Watching television with your friends can be a lovely bonding experience — unless someone acts like a jerk, and ruins it for everyone. Here's our helpful rundown of the worst types of obnoxious behavior to avoid when watching TV with your crew.
This essay will be structured in two parts:
1) A list of the types of disruptive behaviors that destroy everyone else's enjoyment of a TV show, at which point you might as well be watching the slowly burning logs on the Fireplace Channel.
2) A most sober and understated explanation of why, exactly, you are ruining everything for everybody in the entire universe, and deserve to be locked inside a Hooters where they're endlessly watching Married With Children reruns on the giant screen, for the rest of your natural life.
Not paying attention, and then complaining that something doesn't make sense
Fair enough. You have to retire to the kitchen to make yourself a banana-oreo-nutella smoothie on the loudest possible setting, and you don't want us to pause the show until you get back. Or maybe you have some emails that you absolutely must peruse, and you can't wait until the episode's denouement. Just because you're in the room with other people who are watching a show, does not mean that you have to watch it too.
But don't then turn around and start looking for plot holes in a show that you haven't been paying attention to. You should accept there's at least a possibility that some of your objections to the episode's plot were addressed during the 15 or 20 minutes when you were playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf and attempting to convince Broccolo to do something indecent in the bushes.
In general, nitpicks and objections to the plausibility of a piece of television should be saved for the end of the episode — or if they can't wait, at least hit "pause" before explaining that electric trains don't work that way. Also, accept that some people might hold a show about witches opening a coffee shop to a lower standard of strict realism.
Live-tweeting the episode OUT LOUD. Feel free to live-tweet silently.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the person who completely disengages from a piece of television, except to drop in and offer nitpicks, there's the person who engages too much. We know that as you watch the show, you're imagining how you're going to render it into GIFs and snarky memes afterwards — but that process doesn't have to begin while we're actually still watching the show.
If you spot a moment that is destined to become an epic animated GIF, there's no need to start acting out said GIF while the show is still airing. And if you're writing barbed tweets about the show during its runtime, maybe share them during the commercial break? The meta-show that you're creating in your head and on your handheld device shouldn't ever entirely replace or overwhelm the actual TV show that we're actually, you know, watching.
This also goes for "shipping" two characters to the point where, if either of them even interacts with a third party, you start making outraged noises or throwing bits of oreo-nutella smoothie at the screen.
Expressing nausea, with words or gestures, when anybody on screen expresses an emotion.
We all hate melodrama, and canned emotion, and faux sentiment — but you have to give a TV show a chance to try and expand its characters' emotional palette. If, the moment a character starts shedding tears, getting upset or even expressing fondness towards another human, you start shoving two fingers down your throat or announcing your intention to blow chunks, you may well succeed in ruining the mood to the point where the emotion on screen feels false simply by virtue of being in the same room as your display.
Yes, most of the time when people emote on television, it's a bit overwrought and cheap seats-y (looking at you, most CW shows) — but the alternative is often television where everybody is a stoic, can-do forensic scientist whose emotions alternate between "chipper" and "grim."
And the larger point is, some of us actually want to give the emotional moments a chance to work. They may not, in the end, but we want to give them their shot. Sometimes actors surprise us and actually do sweep us up in their raw emotion. But not if you rush to judgment, and condemn what you're seeing as pure melodramatic dross.
Various and sundry attempts to MST3K a TV show that some people are actually watching
There are two issues here: 1) You are probably not as funny as you think you are. 2) We can't hear what the characters are actually saying over your attempt to supply your own dialogue for them, neo-Benshi style.
Fair enough if it's a TV show that everybody in the room loathes, or some terrible movie that you've all decided to watch and mock together. But if even one person in the room kind of likes the show, and wants to emerge from this with the experience of having seen the actual show, without commentary track, then you are ruining everything. Especially if your attempts at mocking the show are on the level of "this is so dumb," just go back to Animal Crossing. Broccolo misses you.
Spouting off spoilers at a crucial moment.
"Oh, I heard that guy's getting killed off." Not cool. Not cool at all. We love spoilers. I even wrote a whole essay explaining how spoilers are part of the way that fans celebrate and remix pop culture, and how they make things better. But I also try not to give spoilers to people who haven't asked for them — and especially, spouting off spoilers during the actual watching of a thing is dirty pool. Just keep the forbidden knowledge to yourself.
Coming in for episode 27 of a show and expecting to be up to speed
If your friends are nice, they'll have given you the crash course before the show starts — but there's a limit to how much someone can explain a show to you after you've already a season and a half worth of crazy reveals. There's a special pleasure to diving into a TV show in the middle and being confused and at sea, it's like extreme in-medias-res, or some kind of postmodern decontextualized narrative.
But after your friends have given you the cliffs-notes and the episode has started, just run with it. Don't expect everything to make sense right away — and don't assume your friends know the answers to everything. Often if something is mysterious in a show, it's mysterious on purpose, and your friends don't know exactly what's going on in this episode yet, either. Save the questions for the commercial breaks, or at least ration them.
TV is a medium that, traditionally, assumes a short attention span and limited powers of concentration on the part of its audience. Until fairly recently, every episode of a particular TV show had to start off with the same status quo as every other episode of that show. Plot points often have to be explained five or six times, just in case anybody was taking a whiz the first four times something was brought up. Characters' motivations have to be transparent. Etc.
When you watch television with limited attention — and do so in a way that prevents everybody else in the room from paying attention, either, you are turning the dumbness of television into a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are probably starting with the assumption that what you're watching is going to be so dumb that nobody needs to pay attention, but then your behavior is making any other assumption impossible to validate. You are turning television into the thing that you implicitly accuse it of being.
And just suppose for a moment that someone has been clever enough to make a TV episode that can be watched on multiple levels — the most superficial level of "background noise," as well as levels that require someone to have heard every line of dialogue, and maybe even paid attention to scene-setting and people's facial tics and little grace notes here and there. And suppose that the people making this miracle of television eventually realize, thanks to the echo chamber of the internet, that absolutely nobody is picking up on anything but the "background noise" version of their show. Why should they bother to do anything more than that?
If you want television to be better, you have to give it a chance to be better.
We hear a lot about the evils of disruptive behavior in movie theaters: talking, texting, too-exuberant handjobs, loud snack-eating. But I would argue that disruptive behavior during television is worse, except that it affects a smaller number of people.
First, television is less naturally immersive than film, because you're not in a darkened room staring at a ginormous screen with a hundred other people who are hopefully also rapt. Second, because television is still struggling with the perception that it's somehow less ambitious than movies. (There have been dozens of articles in the past five years saying some variation of "television is no longer dumber than movies," and the fact that this is even a headline means we still have to keep pushing.) And finally, television depends on your long-term investment in a set of characters and their world, and that immersion is a fragile thing.
So the next time you're watching television with your friends, and they ask you to stop distracting them? Please do as you're told. The entire television audience, everywhere, thanks you.