Ever since my city, Paris, went into lockdown in mid-March, I’ve been waiting for my usual binge-watching urge to kick in. When anxiety flares, what’s more reliably numbing than a marathon of an engrossing show like You or The Crown? Hell, a government-mandated quarantine is the best excuse I’ve had—outside of a snowstorm, hangover, flu or breakup—to plant myself on the couch and stream episode after episode.
Instead, the opposite has happened, and I’ve become strangely uninterested in the shows that I normally obsess over. Trust me, I can binge-watch with the best of them: My husband and I spent January and February burning through all five seasons of Peaky Blinders; I devoured the latest season of Shrill within 48 hours; and polished off Love is Blind in the final week before the pandemic changed life as we know it.
But since then, there’s been a big downtick in the hours I log in front of the tube. I can barely get through a single episode of Better Call Saul or The Outsider after dinner without constantly checking my phone. By the end, I’m exhausted—ready to drag myself to bed with my Kindle by 10 PM. Losing myself in books is a little easier, but still sometimes feel like cold comfort in comparison to the balm they usually are.
Sounds like low-grade depression, right? Maybe, but it goes beyond that. Like most people, I’m steadily consuming a glut of coronavirus-related news, so you’d think distraction in the form of unrelated entertainment would be just what the doctor ordered. And sure, it helps to lose myself momentarily in great acting and screenwriting. But ultimately, the shows I normally love feel like a vestige of a world we’ve already lost. They’re a reminder of a time—so recent, yet so distant-feeling—when family tear-jerkers like This Is Us or sci-fi thrillers like Westworld were enough to transport me from the problems of everyday life. They’re not anymore.
I am deeply fortunate to be healthy and safe, sheltering in place, with access to necessities like food and clean water and privileges like TV, movies, and books. Losing interest in TV hardly qualifies as a problem in regular life, let alone during this crisis. Still, it’s a noteworthy shift, even if I suspect that my appetite for great shows will eventually return. (The suburban-slick drama of Little Fires Everywhere, an adaptation of a novel I enjoyed, recently held my attention for a full episode, and I’m looking forward to new seasons of Insecure and Ozark, two favorite shows.)
Yet as we watch the global death toll rise each day, it’s clear that the pandemic has thrown our new world, in all its horror and beauty, into stark relief. Maybe it’s no wonder that I’m more captivated by the faces of friends and family on video calls than by actors on-screen; that I’m more spellbound by the stories of medical workers and everyday people undertaking countless daily acts of heroism than by the plots of fictional characters. It’s hard to lose yourself in even the best TV when reality has become this extraordinary.
Hannah Hickok is a Paris-based culture and lifestyle writer. Find more of her work at hannahleighhickok.com.