Closeup of a TV remote in a person's hand, with at TV screen showing multimedia options in the background.
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Recently I was stumbling around the HBO Max page while cheaply hesitating before subscribing, and I noticed HBO lets you watch pilots on some of its television shows for free. It’s like career day in high school, a chance to spend an hour learning how you could spend the rest of your life.

Because the shows go on forever. While I wound up subscribing, I had little urge to watch the rest of any series, even the good ones. You should try it out sometime.

It’s safe to say that baseball is no longer the country’s pastime. People seem to be watching more television than ever before and spend the other half of their time talking about them at the office and on Twitter. We feel like a restless nation anxiously awaiting TV plot developments to be resolved as if we’re hearing about Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, except television’s more real (kidding).

The pressure to be up to date with TV shows is immense. There are entire websites dedicated to TV show recaps, and we all have that friend who says things like, “Whaddya mean you haven’t seen so-and-so, I couldn’t imagine life without it.”

I can. Yes, we may be living in the most golden of golden eras of television, with more quality content than ever before, but it’s fine to miss much of it.

Can’t We Go Back to the Way Things Were?

Anyone who grew up in any era of television knows that few of them stay good forever. Stories are often stretched thin until they’re repetitive and uninteresting, characters become unintentional parodies of themselves, and writers try too hard to reinvigorate the plot with cheap twists to a story that should have ended 78 episodes ago.

That’s why, most of the time, it’s best to just watch the pilot and then stuff your heart with steel while making a clean break. “Now I’ve gotta turn my back on you,” I usually utter during the credits, like Paulie in Goodfellas.

This isn’t just me being contrarian just for the sake of being contrarian; there’s quite a bit of good in many pilots. The pilot contains the sum effort of all the pitch meetings and script rehearsals and casting sessions, all the pressure to be good and stay on the air, all the grand attempts to draw the viewer in and compel them to at least watch another episode. I appreciate all the love and hard work that went into its production, and watch them as if I’m reading a short story.

But you see, I am merely a mortal man whose time on this great blue marble is limited. If a show starts off bad it’s unlikely to get much better, if it starts off good it’s unlikely to stay at that level, and if it starts out just ok it’s difficult to know which direction it’ll go in. It turns us all into talent scouts trying to gauge if the new guy is going to make it in the big leagues.

In the past few months, I watched the first episodes of The White Lotus, House of the Dragon, Euphoria, The Rings of PowerSuccession, Barry, Ted LassoThe Flight Attendant, Station Eleven, and so on. They were generally fine, some quite good. Even as I’m writing this, though, I guarantee you there’s someone thinking, “How could you not watch the rest of what-have-you? You’re missing the whole thing.”

Maybe so. Only watching the first episode of everything is equally as fanatic as feeling compelled to watch the entire series. I’ve obviously watched my share of shows all the way through and may even return to a couple of the ones above. But it’s a bit freeing to not feel compelled to.

Going Down with the Ship

TV remote.
Filippo Carlot/

It wasn’t always like this. I used to be one of those types who would go down with the ship, who would never walk out of a bad movie, was compelled to finish long horrible books, and would continue to watch bad shows as if it were a life sentence.

It seems to come from a neurotic need to complete something even if it’s bad, partially based on a naïve hope that the story will return to form, as well as a need to know what happened and understand all the references to it that your idiot friends make.

Some people take this to the extreme and find themselves still watching shows where there are now more bad episodes than good episodes. At least when you cut out early on a show, you can remember some of the good times, but that becomes increasingly difficult the longer you stay with it.

Watching only the pilot allows you to remain in that bubble of innocence, like never knowing that Godfather III was made or the last two seasons of Arrested Development or The Simpsons for God knows how long now. You can do that thing where you watch the first few episodes and then read the summary of what happened in the end on Wikipedia to satiate the desire to know, but even with that clever and efficient tactic, you’re still somewhat giving in to that compulsion to finish.

Remember how in The Dark Knight, the joker used hope to torture innocent people? That’s what TV executives do. If you’re the type that hate-watches shows and/or is ashamed of wasting your time on one because you feel compelled to, let it all go and free yourself. Try approaching anything new that comes out with the merciless one-and-done discipline.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and hypocritically try the newest of the endless flavors of Doritos. I’m through the looking glass with that franchise.

Profile Photo for Chason Gordon Chason Gordon
Chason Gordon is a former staff writer and editor for How-To Geek. His writing has previously appeared in Slate, Vice, Input, and The Globe and Mail, among other publications.
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