Concise Reviews of Mostly Dated Shows I Watched or Rewatched During the Pandemic in 250 Words or Less

I, like everyone else, was determined to be productive when Covid-19 hit my country and the lockdown was implemented, in various stages. I was going to do yoga and all sorts of crafts and read all the books and workout and write and, and, and…

I did do some of those things. I walked a lot and on those walks, I listened to audiobooks. I hand-painted a cartoon portrait of my dogs in a bathtub. I painted and decorated the hall bathroom. I… bought a yoga mat and blocks. Mostly… I watched a lot of TV shows, old and new, good and bad. Here are my thoughts, limited to very mild spoilers only.

Lizzie McGuire: I loved this show as a young teen. It was less about relating to Lizzie, herself, and more about wishing I could relate to her very wholesome experiences, at school and at home. As an adult, I realize that this was a pretty sugarcoated version of the middle school years, though, and I’m thrilled that the reboot fell through. Duff wanted an “honest” depiction of life in your 30’s, claiming that the original show portrayed an honest depiction of middle school and I call shenanigans on that. Not once did one of Lizzie’s classmates fear pregnancy, because she swallowed after her first blowie… and that’s a big part of the appeal for me. Even today, I retroactively envy Lizzie’s home life, with her supportive parents and annoying, poorly disciplined little brother. It’s delightful to see that this is one of those shows you can watch as an adult and realize you now relate to the parents just as much as you once did the kids. They weren’t written as clueless or naïve and I’d say this is still a wonderfully hokey watch, that I can’t wait to share with my girls.

The Mandalorian: I’m not gonna lie. I far prefer Star Trek to Star Wars and have picked many a fight with my husband over who would win in a battle, Spock or Obi Wan… because I am cool. The newest installments to the latter have left me cold and viciously hating Rey, because women can be strong and independent, without being ungrateful assholes. So, I had little interest in The Mandalorian, beyond the cuteness of Baby Yoda, but my husband was really excited about it, as were my library teens… and Baby Yoda was still the primary appeal for me. I watched every episode of this series and I couldn’t tell you much about the plot, past “save the child.” One of my teens recently told me that the reason he loves it so much, is that it’s the closest thing to Firefly that isn’t Firefly. I disagree. Sure, the setting is similar, but the heroes aren’t warm or funny or even attractive and the villains are relatively bland. If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan, you’ll likely love The Mandalorian, but if you can take it or leave it, you’re unlikely to feel any differently about this installment. Baby Yoda is adorable, though.

Once Upon a Time: This Disney/ABC family show is objectively terrible, overall. The CGI sets are laughably bad in the first season and the child actor gets progressively worse as his cuteness wears off. The storylines are engaging and clever in the beginning, but quickly become more about participation trophies and honorary mentions, as the writers work to include every Disney character ever throughout the seasons. Honestly, though, it’s still a really fun watch. It’s nice to enjoy a fantasy story that truly appeals to all ages, including fight scenes and love stories in equal measure, with absolutely no penis. Game of Thrones and True Blood have their appeal, but there is definitely a point where I feel like nurses see less dick. Once Upon a Time is not what I’d call good. It’s campy at times and goes on for far too long. I haven’t finished the show, but I’m absolutely certain that it jumps the shark, probably specifically the one from Finding Nemo, if the reviews are any indication. Still, it keeps me engaged, when I want some harmless drama and excitement… and can stomach the heroes repeatedly releasing the villains and being absolutely shocked when they do something evil, once again.

Big Bang Theory: Originally, BBT was a clever sitcom portraying a demographic often ignored… even if some thought the jokes just made dumb people feel smart. The show truly jumped the shark, however, when all of the relationships and female characters became its central focus. Penny was always a plot device, the Xander, a character to whom the audience could relate, as she asked questions on their behalf. She normalized the nerds and acted as the inevitable love interest. She had a purpose. Bernadette was an entertaining representation of how women can be smart and beautiful, though she received little depth as anything beyond Howard’s gal. Then, Amy Farrah Fowler joined the show, lighting the fuse that was its inevitable explosion. Amy was an offensive stereotype of female intellectuals: frumpy, socially clueless, and boring. She had to “fix” Sheldon, who didn’t need fixing as an asexual character, and refused to respect his boundaries… or those of anyone else on the show. While she did get progressively worse, it wasn’t just her. The jokes became formulaic and the focus entirely shifted, as happens to many sitcoms that run too long. What was once a tale of geeky men exploring their post-college years, became a failed attempt at a nerdy Everybody Loves Raymond with jokes about marriage and parenting dominating the predictable dialogue of literally every single character, including the no-longer-asexual Sheldon… because that’s how sexuality works. If I ever rewatch BBT, I’ll stop before the first wedding and recommend the same.

Friends: David Schwimmer carried this show. Whether you like his character or not, the actor was the best at physical comedy and delivery. From the first episode, Schwimmer sold Ross as the awkward, nerdy, doormat. Did everything about his character age well? No, but neither did a lot of things, so I’m willing to look at Ross through the lens of 1999, too. Not only did I enjoy Ross more, I found myself hating Rachel, especially past the “we were on a break” drama. She left a man at the altar and slept with him after he got engaged, slept with an ex after he groped her friend, was always a terrible employee, slept with her assistant, took advantage of her friends, treated Ross like a sweater she neither wanted to wear nor donate by stringing him along for years and sabotaging his every new relationship, and gave the father of her baby no actual say in his daughter’s well-being while simultaneously expecting him to do all of the husbandly things without the title. I shipped Chandler and Monica at one time, with their friends-to-lovers trope and enjoyed their storyline again, but now realize that Phoebe and Mike were the couple to beat. They had an adorable meet-cute with real chemistry. Mike accepted Phoebe for all of her history and annoying quirks, with zero embarrassment. Best of all, their relationship never had time to drag. Schwimmer might have been the comedic lead, but Paul Rudd was the real romantic MVP.

It’s a Sin: I thought this miniseries had six episodes. When I realized it was only five, I was relieved, because it was absolutely heartbreaking. When it comes to movies and TV, I’m basically a robot. Nothing but dead animals and babies makes me cry. The Notebook? Titanic? Schindler’s List? Nope. That being said, I cried during every episode of It’s a Sin and I mean tears streaming down my face. It’s such a compelling tale of a group of mostly gay friends, living in 1980s London, during the AIDS epidemic. The protagonists aren’t caricatures and neither are the villains, really, as the leads each leave home and make their way to London, where they can live their lives freely… until they start to fall ill, one by one. Surprisingly, religion is rarely addressed as the reason for the stigma against homosexuality (and AIDS by extension), which I appreciated, because it’s not necessarily as historically accurate in the 80’s UK as it would be in the US South. This show infuriated me as a librarian, as the main characters struggled to find any information on the mysterious illness killing people they loved. I’ve never been happier for such an amazing show to end. I have read criticism that the one (seemingly straight) character was the Token Straight Friend, but I consider that to be a horrible way to talk about allies. Plenty of straight people lost friends and loved ones to AIDS and this show did a great job portraying that, as well.

7th Heaven: At 10 years old, I wanted to be Mary Camden. All of my friends were slender, athletic, and had parents who made sure they bathed and their clothes fit. I never could seem to master any of those. I realize now, depressingly enough, that my mother wanted to be Annie Camden: wanted by her husband, respected by her community, with children who looked up to her, able to keep all the balls in the air… and she never could master any of those, herself. So, watching this show as an adult was bittersweet for me, as I recognized how far my mother’s life veered from what she wanted. While 7th Heaven might have hit a soft spot for me, though, it has probably aged worse than anything in the history of time. Every negative thing about the 90s is encapsulated in this show, from the most oppressive purity culture to low-key racism thought progressive. The Camdens controlled their children’s sexuality with an iron first, from first kisses to first times. They knew one black family, a most accurate example of Token Black Characters, as nearly every episode featuring them was themed around race… which was also true for all other non-white character mentions. It also went on for way too long. By season 8, all but a handful of the original actors had given up, and so did I. Nostalgia aside, there’s only so much time I can spend with early 00s churchy people, without having flashbacks of my own.  

Roswell: At age 12, I was obsessed with Roswell. I mean that I would be concerned if my child were so fixated on something. I work with teenagers, so that’s saying something. Having reached my adult height by sixth grade and still a few years out from my breast reduction, I remember watching Liz Parker stand in front of her mirror in her matching bra and panties, knowing I could never wear something like that, because the cute stuff didn’t come in my size. If I wanted to be utterly mortified, I could dig up the diaries where I introduced myself with my full name in every entry, just like Liz. Still, I think I’d have preferred to be Isabel, beautiful and in possession of alien powers, with two brother figures who wanted to protect her. Middle school Belle had issues and this show is a lot of what got her through them, so for that reason, Roswell will always have a place in my heart. Objectively speaking, though, it isn’t much different than many early 00s shows, featuring gorgeous actors far too old to play the dramatic and angsty parts assigned. It does, however, lack the clever wit of its more iconic competitors, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and doesn’t measure up in the sci-fi world to shows like Firefly, with a plot riddled with holes. It’s unsurprising that Roswell never made it past three seasons, but I don’t care, because those came at just the right time for me.

Smallville: I never intended for Smallville to be a good rewatch. I just wanted something mindless and campy and Tom Welling’s Clark Kent seemed like a good fit. I’d argue that this show is, overall, one of the worst in the Superman franchise. For starters, if Tom Welling can pass for 15 in season one, I can pass for Betty White now. Clark is supposed to be this gawky and awkward teenager, but no amount of stumbling or sputtering from Welling makes up for his age and build. Any teenage boy who looked like that would be the crush of every girl and invited to every party… once people realized he wasn’t a substitute teacher. It’s not that Welling does a bad job portraying Clark, it’s just that it’s utterly unconvincing at age 25. The mostly Monster of the Week plot doesn’t really redeem Smallville either. While Michael Rosenbaum is my all time favorite Lex Luthor, we barely get to see his dark side for several seasons and the supporting characters leave something to be desired, especially Lana. I don’t remember hating this character. Chloe annoyed me until she got over her Clark crush and started acting like a real friend, but I loathe Lana. She’s self-absorbed and whiney and thinks everyone in her life owes her their every secret. Regardless of its other flaws, Lana is what makes me not want to watch, as an adult. The rest, however, is more or less what I wanted: mindless, campy fun.

Gilmore Girls: Gilmore Girls has been quite the comfort watch for me, over the years. Lorelai always had money for the things she and Rory needed and wanted, despite the insistence that she had to get by on hard work and grit. If ever that wasn’t true, The Bank of Gilmore was happy to write a check, in exchange for company only. The heroines were effortlessly beautiful, universally loved, and were handed the world on a silver platter that they mocked for its pretention. They were best friends and adored by all men and their snowglobe town. It was the ultimate fantasy. I tried to rewatch in 2020, though, and just couldn’t get over how ungrateful these two were for their obscene privilege. Sure, you have a complicated relationship with your parents… so do a lot of people whose parents aren’t willing to write them checks or buy them lavish gifts. The Poor Little Rich Girl plot just didn’t hold up for me after the last year and Lorelai’s insistence on being a friend, rather than a mom, was extremely grating when I work with teens in this situation, was a teen in this situation, and prepare to have daughters of my own. Perhaps Reddit just ruined this one for me by villainizing literally every character, claiming abuse all around and scrutinizing the entire show through a 2020 lens. Maybe I just need to come back in another time of life, but this one was a surprising pandemic no-go for me.

Stranger Things: Oh, Stranger Things, the leading title in shows that didn’t need subsequent seasons. My favorite thing about ST is the hilariously spot-on portrayal of teenagers and the amazing acting that accomplishes it. I love me some teen dramas, but working with the age group has me hyperaware that they are almost never portrayed as a day younger than 19 and always by actors older than that. ST breaks the mold with its nerdy 80s middle schoolers and unique sci-fi plot… in the first season. Unlike many, I never felt that ST needed a second, and definitely not a third, season. I didn’t need to be introduced to Billy and Max, who completely lifted out of the story. I didn’t need the audience-pandering reveal of a Steve who’s scooping ice cream and a Jonathan with a successful career, when the opposite is totally what would have happened, considering Steve’s privilege and charm and Johnathan’s poverty and general creepiness. I didn’t need a love story between the single mom and the drunken, incompetent chief of police. I didn’t need to watch Genius Elle stumble over the English language for three years. I didn’t need to see Mike’s mom become a cheating whore. Mostly, I didn’t need all of the sci-fi plot explained, in detail, ultimately removing any and all mystery from the storyline. Sometimes, less really is more and I don’t care if I’m entirely alone in saying that ST would have been far better as a miniseries with a dark and open ending.

Vampire Diaries: VD started off alright, for teen angst played by beautiful twenty-somethings, a favorite genre of mine. Admittedly, Ian Somerholder carried the show, only slightly aided when the original vampires arrived in season four, but it was still a fun watch… at first. My earliest problem with VD was that all affection for Elena dissipated by season three, seemingly a trope of vampire dramas, as Sookie Stackhouse suffered the same fate. It made for a rough watch when I loathed the main character everyone loved. VD didn’t even have True Blood’s handy backup of engaging support characters, either… just Damon and occasionally Caroline. As with most CW shows, Vampire Diaries’ greatest sin was that it went on far too long. Nina Dobrev (Elena) wasn’t even in the last two seasons and it wasn’t not the saving grace it sounds, because VD was the TV show that most obviously revealed it was never intended to be binged. I’ve never seen anything more redundant. Even reminding myself that the story was supposed to span eight years, I couldn’t get past the fact that every character died multiple times. I’m not exaggerating. A Google search reveals that the only character who didn’t die was Klaus, who left the show for his own spin-off. By season five, character death had zero impact, because supernatural loopholes would just allow for their return. After that, I wished for the ability to watch at double speed. At least True Blood had Alcide Herveaux.

Bewitched: At age nine, as my parents were growing less and less interested in me, TV was my best friend. Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer was the best thing ever and Bewitched night was my favorite. I suppose I just never grew out of my desire to live in a world with magic and Bewitched painted a picture of a grown-up existence where that was possible. On my rewatch, I realized the magic is still there. I still love the 60s aesthetic, even knowing the absolute hogwash that was the decade’s representation. I still wish Endora were my mother and consider her way ahead of her time. I still adore the shenanigans that came with a magical, meddling family. I just have one complaint: Darrin Stephens. Darrin was, at best, a bully with no redeeming qualities. Not only did he not allow Samantha to use her magic, due to his own insecurities, he insisted she hide who she truly was, because he was ashamed of her… unless he directly benefited. Their marriage was a wonderful representation of the oppression of the mid-century housewife. I’d like to think that someone magical and immortal was only with him as some form of social experiment. In my mind, 2021 Samantha is as young and hot as ever, raising her two magical children, her late husband nearly forgotten. This conclusion makes for a much better watch, because of all the shows I rewatched during the pandemic, I think this is one I’ll never outgrow.

Mad Men: I got Jake to watch the first episode of this one two years ago, only for him to rage quit, insisting Don Draper was a representation of how men can’t be successful and good. Not until recently could I convince him to try again, after explaining that Don isn’t supposed to be a hero and pointing out that if he can cheer for any of the characters in Game of Thrones, he can get off his soap box. So, I purchased the entire show on Vudu and I’m enjoying it more than I did the first time, as is Jake. Mad Men is generally one of those shows that gets better when you know the ending, as you recognize the growth of the characters through the years, in direct correlation to the shifting political and social times. Not only do I see the intention behind Don’s character changing according to what society thinks he’s supposed to be, but his older counterpart, Roger, goes through later stages of the same, even without a secret identity. In contrast, from episode one, we see Peggy’s battle with who she’s supposed to be and who she wants to be, while Betty and Joan cling to roles they were raised to fill… one with success and the other without. We even get to see how these dilemmas impact their children, growing up in such a volatile decade, all with astounding wit and impeccable taste. I’m definitely not sorry to own Mad Men.

The Office: Jake and I watched The Office for the first time, during the summer of 2019. When my manual laborer landed a promotion placing him in an office setting, though, I insisted we rewatch from episode one, so he could experience the business casual shenanigans in a new perspective. I bought the DVDs on Amazon and The Office has been even more enjoyable the second time. Originally, I found Jim to be somewhat spineless, pining for Pam for years without action, while seeing Pam as a bit cruel for stringing along both him and Roy. This time, I was able to better recognize the nuance, knowing how things ended up for the couple. Not only did the two work together, but Pam’s live-in fiancé also worked downstairs. There’s no scenario where she leaves her fiancé and dates her coworker and everyone is happy. I also figured out what exactly I don’t like about Pam and can get past it as a very human flaw: she is an utter doormat. While I could never relate to being that much of a pushover, that trait makes her transgressions a lot more forgivable. As for Michael, while I love Steve Carrell, I find him to be a much more abhorrent person than I first did. I place intentions higher than most and they still don’t carry that much weight. Holly was just as dorky, while being a much better person, and I’m a bit sad that she doesn’t get someone better.

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