My Hate Watch Begins: On Angel, Hate-Watching, and the Irresistible Lure of Terrible Television

Why am I so compelled to watch this terrible show?
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For the last two months, I’ve been kind of stuck in my house due to a stress fracture. While I’m nursing the broken foot that’s kept me from doing a whole host of things I would rather be doing with my summer, I am playing Xbox and watching a lot of Netflix. This has brought me to a rare first in my long TV-watching career: I’m hate-watching my first show, and I kind of love it.

It should be noted and will come as no surprise to readers that I’m a big damn Joss Whedon fan, and thus, Angel has been on my ‘to watch’ list for years — one of those shows I always mean to but never quite get around to watching. When I started at a friend’s urging, it was long delayed, but no surprise. A few episodes in, however, I realized what was bugging me about the show: It’s pretty bad. Like, that’s-a-lot-of-David-Boreanaz-on-my-TV-screen bad. Also, other kinds of bad, but mostly that one.

It took a little longer for it too dawn on me that I’m hate-watching Angel. I’ve never really hate-watched anything before, and so I’m not sure I’m doing it right, but the way I’m watching the show speaks volumes, and it’s weird for me. I put an episode on mostly while doing something else — washing dishes, playing a video game, taking notes for a story. This is a really good way to get through two seasons and change of a show in about 10 days. I mean, yeah, being in a walking cast while it’s too hot to go outside helps, but I’m more than capable of doing so on my own volition.

The way I’m watching Angel, I’ve realized, is also the exact sort of thing one does near the end of a soured relationship. It’s that dinner you go out to where you’re checking your phone the whole time, not because you have anything worth looking at, but just to send the message that even though you’re there, you couldn’t give a shit. You’re so disengaged, you will literally pretend to have better shit to do than hang out with this person while you’re hanging out with them. That never works with people — they know you haven’t got better shit to do, because if you did, you’d be doing it — but it’s a spiteful, catty way to watch TV. It’s passive-aggressive television watching, which is a concept so ugly that I just spent five minutes trying to figure out anything else to call it. That’s how little I like what it says about me. But at the end of the day, there it is.

What bothers me most is not that I’m watching TV like this — don’t get me wrong, that does bother me — but that I can’t seem to stop myself, and I can’t figure out why? It’s not as if I don’t have other TV I could be watching. I’ve been meaning to finally watch BSG since finishing a rewatch of DS9 a few months ago. I’ve only got a couple weeks to get caught up on Breaking Bad. For God’s sake, I haven’t even finished the third season of Game of Thrones, and I still can’t pry myself away from watching Angel while sneering.

Over the past few years, I’ve broken myself of the habit of finishing books I don’t like. It’s something I’ve had to train myself to do, and I stand by it as something I’m proud of. For whatever reason, though, I can’t break away from this show, and I’m starting to think it’s because of the particular brand of bad it is. This is something I’ve discussed here before — that twilight zone a show can enter where it’s not quite quality and not quite camp. Whether a show like that can be compelling for me depends on how seriously it takes itself. It’s why I thoroughly enjoyed Hemlock Grove, but never quite got what people saw in Law & Order: SVU. And Angel isn’t good, but so far it makes no pretensions about being anything other than what it is. Well, the particularly bad and overwrought 2nd season Darla arc aside.

The intoxicating thing about Angel, though, is how little it demands of the viewer. Thanks to reliably predictable plots, I don’t even have to be listening most of the time to keep the thread of an episode. I’m not going to be asked to think or engage in anything. There will be a fight, then some wisecracks, then some brooding, followed by some wisecracks about brooding, then there’s a monster. Repeat for the span of a couple commercial breaks, and you’ve got an episode of Angel — any episode. And that’s not the most original thing in the world, but it is comforting.

I’m not saying Angel is the worst show. It has its moments, and the supporting cast is regularly a ton of fun, but overall, I don’t like it, and I’m definitely going to keep watching it anyway. Not only am I going to watch it, I am probably going to watch it all this month. I’m going to shotgun this show like a frosty PBR on Super Bowl morning (if you’ve never tried this pre-game ritual, I recommend it highly, as it sets a grand tone for the day) and I am going to ask myself why I’m doing it pretty much the whole time.

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