I didn’t expect it when the trailer for the third season of “Sex Education” showed up in my Youtube recommended feed. I didn’t expect the plunging feeling of longing and sadness that followed either.
The show had been a godsend during my freshman year of college, getting me through my first and only winter on the East Coast before I transferred to the University of Michigan. The connection also carried into my sophomore year at the University, as it was also a touchstone of friendship between myself and the group of friends I became close with when I arrived in Ann Arbor. And though a year had passed since the release of the show’s second season, when the long-anticipated third season was announced, I had immediately texted my friend group. I couldn’t wait to spend days and nights watching the season together.
But between the initial announcement and the trailer, my friend group fell apart. By now, the season has premiered and I still haven’t even watched the trailer.
While I don’t watch a ton of movies, I consume television and other forms of media far more than I’d like to admit. If you looked at any of my “continue watching” pages on any streaming platform, you’d see everything from “Kim’s Convenience” to “Outlander” to “Castlevania.” There are shows like “Schitt’s Creek” and “Peaky Blinders” that I’ve rewatched countless times in their entirety. There are even shows in Norwegian and Spanish sitting on my “to watch” list.
My tastes, when it comes to shows, vary drastically, which is why I use them as a way to connect with people. It’s very easy to talk to someone you hardly know when you both can quote every single line from a Jack Whitehall comedy special or make an obscure reference to “Travels with my Father.”
“What other comedians do you like?”
“Have you watched ‘Elder Millennial’?”
“Have you gotten to the second season of *insert any sitcom here* yet?”
Conversations spark and friendships ignite. To some people, this may seem incredibly natural — of course, that’s how you start a conversation — but when you’ve struggled with social anxiety and panic at the idea of speaking with other students in a class, good small talk topics feel like currency. And sometimes that’s someone referencing a show you just finished watching and being able to play off of their words.
In the fall of 2019, the Doc Marten-clad girl who helped me move into my residence hall after my parents left (with hardly more than a wave goodbye) texted me. It had been several weeks since move-in, and she and I, along with two other girls from our dorm, had become fast friends, sharing the intimate details of our personal lives as if we’d all been close for years.
One night she told me that she was having a panic attack — something both of us were intimately acquainted with. Both of our coping strategies typically consisted of distracting ourselves until they ended. So, I went to her room, and we put on the most distracting thing we could think of: an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a show we had collectively seen too many times to count. The plan was a success, and after this night, the remedy became a tradition. Any time either of us had a bad day, we’d go to one of our rooms, eat cookies and put on something familiar to watch.
But then the pandemic made it impossible to do such a thing. We were sent home and had to readjust to life without each other.
At the start, my group of friends tried our best to keep in contact. We had an ever-running group chat filled with dog photos and laments over our baking fails or rants about how our professors decided to assign us more work than usual because everything had gone virtual. A few nights we even tried a group FaceTime and I introduced them to my sisters. Those conversations tapered off, though, until the threads grew silent.
We all returned to campus the next fall, but something had changed. The girl who I’d seen through panic attacks and who’d seen me through depressive spirals hardly ever spoke to me anymore, and when she did it was short and clipped conversations.
Maybe we just grew apart. Maybe this was inevitable. Maybe it was how deeply rooted my religious trauma is and how she was a born-again believer. Maybe it was the fact that her family was wealthier than I could ever dream of being, and I finally couldn’t keep comparing myself to her. Whatever the case, there grew a rigid and lengthy distance between us. And though we tried to watch the last season of “Schitt’s Creek” together, we never made it past the third episode.
After several months of not speaking but not exactly disliking each other, I could keep going back to the shows we watched together. I tried to laugh at the jokes in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” the same way I once did. Now, thinking about the show at all makes me deflate a bit inside. I haven’t watched a comedy special in months, not when they were the first thing she and I bonded over. Now that that bond is gone, looking back at the connections and memories we shared over these shows only hurts.
I have not been able to bring myself back to “Schitt’s Creek,” and the very thought of watching an episode of it ever again makes me feel a little sick.
No one told me I could go to graduate school, not until I started doing research my junior year of college and my mentor told me that if I was even considering it, I should start thinking about writing a thesis. I very quickly realized that my linguistics major wasn’t going to get me as far as I wanted in life unless I pursued a higher degree. I knew I needed to find something I could write 30-ish pages on and actually be excited about.
Luckily, I quickly uncovered my topic of interest in the Mid-Atlantic/Trans-Atlantic accent, more particularly, modern representations of it. Think of all the characters in the first episode of “WandaVision,” or Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games.” Or, think about what became my main focus: Moira Rose in “Schitt’s Creek.” I had pages of analysis planned out in my head for Moira Rose, examining the way Catherine O’Hara seemed to mimic the high-class, most desirable, golden standard of speech from a bygone era while bringing an element of comedy to it. I had thought through the socio-linguistic implications of her dialectic patterns and what it said about speech standards in television today. I considered its comparison to the images of Old Hollywood.
I had it all planned out. But then the summer came and went, and a friendship fell apart, and the thought of objectively examining a piece of media that I had such an emotional connection to became something I simply couldn’t bring myself to do.
At a school like the University of Michigan, it’s not uncommon for students to put their academics ahead of their mental health — I’ve certainly done it. But this just wasn’t something I could justify. I wasn’t going to risk throwing myself into a depressive spiral over a paper. It just wasn’t worth it.
For now, “Schitt’s Creek” sits in my “watch again” tab in my Netflix account, along with so many other shows I once loved but now can never go back to. I’m too sentimental to delete them from my watch history — possibly for the same reasons I collect text messages.
When the “new episodes” notification came up for “Sex Education,” I wasn’t able to ignore the way it made my chest clench. It didn’t stop the impulse I felt to pick up my phone and text the friend I had once planned to watch it with.
And I don’t think I’ll ever watch these episodes.
In the same way,I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch the final seasons of “Peaky Blinders” when they are released because of the inside jokes I shared with my group of friends about that show. Even the idea of watching the last few episodes of “Lucifer” makes me feel uneasy because that was the first show my friends and I watched together after quarantine.
In the weeks since my circle of friends splintered, I’ve found myself gravitating more and more towards media that no one else I know watches. Movies I hold close to myself and tell nearly no one about out of fear they’ll uncover some part of me and judge me by the stories I love. I’ve discovered new TV shows that I watch by myself on weekends, silently enjoying the fan culture ever-present and easily accessible on social media. No one knows the kinds of music I listen to, or the books I read anymore — those I keep strictly to myself out of fear that connecting them to relationships could ruin them for me.
There is a value in sharing these kinds of media or forms of art with other people: It can establish an easy connection, a bridge in an otherwise awkward conversation. But maybe there’s also value in keeping it to ourselves; loving something because it is authentically ours, undiluted by the fragility of relationships around us.
Statement Columnist Mackenzie Hubbard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.