TV

The Three-Part Case For Always Watching Television With The Captions On

Captions are functional, first and foremost. They exist so that people who are hard of hearing can follow the dialogue and action in the things they are watching. That’s a good thing. It’s always better to have options that make cool stuff accessible for more people. Everyone should get to enjoy, say, for example, The Righteous Gemstones, a terrific show that is screencapped up above, delightfully mid-vomit, as described by the aforementioned captions. It’s a nice piece of business.

This brings me to my point: Everyone should watch television with the captions on, in almost all situations, even if your hearing is not an issue. I started doing it a few years ago and it has improved my viewing experience a lot. I watch everything with the captions on and the volume up, with the exception of live sports (the captions often lag because they’re catching up to the broadcast and it can be distracting) and stand-up comedy (the captions can get ahead of the delivery and step on the joke). I don’t even remember exactly when or why I started — the general reason was “to make sure I’m not missing anything important,” probably while watching Tom Hardy mumble through a scene in Peaky Blinders, but I can’t rule out anything much less reasonable — but I’m here now and I love it.

And I think you should join me. Start watching television with the captions on. It’s great, just helpful and fun and kind of like unlocking a little secret you’ve been missing out on for years. I’m going to lay out my actual reasoning below, in three parts, at least one of which will involve multiple screencaps of award-nominated actors farting on camera, but feel free to stop reading whenever I’ve convinced you. We all have important stuff to get to. I won’t be offended. The point is that you listen to me.

Okay, here we go.

PART I — Your big, fancy flat-screen television might have garbage speakers

DOG
NETFLIX

Here’s your practical reason. Televisions have been getting thinner over the years as manufacturers attempt to give you the most sparkling and crisp picture possible in as small a package as they can. That’s cool, in a way, because it’s basically become like hanging a painting on the wall except the painting also plays the Super Bowl. (Take that, Picasso.) But this focus on thinning out the product has left less room for speakers, or at least the kind of speakers one would hope for from a product that they sit in front of for hours a day.

Wired discussed this dilemma in a recent article. It’s actually Wired UK, which I mention only because the word “telly” is in this blockquote and I don’t want you to get distracted. We need to stay focused here.

The problem, of course, is inherent in flatscreen TVs themselves. Everyone wants their nice new telly to be as slim as possible – but that makes the job of getting worthwhile sound out of them almost impossible. There’s just nowhere in that big, flat, glass-and-plastic and super-resonant frame to fit worthwhile speakers of a decent size – and consequently the sound your TV makes is as weedy, insubstantial and impoverished as the pictures it makes are detailed, bright and bold.

This is especially true when the action on the screen jumps between loud and quiet, where you need to crank it up to hear the talking and then furiously rush to turn it down when the booms start so your neighbors don’t think you’re doing amateur chemistry in your living room at midnight. The solution most people point to for this problem is “buy a soundbar,” but soundbars are expensive and do not help you make a slew of funny screencaps that you can send to your idiot friends. This second thing is very important. So important, in fact, that we will now discuss it again, in full, in part two.

PART II — You are missing out on some primo supplemental comedy

FART
HBO

To be clear, what we have here is Kieran Culkin, in character as Roman Roy on Succession, doing baby noises and fart sounds to mock one of his siblings. It was good live, with action and sound, and you should all know this because you’re all probably watching Succession. But the captions make it magical. Look at that image up there. It’s practically art. It makes me so happy. I saw it live on my television and then rushed to my computer to make the screencap and I’ve used it maybe 500 times since.

I have a great deal of respect for the person who wrote that caption. It would have been easy to phone it in, maybe just with a “[baby noises, fart sound],” but no. We got a whole “mimics in childish babble” here. That is both helpful — more descriptive, more accurate — for the people who rely on it and just massively funnier phrasing, in general, for everyone to enjoy. It’s a real two-fer. We love the efficiency.

Hey, want more examples of how subtitles can make watching television more fun through the use of out-of-context screencaps? I hope so, because I am about to post a bunch. Here’s one of my favorites, from the short-lined modern-day Dallas continuation series that aired on TNT a few years back.

01-mama.gif
TNT

What we have here:

  • Television icon Judith Light
  • Doing cocaine at a rodeo
  • And then saying “Hot damn. Mama like.”

It is maybe my favorite moment in the history of television and I like that I have it immortalized like this. The captions really add something to the experience. You need to see the “Hot damn. Mama like” to drive the point home. I can and will make an argument that this moment plays better as a captioned GIF than it did in full motion. Not here. I have more screencaps to post. But I will. It’s incredible.

Also incredible, for different reasons: This series of screencaps from Better Call Saul in which Mike Ehrmantraut, played by Jonathan Banks, groans. He groans so much on this show. It would be easy to miss without documentation. That’s what we’re doing here: documenting things for history. Groans, specifically. We are documenting groans.

groan
AMC
GROAN
AMC

Also, farts. We are documenting farts, too. There’s the fake one up there by Kieran Culkin, but there are also these from Jeremy Irons in the terrific Watchmen series from a few years ago. Again, the specificity is important here, both so the people who need the captions can get the joke more completely, and because it makes for a wonderful little piece of still art.

Please, enjoy.

fart
HBO
FART
HBO

I have, literally, hundreds of screencaps like this from dozens of shows. It has made my life so much richer. And it all started from such a simple place, with me flipping captions on so I could follow along better and not miss anything important that would get me yelled at in the comments of a review or a recap. The takeaways from all of this are as follows:

  • I do not like getting yelled at
  • I have a lot of screencaps of television characters passing gas

A reasonable argument can be made that I am 12 years old. I feel okay about it. And while I’m on the subject of being a child…

PART III — It is fun to roast your friends with screencaps

JOSH
WARNER

I work with a man named Josh. He’s lovely and knows more about The Simpsons and Oscar-nominated movies than anyone I know. I genuinely enjoy chatting with him in our little work chatroom. But I also make it a point to screencap every moment from a television show or movie where a character says something mean to a character named Josh, just so I can deploy them strategically to roast him a little in front of everyone. That’s Kyle Chandler in the one up there, in the movie Godzilla vs. Kong, dropping a “Shut up, Josh.” It’s been extremely useful.

As has this one of Joe Pera in Joe Pera Talks With You, which slightly modified the order of the words to give us a “Josh, shut up.”

JOSH
ADULT SWIM

And here’s a screencap from the animated Harley Quinn series. This one has been super useful, too.

JOSH
HBO MAX

I recommend you start doing this. Watch television with the subtitles on first, for you, so you catch everything and don’t have to drop hundreds of dollars on a soundbar. But then, once you do, start snapping screencaps, especially if you can get some with your friends’ names in them. It makes for a great comeback in the group chat, or a great context-free text, or, if you’re me and your editor is named Brett and you want to leave in a little test to see if he read all the way to the bottom of your piece on captions and screencaps, a fun little experiment.

Hi, buddy.

BRETT
APPLE
BRETT
APPLE

The lessons here are as follows, in no particular order:

  • You should try watching television with the captions on
  • I am an idiot
  • The second thing does not make the first thing any less true

Thank you.

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