Is this draining your life of meaning?

Story highlights

  • There will be more than 400 scripted series on the so-called "small screen" in 2016
  • Gene Seymour: Is there any way that you can break your binge-watching habit?

Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN)Step away from the TV screen. Slowly. That's it. Now, put the remote down. You don't need that for a whi ...

Hey! Do I stutter? I said: Put! It! Down! You don't always need to take it into the kitchen or bathroom with you, OK? There. Keep walking back. You're fine. You're breathing. Feel your blood running through your veins? Nice, isn't it?
Gene Seymour
I'm here to help. If you're one of the many Americans who've picked up the habit of binge-watching TV, you've probably wondered if you've got a problem.
    All those hours that vanished in 2015. And now a whole new year to catch up on all the TV series you've been cramming into your frontal lobes in bunches. That's what's been making you crazed, isn't it? Sucking all your nights and weekends into a wormhole of lost time?
    Well, guess what? There's going to be even more of it in 2016. Don't stop breathing. Keep feeling the flow. I'll try to be brief.
    At last summer's annual confab of the nation's TV critics, this usually unflappable contingent of seen-it-all smarties had their collective breath taken away with the disclosure that there will likely be way more than 400 scripted series on the so-called "small screen" in 2016.
    That's correct: 400. Four-oh-oh. And that's for every delivery system now available whether broadcast, cable or digital.
    And this forecast didn't come from some Luddite Cassandra or cranky outlier who wants to bring back old-time radio. It was made by John Landgraf, president of FX Networks, which has provided some of the smartest, most groundbreaking and (hence) habit-forming cable series of this century, including "Justified," "Fargo," "Louie," "Sons of Anarchy" and "The Americans."
    "This is," Landgraf told his nonplused listeners, "too much television."
    I know what some of you are going to say: There's already too much TV! And you're right. The numbers back you up. In 2014, the number of scripted shows was at 376. As of last month, the number for 2016 is 409. So Landgraf was, if anything, ahead of himself.
    You could warm your hands on the notion that you didn't watch, and couldn't have watched that many shows in a year no matter how much it may have seemed you did as you blearily closed in on the last couple of episodes of, say, "Jessica Jones," "Orange Is the New Black" or "The Leftovers."
    Moreover, the law of averages would presume that there were more than a few gobblers (Season 2 of "True Detective," anyone?) that were worth passing up in that vast wasteland.
    But these are the salient facts: 1) There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, so many weeks in a year -- and so forth 2) There are still many hours, many seasons of quality programming -- or programming rumored to be of high quality, and therefore 3) You can't even try to keep up with everything that's good without something exploding, either your brain or your cloud. Or both. At the same time.
    The obvious option is to just give up. Suspend or decrease your cable access and rediscover the arcane joys of reading and listening to music in the evening. There are worse things you could do with the rest of your life than live your life as if it were 1939 and TV was something you could only find at the New York World's Fair.
    But suppose you don't want to do that? Is going into pop-culture hyperdrive the only alternative? Not necessarily.
    What I've been doing (and I used to watch this stuff for a living, so you know you're listening to a professional here) is being my own vice president for programming -- very much like the kind of folks who used to spend months in network boardrooms planning prime-time schedules for each night of the week.
    If you're of a certain age (and, if you've read this far, many of you aren't all that old), you remember when certain nights of the week meant that certain shows would always be on and you and your family planned your life accordingly.
    For instance: CBS, in its long, lustrous heyday, used to own Saturday nights: first with durable warhorses such as "Perry Mason" and "Gunsmoke" in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then in the 1970s with the glittering strand of classic sitcoms -- "All in the Family," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Bob Newhart Show" -- capped by "The Carol Burnett Show."
    Thursday nights for much of the 1980s and 1990s belonged to NBC's "must-see-TV" procession of sitcoms too numerous to mention.
    Seems like long ago, doesn't it? It was. But it doesn't have to be. Because you now have the power to program your own prime-time routine.
    Pace yourself. Say you've got a spare hour on Saturday with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Allow yourself a couple of episodes -- but no more -- of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (Netflix), the acclaimed Tina Fey-Robert Carlock-produced comedy about a recovering cult member reclaiming her life in New York City.
    If you need something longer and darker afterward as a contrast, you could watch one episode -- but no more -- of "The Knick" (Cinemax), the jolting, breathtaking and utterly graphic medical drama set in early 20th-century New York.
    Withhold the impulse to watch all of these episodes. They're not going anywhere and neither are you.
    Same rules apply to the award-winning "Transparent" (Amazon), a comedy-drama about a family coping with the discovery that its patriarch (Emmy winner Jeffrey Tambor) is transgender. Any night of the week is a good night for that series.
    And if you're nostalgic for some coarse, edgy, blue-collar comedy rooted in the Norman Lear tradition of "All in the Family" and "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," a new animated series -- "F Is for Family (Netflix), created by comedian Bill Burr -- is set in a suburban Massachusetts cul-de-sac circa 1973 and focuses on the cul-de-sac life of Frank Murphy, a short-fused, disillusioned baggage handler for a small airline who is promoted after his boss's head is shredded by a propeller. Burr, who drew from his childhood experiences for the show, provides Frank's voice, while Laura Dern does the voice for Frank's barely-holding-it-together wife, Sue.
    Sounds like a Friday family hour spot to me, doesn't it? Or even a Sunday night show to get revved up for the impending workweek. As long as you do it an episode at a time.
    Ration the amount of stored-up cable shows, and the 400-plus series number won't seem quite as daunting.
    Try it. Not only will your nights become less frantic, but you may discipline yourself into the notion of using a couple of those intervening hours to read a book sometime.
    I'm joking.
    No, I'm not.