We’re a little over a month into 2018, and the show that’s given me more pleasure than almost any other so far this year premiered in 1994, and last aired a new episode almost a decade ago.
When Hulu abruptly announced last month that it had bagged one of the great white whales of the streaming era by adding all 331 episodes of ER, I skipped around just long enough to come up with a list of 10 essential episodes newbies could sample to understand why the show was such a big deal back in the day. I planned for that to be the end of it, what with my having seen virtually the entire series (and every episode from its first decade), me being way behind on the 500-plus scripted shows airing each year, etc. Instead, a funny thing happened on the way back to Peak TV: I kept watching ER. And watching. And watching.
At first, I intended to follow my own advice, watch the 10 from that list, and get back to 2018. But when I finished the devastating two-parter where Carter and Lucy get attacked, I wanted to see what happened next, not just with that story, but with all the other subplots featured in those episodes. Didn’t matter that I knew what happened, even if the subject of, say, Mark’s father having a fling with Elizabeth’s mother hadn’t taken a high position of priority in my memory; the storytelling was so engaging and so fluid that it felt disappointing that I couldn’t keep going. After bouncing around the middle seasons for a bit, I finally decided to just loop back to the beginning, and I’m currently midway through season two. (Right before I began writing this paragraph, Benton and Carter met Dr. Vucelich for the first time.)
This is on top of the fact that I spent a good chunk of 2017 rewatching The Sopranos in its entirety, that I slid from a Parks and Recreation rewatch with my daughter straight into One Day at a Time season one with her, and that my wife and I often stream a Frasier episode or two these days after we get the kids to sleep.
At the top of my current list of job priorities is to serve as your machete, clearing a path through the overgrown jungle of Peak TV to help people figure out which of those 500-plus shows are worth the bother, and which will just fill them with angst that they’re wasting time on them when there are so many better options. Every time I think I’m close to cutting my way through to the other side, Netflix will announce the surprise release of 12 new shows, or HBO will send me full season screener links to their next prestige drama, and it begins to feel like I’ll never see daylight again. So there are when I’ve had one old show or another on, and I can’t help feeling guilty that this time isn’t being spent on something more current.
But you know what? To hell with that.
I can defend some of this to myself as simple matters of circumstance. We’re in the middle, for instance, of an unusually fallow period for TV at the moment, where thanks to both the Winter Olympics and the new trend of saving the big Emmy contenders to debut in March or April (so their seasons will end as close as possible to when the Academy sends out its ballots), a lot of the best current series won’t be back for another few months. There have been a handful of exciting debuts (Counterpart on Starz, The End of the F***ing World on Netflix) and strong turns from veteran series (The Good Place), but there’s not an overwhelming volume of urgent series the way I expect from late February on into the summer.