In an ideal world, all TV shows would be exquisitely written dramas like Mad Men or subversive comedies like 30 Rock, but this is not an ideal world. In real life we have to share our channels with shows like Toddlers & Tiaras, Grey's Anatomy and Glee, shows that, no matter how much they get slagged off by both professional and amateur critics, continue to air to broad audiences that we might actually be a part of. Of course, we probably don't call ourselves fans or even admit to watching these shitty shows regularly. Instead, we protect ourselves and our street cred by "hate-watching."
Hate-watching is the act of watching a show that you claim to dislike with the sole purpose of mocking it. With the recent return of Smash, a highly mockable melodrama about the behind-the-scenes happenings of a Broadway production, hate-watching seems to be a hot button term in TV writing, but is hate-watching even a real thing? Or do we just refuse to admit that we like shitty things?
I like shows like Mad Men and The Wire just as much as the next person with an appreciation for high quality and thoughtful storytelling, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes I watch TV not to think at all. I watched Smash through season one and will continue to watch through season two, I've wasted plenty of days to a Real Housewives marathons and I've seen every episode of Glee. Do I make fun of these things? Of course I do. On last week's Glee, Rachel sang a duet of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" with herself. How could I not mock that? But behind that mocking is still a genuine like.
For some reason, we often feel the need to cloak our broader tastes in a layer of irony. We use terms like hate-watch and guilty pleasure so we don't have to admit that Honey Boo Boo makes us laugh or that we cried during every episode of Grey's Anatomy. That doesn't mean that we don't watch these shows without some level of mockery, but schadenfreude is still a form of genuine enjoyment, like it or not.
If a TV show makes you cry with a cheesy and ridiculous plot device, it still made you cry. If you find yourself laughing at Debra Messing on Smash instead of laughing with her, then Smash is still working on you. People tend not to watch things that they actively don't enjoy and that goes double for shows that they actively hate. I don't watch Teen Mom because it seriously bums me out, I didn't watch Arli$$ because I thought it was boring and I don't watch Two and a Half Men because I actually hate it. I do, however, watch Smash, Glee and endless OC reruns (even season four).
While these shows might not have the intensity of Breaking Bad or dialogue in iambic pentameter like an episode of Deadwood, they do have something important and valuable to offer and that's the opportunity to not have to over-think (or think at all) about what you're watching. Stop worrying about what's high and low brow and worry instead about having fun and feeling feelings, no hate or guilt about it.