Spring Renewal Is Out. It’s All About Fall TV Energy.


In a new monthly column for ELLE, R. Eric Thomas sounds off on all things culture. Find out what to read, watch, listen to, and exhaustively talk about right here.

I can’t wait to tell my grandkids about how we had to wait all summer for new TV. I don’t have grandkids, or kids, so I’m unsure how this will occur, but I’ve never been beholden to the tyranny of reality. I was, however, beholden to the agony and ecstasy of the old TV schedule. New content would end mid-May, and the TV would tell you to “Go outside! Find a pool! Cultivate a personality!” Tough love. Ah, but then fall would roll around, the TV Guide would debut its supersize Fall Preview issue, and the channels would be filled with NCISes in a variety of cities, townships, and unincorporated lands.

Nowadays, TV comes at you all kinds of way at all times of the year. Late last winter and into spring, largely due to COVID delays in production, we saw a huge wave of new shows and new seasons just as the traditional TV season would have been winding down. Fan favorites like Barry, The Flight Attendant, and Hacks were jockeying for attention with new fair like Abbott Elementary, Heartstopper, and Severance. It was a lot and I entered the summer months a little discombobulated. Was TV season over? Was it just beginning?

I know that beyond the TV and school schedules, fall is not typically the time we think of for starting something new. But, as I will soon tell my grandkids, I think that’s incorrect. I’ve had it with the tyranny of spring renewal. When the winter months wind down, everything from the natural world to our own internal drive is supposed to be infused with a fresh energy, a verve, a drive to create out of the darkness and barrenness of the coldest season. I think idea this is propaganda—a disinformation campaign put out by Big Plant.

Yes, I love that first day when you can leave the house without a coat or drive around with your windows down. Of course I do; I’m not a monster. But I just don’t think that spring is the logical time for beginning again. It just seems that spring isn’t ready for me and all my “this time will be different” energy. I’m supposed to be starting over, blooming, blossoming, reinventing, and I don’t even have a base tan yet? Seems impractical. Spring shows up and is like “dust your shelves, idiot. Get serious about your resolutions. Be a different person!” Meanwhile, the sun is still going down at about 2:45 P.M. and it’s raining all the time. Tend to your own house, spring.

I’m supposed to be starting over, blooming, blossoming, reinventing, and I don’t even have a base tan yet?”

How am I supposed to see a new vision for my life when my eyes are swollen shut with allergies? Skittle me that. Spring wants to know why you’re not getting up early like you said you would and doing that little jogging thing and meanwhile every part of your respiratory system is broken and you keep googling “Seriously, all of this is just because the trees are having sex?” You become an arborical Puritan. Going up to ginko trees shouting, “Abstinence only!”

Fall is not blameless either, of course. It, too, is not a perfect season. (The only perfect seasons are whenever McDonald’s brings back the Monopoly game, the times when Jennifer Lawrence has a movie to promote, and Happy Honda Days.) Fall has its drawbacks—every plant is like “goodbye forever! I mean it!”; the temperature plays games, leaving you sweating through your chunky knit; bobbing for apples is abhorrent. But fall has always seemed to me a better launching pad for turning over a new leaf than any other season. Even if that leaf un feuille morte.

Think about the energy you bring into fall versus the energy you bring into spring. In an ideal summer, you’ve seen those you cared about, you’ve soaked up sun for hours and hours, you’ve dined under the stars. Maybe you’ve had fling. Something cute. Nothing lasting but no hard feelings. Maybe you’ll reconnect later. Who knows.

A carefree but charged “Who knows?” is the mascot of fall. That’s exactly the energy of that old Fall TV Guide, too. “Will you like a show about a psychic DJ who solves cold cases using remixes? Who knows!” This is the hopeful, wild energy we’re building right now.

As a pop culture addict and future young grandfather, the cadence of the TV season appeals to me at an emotional level and at a body rhythm level. TV, like school, launches as temperatures are dipping and leaves are death-dropping like contestants on Legendary, inviting you inside to discover and change. Then, they end just as the smell of cut grass fills the air again and the days get longer, releasing you to your summers to recharge in the sun, like a crystal.

TV, like school, launches as temperatures are dipping and leaves are death-dropping like contestants on Legendary.”

For me, the one beacon of clarity was the announcement by ABC that stand-out throwback-y sitcom Abbott Elementary—Quinta Brunson’s bright, sharp, and smart mockumentary sitcom about a struggling Philadelphia public school—would be moving to a prestigious new night with new episodes in the fall, as God and some old network exec from the ’60s intended. Finally, some order in my chaotic viewing life!

I think that ache for the old rhythm—of TV, of school, of a renewal in this darkening seasons—is why Abbott so captured my attention last spring. And it’s why I’m so glad to have it back in my life this fall. Abbott follows an old model in structure, in joke frequency, and in broadcast. It airs on ABC with one new episode a week. It resists the binge model that many shows on streaming platforms employ, instead inviting viewers to come back weekly—same time, same place—to see the world of the school reset and the hijinks begin again. Although it feels so fresh and current, in some ways it’s also a pleasing kind of relic. In a tense spring, it was a balm. And now it’s one of the gifts of the fall.

There are times where it feels like we’re living in a perpetual “now,” where days blend together and even seasons don’t really have a defined shape. But what I look forward to every year, what I’m looking forward to this year, is that one perfect fall day that reminds me that the warmth is at my back, the natural world quiets down in anticipation, the TV gets good again, and—who knows?—maybe in some small part of my life I have the energy to start over.

A version of this article appears in the September 2022 issue of ELLE.

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