clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Spring TV Watchability Index

Have too many shows to watch right now? Presenting The Ringer’s foolproof system to what you should be watching, and in what order.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

How’s your DVR looking? Can you feel it expanding? Have you recently ignored it out of pure shame, only to turn on a random episode of The Voice? (You don’t even like The Voice! It’s in the middle of the season, and you have no attachment to any of the contestants! What are you getting out of this?!)

There is a lot of TV to watch: By Entertainment Weekly’s tally, 49 shows premiered or will premiere across network TV, cable, and streaming in the month of March alone. And it’s not like the good old days of 2006 when there was a clear delineation between worthwhile TV and crap. Most everything looks good and is well made now. On the surface, this seems like progress, but the wealth of choices—good choices—can have diminishing returns and leave you feeling lost and helpless as you resort to watching two strangers yell-sing “Because of You” while Kelly Clarkson sits in a spinning chair nearby.

We all need guidance; we all need help setting our priorities. Luckily, we have this formula that was crafted by The Ringer dot com (read: me) and approved by NASA (read: not really, but it’s that good) in 2017 that assists in determining which shows are the best and most essential to watching live. Last year, the formula, known as the Watchability Index, indicated that of 12 shows airing on Sundays, Big Little Lies was the most important show to see in real time. Weeks later, it aired an incredible season finale, then won basically every Emmy and Golden Globe possible, and now a second season costarring Meryl Streep is on the way. That’s all to say: The Watchability Index works. As a reminder (and in case you don’t click hyperlinks), here are the four factors the formula takes into account:

The Water-Cooler Score

This judges how many people are talking about a given show. No one actually huddles around water coolers anymore, but you get the idea: If a ton of people are talking about a show on Monday morning, it’s in your best interest to watch it live on Sunday night. The Water-Cooler Score is calculated using Google Trends’ “Interest Over Time” metric in relation to a replacement-level program. (For this batch of shows, E!’s The Royals was used as the replacement-level program.) If the show in question’s “Interest Over Time” is below replacement level, it receives a score of zero.

Spoiler-Alert Score

Similar to the Water-Cooler Score, this rating more specifically takes into account the presence of spoilers surrounding a show. Having something spoiled is terrible regardless of the show, but the truth is some shows rely more on mystery, and therefore demand to be watched in real time. The Spoiler-Alert Score is based on how many results Google finds for the search terms “[INSERT SHOW/SEASON HERE] ‘spoiler alert.’” That total number is then divided by 100, if for no other reason than because I didn’t want these total scores to be in the millions.

Quality

Is the show terrible? Then it’s probably fine to let it chill on your DVR for a few days. This number is determined by Metacritic , an unauthoritative measuring stick, but the best one we’ve got.

The “Too Real” Rating

As I wrote in 2017: “Everyday life is a lot right now; I think we can all agree on that. What that means for picking the perfect ... show now is that you want something that won’t remind you of the terrible push alert you just got.” If that was true last year, wow—it’s even truer now. The shows that allow for total escape are better viewing experiences in 2018. If you disagree, you are super intense and I do not want to meet you. Coming up with a show’s “Too Real” Rating is an admittedly inexact science, but you don’t want your show to score well in this category: Any points earned here will negatively affect the score.

Adding the first three scores and multiplying that number by the “Too Real” Rating gives you a Watchability Score.

The Watchability Index was applied to 17 relatively high-profile shows that premiered or will premiere between March 1 and April 3. The following data will guide you on which series to prioritize—the ones worth catching up on and/or tuning into live.

17. Alex, Inc.

Water-Cooler Score: 0.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 25.00
Quality: 48.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.95
Watchability Score: 69.35

On the one hand, I commend Zach Braff for taking note of the growing prevalence of podcasts. On the other hand, turning that observation into a network sitcom is a completely confounding choice. “You kids like podcasts—well check out this show that’s about a dad making them!” No one is hyped on Alex, Inc. nor is it very spoilable—it’s based on Alex Blumberg’s life and podcast StartUp, so the information’s pretty available. Feel free to let this languish on your DVR—or skip it altogether!

16. For the People

Water-Cooler Score: 0.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 30.30
Quality: 60.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.85
Watchability Score: 76.76

I have beef with For the People’s placement on this list, because I watched the first episode of this Shonda Rhimes lawyer drama and it’s everything you’d expect from the words “Shonda Rhimes lawyer drama.” Public defenders were finding themselves in melodramatically difficult situations (a minority attorney was tasked with defending a neo-Nazi), awesomely douchey private lawyers were saying things like “Crush her,” and bookish but cute female associates were sparking up romances with male associates who aren’t as good at the job but have really nice hair. But as we’ve covered, the Watchability Index does not lie. For the People is an entertaining show that you nonetheless do not have to prioritize. Keep in mind, however, that this is subject to change within the next month or so, once the recently premiered For the People has more episodes under its belt.

15. Trust

Water-Cooler Score: 84.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 0.86
Quality: 67.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.85
Watchability Score: 129.08

Trust, Danny Boyle’s FX series about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, has higher Water-Cooler and Quality scores than many of the shows in this crop, but the fact that it’s based on a true story—and that all of this was literally covered three months ago by the movie All the Money in the World—means it’s virtually unspoilable. You can safely stock up on Trust episodes and do a late-season binge, staying current instead on shows whose plots aren’t available on Wikipedia.

14. Barry

Water-Cooler Score: 49.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 39.70
Quality: 84.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.75
Watchability Score: 129.53

Shout-out to Bill Hader and his very well-reviewed show. Unfortunately, it has not quite caught on at the water cooler, but it’s new; give it some time to grow. In the meantime, you won’t be missing out on anything if you wait a few days to watch the latest Barry.

13. Splitting Up Together

Water-Cooler Score: 0.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 113.00
Quality: 54.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.80
Watchability Score: 133.60

Jenna Fischer’s return is, by most accounts, bad. It is also a show that centers on the dissolution of a marriage, which means that at times it may become more real than what you had in mind. Remember Jim and Pam, though? Classic.

12. Sneaky Pete

Water-Cooler Score: 13.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 163.00
Quality: 72.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.90
Watchability Score: 223.20

Amazon’s Sneaky Pete is a commendable and enticing show about a con man played by Giovanni Ribisi. Now in its second season, it is worth watching, but by no means is it essential.

11. Station 19

Water-Cooler Score: 0.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 234.00
Quality: 55.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.85
Watchability Score: 245.65

The combined Water-Cooler Score of Shonda Rhimes’s new shows, For the People and Station 19, is zero. How, Sway?! Rhimes doesn’t make shows that aren’t part of the zeitgeist. Maybe it’s too early. Maybe people aren’t standing around talking about For the People and Station 19—which, by the way, is a Grey’s Anatomy spin-off about a Seattle fire department; it’s Grey’s multiplied by Chicago Fire—because these things take time. Come back next spring, when these two shows have become must-see TV.

10. Roseanne

Water-Cooler Score: 24.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 317.00
Quality: 69.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.75
Watchability Score: 307.50

Here’s a rare case in which the Watchability Index is perhaps a bit behind the times. On Tuesday night, the reboot of the classic sitcom Roseanne was seen by over 18 million people. That is a lot of people—probably more than anyone expected! The conversation in the lead-up to Roseanne’s return was rather muted—hence the low Water-Cooler Score—but that will likely change now that the show is one of the most-watched on TV. It’s safe to assume that if we performed this exercise two weeks from now, Roseanne would be higher on the list. One thing working against Roseanne, however, is that it is a pointed, inherently political show centered on a matriarch who is a Trump supporter. Not only is the show a little too real, but the conversation surrounding it is probably one you’d do anything to avoid. Seriously, don’t search #Roseanne on Twitter.

9. Silicon Valley

Water-Cooler Score: 0.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 495.00
Quality: 73.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.65
Watchability Score: 369.20

It feels like forever ago that Silicon Valley was the toast of televised comedy, with its well-researched reflection of the tech industry and its intricately crafted fellatio jokes. Now in its fifth season—which premiered last Sunday—the HBO show is a less essential pleasure. It’s certainly one of the more critically acclaimed shows on this list, but you’re not going to miss out on much by skipping it. And most of its Spoiler-Alert Score is due to outlets still regarding T.J. Miller’s departure from the cast as a spoiler. Guess what, though? T.J. Miller isn’t on Silicon Valley anymore. There—now you can stow this show away on your DVR unafraid of letting the zeitgeist pass you and finding out a plot development that was covered last season.

8. The Americans

Water-Cooler Score: 3.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 1,420.00
Quality: 92.00
“Too Real” Rating: .30
Watchability Score: 454.50

It’s fitting that The Americans’ Water-Cooler Score is exactly 3.0, because I’m pretty sure exactly 3.0 people actually care about it. But no, no, seriously: The Americans is a high-level show, and because this is its last season, you definitely don’t want the plot spoiled for you. However, the validity of the previous sentence relies on the assumption that you care, which, unless you are one of those three aforementioned people, you probably don’t. (Also, don’t we get enough Russia shit in real life?)

7. The Good Fight

Water-Cooler Score: 0.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 557.00
Quality: 70.00
“Too Real” Rating: .80
Watchability Score: 501.60

If The Good Fight were on CBS instead of CBS All Access, it would easily be in the top five on this list. But since hardly anyone pays for CBS All Access, there isn’t much urgency surrounding it. And that’s a shame, because The Good Fight stars Christine Baranski, and according to The Ringer’s Alison Herman, the second season is “high-quality television with episodic rhythm.”

6. Jessica Jones

Water-Cooler Score: 33.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 757.00
Quality: 70.00
“Too Real” Rating: .70
Watchability Score: 602.00

With a back half that’s loaded with twists and surprises, the long-awaited second season of Jessica Jones is a minefield of spoilers. If you haven’t already been spoiled (the season hit Netflix on March 8), you better catch up now.

5. Billions

Water-Cooler Score: 11.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 692.00
Quality: 77.00
“Too Real” Rating: .80
Watchability Score: 624.00

Paul Giamatti getting spanked by Maggie Siff is something that must be experienced live, with the rest of this great nation. Also, a helpful tip: Feel free to adjust the Water-Cooler Score so that it better reflects the water cooler of your workplace/general environment. For example, in my case as a Ringer employee, I adjusted Billions’ Water-Cooler Score from 11 to 11,000.

4. The Terror

Water-Cooler Score: 0.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 587.00
Quality: 76.00
“Too Real” Rating: 1.00
Watchability Score: 663.00

In The Terror, a group of 1800s British Navy men are marooned in the Arctic Circle and terrorized by a monster from Inuit mythology. That right there is the definition of an escape show. It is also a show that demands live viewings, because Inuit monsters are always scarier if you don’t know they’re coming. Watch it weekly and get lost in the bliss of seeing old-timey men eat each other, and then get eaten.

3. Legion

Water-Cooler Score: 68.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 670.00
Quality: 82.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.90
Watchability Score: 738.00

Now here’s a show that people talk about … mostly because no one knows what’s happening. The buzz from Legion’s deliberately perplexing first season is apparently strong. The show returns on April 3; if you plan to watch it, do it live, because you will absolutely need a like-minded community to explain what you saw.

2. Rise

Water-Cooler Score: 65.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 975.00
Quality: 59.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.80
Watchability Score: 879.20

Wow. Apparently math really enjoys singing shows.

1. Atlanta

Water-Cooler Score: 11.00
Spoiler-Alert Score: 1,004.00
Quality: 97.00
“Too Real” Rating: 0.80
Watchability Score: 889.60

I would’ve expected Atlanta’s Water-Cooler Score to be higher, but the rest checks out. It is one of the best, if not the best, shows on TV right now—which explains the Quality score—and it demands to be seen in real time. How would the scene with Uncle Willy’s alligator from the end of the Season 2 premiere feel if you knew it was coming? How upset would you be if you heard Clark County’s Yoo-hoo jingle for the first time from a friend rather than from Clark County himself? Atlanta takes more risks and makes odder choices than most shows on TV—the only way to get its desired effect is to tune in when it premieres. This is the show you should be prioritizing above all the others. You might’ve already known that—but isn’t it nice to know that there’s math to back up your personal choices?