We all need to unplug sometimes.
For me, that usually means five nights in a tent in Maine in August, with my family, way too many mosquitoes, and absolutely no moving pictures. Between the sixth and seventh episodes of “Game of Thrones” that bracketed our recent vacation, I watched not a single minute of TV, ignoring the shows I’d at some point downloaded to my iPad in favor of kayaking, hiking, biking and reading.
I told myself I was escaping the often intellectually challenging entertainment that also happens to be my work. But when I got back, my DVR told a different story: I’d been on the loose for weeks. How else to explain that, beyond “Game of Thrones” — recorded so I could double-check details for my weekly reviews — the shows I’d been recording and usually watching within a day or two were BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” Freeform’s “The Bold Type,” TV Land’s “Younger,” and Bravo’s “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce?”
It was as though the equivalent of a “Sex and the City” marathon had taken control of my brain, even as episodes of Showtime’s “Twin Peaks” piled up, unwatched and unanalyzed.
And I couldn’t have been happier.
Because if there’s one thing I’d thought I’d lost in the 500-show universe of year-round TV, it’s the sense of TV as something that’s sometimes just meant to be fun, and of summer TV, in particular, as programming not meant to overtax the brain.
But in a year when “Game of Thrones” didn’t show up until mid-July and Lifetime’s escapist “Project Runway” was nowhere to be found until mid-August, I wasn’t always sure what season it was. All I know is that when the temperature outside reaches a certain point, my handle on Targaryen genealogy grows fuzzier.
And that’s when paying attention instead to fictional TV newswoman Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union) of “Being Mary Jane,” or Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), the fortysomething divorc?e masquerading as a millennial in “Younger,” seemed like a great idea. Their love lives may be absurdly complicated, but neither has yet come even close to sleeping with her brother (or her nephew).
It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the doings in Westeros so much as that writing about them every Sunday night had been cutting into my time with Issa (Issa Rae) on HBO’s “Insecure.” And if “The Bold Type” has offered me a little less escapism than might be expected from its glitzy promos, it’s only because it’s set in a media world I recognize a little too well.
Labor Day weekend wasn’t the absolute last gasp of summer TV. If real-life disasters on cable news haven’t spoiled your appetite for the scripted ones, CBS’s “Salvation” and “Zoo” aren’t quite finished saving the world.
So let’s hear it for television no one has to watch. If you’ve ever tuned in to a show just to be part of the conversation, you deserve a break.