and a realistic portrayal of the High School experience make this series a delight to watch. That is, however, until episode eight, the season finale, where a storyline involving Otis’ best friend, the openly gay Eric Effoing, takes an oh-too-familiar turn.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

eric prom

After being assaulted by strangers and having a fallout with Otis that leads to Eric retreating in on himself for a while, he returns to school episode seven in all his fabulous glory, looking more confident in his identity than ever before. This by all accounts is a win. The message to be true yourself despite adversity is one that can never get old. What does get old, is what happens next.

The bully, Adam Groff, who has spent Eric’s entire High School career making his everyday full of fear, including but not limited to intimidation, name-calling, physical violence, and theft, suddenly sees Eric in a new light. The next day the pair find themselves alone and it is then that, after Adam just shot a spitball at Eric and tackled him, that Adam kisses Eric (a moment that is unironically soundtracked by Grizzly Bear singing “he hit me and it felt like a kiss”). Suddenly, everything is supposed to make sense. All this time that Adam has been torturing Eric it has simply been because he has been unable to process his own homosexuality. And so the seeds are planted for a love story to blossom between the two of them, that Eric seems very much interested in pursuing.

tumblr_plefbtkwvk1qk88rvo1_540-1548184556-1548184558

Eric’s interest in Adam is exactly where the show lost me. And that is because it is the same detrimental lesson that young people have been told over and over. “If a boy is mean to you, it’s because he likes you.” So now that intimidation, name-calling, physical violence, and theft, is coming from a place of love. And how could you be mad at a boy when, despite his actions, he’s operating from a place of love for you?

FUCK. THAT.

Intimidation is bullying. Name-calling is verbal abuse. Physical violence is physical abuse. Theft is a felony. It does not matter why someone is motivated to treat a schoolmate this way, all that matters is that it is wrong. And this cutesy message of love from hate needs to stop. It is damaging.

What would be novel for this TV show would be to show Eric stand up to Adam by saying, “the fact that you are secretly gay does not forgive the terrible things you have done to me over the years. I appreciate that you are struggling with your homosexuality, but I can never be someone who is capable of being so malicious to anyone, especially to someone they supposedly fancy.”

IMG_9493.jpg

Most television shows take a season to find their legs. I hope, that in the case of Sex Education, the second season distances itself from this archaic and detrimental lesson. Let’s give our characters agency, let’s understand that what we write effects an audience, and let’s use our pens to make a difference.

 

 

You know what takes me right out of a movie or TV show or even a commercial? When someone tries to sell me something. I know the whole point of a commercial IS to sell me something. BUT you can’t argue that the best ones are the ones in which you were so moved that you forgot you were watching a commercial.

In contrast, most movies and TV shows aren’t trying to sell you on something except the movie or show itself. But to have gotten to the point of either playing at a theatre or airing on your television (laptop, smart phone, holographic projective implant), they’ve had to sell themselves to financiers. And those financiers make requests for their product to be featured on screen. This isn’t news. It’s product placement. We’ve all heard of it. We know it exists. We recognize when we see it. The point is: audiences aren’t stupid. So it’d be wonderful is we weren’t treated like we were.

Financiers, please STOP making actors hold your product in ways so that the audience can clearly read the name of your product. The reality? We’re not looking at your product. We’re looking at the weird disjointed alien claw that holds your product while we think, “no one would ever hold a burger (pack of gum, coffee cup, phone) like that!”

Are you afraid we won’t recognize the iconic red can with the cursive white writing unless we actually see the whole name? Or does being on two corners of every intersection make the store with the green and white mermaid logo not ubiquitous enough? So you make Sandra Bullock awkwardly turn your logo to camera. And now the actor is trying to rationalize why her character would love tall nonfat white mochas (270 cals) and yet still meet Hollywood’s standard body size. She’s not in the moment. I’m not in the moment. And I’m definitely not all of a sudden hankering for $5 coffee. The fact that I am about to order something from said establishment has everything to do with the fact that I am cliché incarnate and I write in one.  Nothing, I repeat nothing at all, to do with the fact that Sandra makes them look oh so fuckin’ good. But seriously, I love her and I’d buy whatever she’s selling, weird disjointed alien claw or no.