I have a “lunchtime membership” at a gym around the corner from the A.V. Club offices, which is a dressed-up way of saying that every month, I pay $100 (and then Univision reimburses me that $100 as part of a wellness policy that will hopefully one day be enshrined in a union contract) to take a break from staring at my computer screen for a little while to instead stare at my iPad while moving my arms and legs.
This should be a time when I disconnect from the never-ending stream of stimulus that is writing on the internet, but 30 minutes on a stationary bicycle or an elliptical machine are 30 minutes of rare, uninterrupted attention, a resource that cannot be squandered in the age of Peak TV. Back when broadcasters were still distributing episode screeners on DVD, this was an ideal time to get a head start on my never-ending to-watch list: Adding physical exertion to the act of watching Happyish and Emerald City only made those experiences more grueling, but it was during one of these ripped-screener sessions at the gym that I got my first look at The Good Place and Great News, and those were love at first sight—albeit sight through beads of sweat dripping down my forehead.
Figuring out what I do and don’t want to watch at the gym is a fine, imprecise science. In terms of length and tone, sitcoms almost always do the trick, which is why I’d hazard a guess that every TV that wasn’t tuned to cable news at my old gym was showing a Seinfeld or Friends rerun on TBS. The CW has a knack for producing compatible pairings for longer workouts, be it in the motivational momentum of The Flash or the heightened levels of energy in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane The Virgin. (As someone who’d like to listen to music while he exercises, but prefers to have something to look at, CEG is especially effective in this regard.) Matt Berry cavorting about as a theatrical cad in Toast Of London? Fits the bill. Berry teaming up with Rich Fulcher for the transatlantic gallows humor of Snuff Box? Not the proper tone.
There’s some degree of etiquette at play here, too: I watched all of The End Of The Fucking World while bouncing between the bike and elliptical, but its more salacious scenes usually had me glancing over my shoulder. This is an instance in my media diet where traditional broadcast standards and practices are beneficial, though even that isn’t guaranteed: I’ve definitely found myself scrubbing through steamy Good Wife moments lest some other gym member get the wrong impression about what I’m up to. I’ve only had one embarrassing interaction based on what I watch at the gym, and even then it wasn’t about the images on my screen but about how I was reacting to them: I must’ve cackled my way through the Biscuit Blitz episodes of Great News, because as I was leaving the gym that day, the gym manager stopped me to ask what I was watching that could’ve been that funny.
Red-faced though I may have been, I got a good recommendation out of the conversation: She mentioned that she’d been watching Schitt’s Creek on Netflix, an early indication that Eugene and Daniel Levy’s culture-clash comedy was beginning to slip the surly bonds of its out-of-the-way cable home and find its way into the streaming-driven conversation about the best shows you should be watching. I’m happy to add to that chorus of voices: What could’ve been a retread of Arrested Development’s scandal-making protagonists and penchant for double entendre turns out to be a comedy that’s less about punishing the formerly wealthy and perpetually out-of-touch Rose family (as played by the father-and-son creators alongside Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy) and more about their capacity for change. It’s surprisingly heartfelt for a show about a down-and-out family forced to move to the backwater they once purchased “as a joke,” with a cast that not only reunites SCTV and Christopher Guest alums Levy and O’Hara, but manages to work in a little Chris Elliott as well.
It’s also an ideal gym watch: engaging, entertaining, and something that I’d been meaning to get around to, but kept pushing aside for higher-priority programs. I can think of few things that feel more tailor-made for me than Catherine O’Hara playing a faded soap-opera star with a taste for dramatic headwear, and yet I still needed a period of captive viewing time defined by the limited span of what I could download to my tablet to finally dive into Schitt’s Creek. Could I have used the time to clear my head and rest my eyes? Sure, but then I might’ve missed out on this slice of roadside misunderstanding.