How do you decide what to watch?

First of all, let me clarify a couple of things.

By watch, I mean sitting or lying down to intently, purposefully watch a movie or TV show, ideally with the lights off or very low vs viewing with the TV on and your doing other activities like being on the computer (like I am now, TV on as background), doing chores, exercising, etc.

99.9% of what I watch is either Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) or Korean. None of which I understand, so I definitely need subtitles.

I’m OCD and once I discover someone or something, I’m compulsively driven to find more, ideally to completion of everything related.

One of the main ways I decide what to watch is admittedly entirely superficial. If I see a particularly attractive or entertaining actress (I’m a guy) on a TV show, series or movie, I’ll look up the movie or series she’s promoting, download (through various means) and watch it. I have dozens of complete series and all the movies featuring actresses that I’ve only seen once that I have to get around watching.

On a more cerebral level, there are actresses who are so outstanding in their performance, I seek out more of their work. One of the reasons I love Asian cinema is that usually both actresses and actors don’t confine themselves to a single genre. They may appear in a dramatic series for several months, then star in a completely comedic movie immediately after.

Then there are directors. Like actresses and actors, many Asian directors don’t limit themselves to a single genre. Once I see a movie I like or even don’t like, I’ll seek out the director’s other works as they may be completely different than what I first saw.

I decide based on other recommendations and reviews by people who share my taste. I definitely gravitate toward geek things, but I’m willing to try all kinds of stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily seek out on my own. Whenever my streaming services recommend something, it’s usually, “Oooh, let’s try that. I’ve heard it’s good.”

Word-of-mouth, basically. It’s a pretty good system.

As for what I actually end up watching, it runs the gamut. The best recent shows I’ve found are Fleabag, The Expanse, and Crazy-Ex Girlfriend. All recommended to me by someone else.

I was interested in your first comments because, I had recently mentioned to friends that I particularly enjoy watching foreign films/TV shows as, due to the subtitles, I have to do it without distraction.

I watch most English stuff with subtitles as well because I have never enjoyed hearing TV s played loudly. If I want to really listen to anything I use headphones.

As to how I pick them - methods much like yours. I watch a lot of documentaries. They only have to be about an interesting subject. And seeing a good movie can spark a chain of other movies, finding works by the same directors, musicians or actors. I recently started watching everything with Carey Mulligan in it after watching Never Let Me Go and Collateral.

I seldom watch anything without a jigsaw puzzle in front of me - except if the thing has subtitles or is especially involved.
We look at recommendations in the NY Times and from friends for current series. Due to lack of time I missed a lot of sf TV when I was working, so I have an internal list of what I want to see. I’m watching Babylon 5 and Red Dwarf now.
I also have books of short reviews of movies, and when I find an old movie that sounds interesting I jot it down and add it to my Netflix DVD queue. (These are almost never on streaming.)
We don’t watch many (like any) current network series.

Seems like every time I sit down in front of the TV I watch one of two things: the various offerings available on Netflix or the various offerings on Amazon Prime.

I don’t usually watch any actual shows; I just browse around through all the dreck, hoping.

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a series that I want to binge on. But lately, it seems like I have to force myself to get thru the first episode of something that looked interesting from the description, but turned out to be awful.

It’s pretty sad that I have so many streaming services available to me, yet I have such a terrible time finding something I want to watch. That’s why I’ve just let my husband control the clicker in the evening while I play mindless games on my tablet. Sudoku is more entertaining than most of what he chooses to watch.

I have categories:

Some shows I like to watch while I’m having a glass of wine (or two or three). These are shows that don’t require a whole lot of thinking on my part. So mainly sitcoms, talk shows, or action shows.

Some shows I watch on lazy days but no wine: These are usually shows that have a story arc over the season and require more of my attention due to the nuance involved with the story.

Some shows I like to fall asleep to. These are usually reruns I’ve seen a million times and know like the back of my hand. This way I can know what’s going on with out feeling compelled to look at the screen. Plus it’s cool when I fall asleep and find myself in the middle of a Star Trek episode as I start to dream.

Then there are my after work shows. These are usually the lower tiered shows. I like them well enough but they’re not my faves by any means.

There are certain categories of TV shows that I want to watch, but they’re usually long-runners, and there’s more to watch than time to watch.

For instance, I’m one of those few people to want to watch Star Trek: Discovery. I’ve only been able to watch the first season. I have seen none of the Expanse even though I like Battlestar Galactica, and each season I miss simply makes it harder to watch. I’ve bought or downloaded several movies, such as The Red Cliff, that I haven’t gotten around to watching. I joke that I’ll have to wait until I retire to watch all of those.

I don’t have a working TV but I don’t think this makes much of a difference, since I can watch almost anything online.

I actually find it easier to watch movies in theatres (outside of the pandemic, of course) because I have to force myself to make time to watch it. (Where I live, this is a PitA. Inevitably I cannot watch a movie right after work, and I don’t get home until late.)

I usually decide to try something after seeing a preview of it while watching something else. If it looks promising I’ll immediately find it on the guide and set it up to record, otherwise I’ll forget what channel, day and time it’s on. If it’s something I see on Netflix or Amazon I read the description and then if I’m still not sure if I want to dedicate any time to it, I go to IMDb and take a look at the ratings and reviews. Mediocre reviews won’t usually stop me, bad reviews will. Word of mouth is another reason I may tune in to something.

I also read the New York Times reviews of TV shows and will start watching new ones that get good reviews there. And I check other sites as well. And I also get recommendations from here on this board. (Like I watched The Repair Shop and Resident Alien after seeing threads about both here.)

But honestly, there’s just too damned much to watch. Before COVID, there were something like over 500 shows available across all platforms. Fortunately, though, I don’t have access to every channel or streaming service, so if that buzz-worthy new show isn’t on one I pay for (or is free), it’s not getting watched. Another source of shows to watch is anything any of the major broadcast or cable channels puts on the 9pm Sunday prestige slot.

My tastes are broad ranging and eclectic, with a particular attraction to the unconventional and challenging. We have every streaming service under the sun, and I try to keep up on what is new and acclaimed.

My partner, however, has very conventional tastes and recoils at anything else. They also control our viewing choices…

Dis-functional? Yes, deeply.


My husband and I only diverge in a few ways. He watched Downton Abbey, I thought it was boring. I like crime shows more than he does. Hard to think of much else. We have differing degrees of liking a thing (I like it, he loves it, or vice - versa) but rarely does one of us like something and the other hate it. So fortunately that doesn’t often factor into the decision about what to watch.

We see reviews in the New York Times, we hear them in Fresh Air podcasts, and we look at the combined critic’s ratings of Rotten Tomatoes. I’d say our tastes match about 90% of the time, so we’re fortunate that way.