Holidays: 5th Column
Binge-Watching the Friendly Skies 4 Columns

We’ll be back with a regular 4Columns issue on September 7. Until then, please enjoy our fifth summer missive: an in-flight TV menu for your bingeing delight.

Cast of Billions. Image courtesy Showtime. Photo: James Minchin.

Long-haul air travel is for the most part a gruesome affair, what with the cramped quarters, the recycled air, and the ever-increasing delays. (Two-hour wait on the tarmac, anyone!) 4Columns editor-in-chief Margaret Sundell will be thrilled when she finally reaches her vacation destination: Venice and Rome. But getting there would be a totally different story if it weren’t for transatlantic travel’s silver lining—the suspended hours, set aside from daily life, to indulge in the sybaritic pleasure of binge-watching TV. Here’s what she’s downloaded for this summer’s trip:

Perhaps nothing is more binge-worthy than the shows we love to hate, and nothing falls more squarely into that category than Billions. Just finishing its third season, the series may have upped its game with the introduction of Asia Kate Dillon as financial wizard Taylor Mason, the first regular non-gender-binary character in a major TV show. But at its heart, Billions remains a heteronormative nighttime soap opera of insatiable ambition, greed, and corruption, starring two straight white men: Damian Lewis as hedge-fund kingpin Bobby Axelrod and Paul Giamatti as the US Attorney who’ll stop at nothing to take him down. In 4Columns, Alissa Quart mused on the particular attraction shows like Billions hold for viewers in these economically divided times, a subject she further elaborates in the chapter “The Rise of 1 Percent Television” from her new book, Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America.

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Season 2. Image courtesy Logo TV.

If shows we love to hate hold a special place in TV-watchers’ hearts, even better are the shows we simply love. High on this list is RuPaul’s Drag Race, which, over the past nine years, has blossomed into a franchise encompassing the follow-up series RuPaul’s All Star Drag Race, RuPaul’s annual DragCon, and multiple spin-offs like Untucked and Drag U. As Ed Halter observes, “to say that Drag Race has grown into a cherished institution since its inception in 2009 would be an understatement; perhaps the only precedent for its popularity among gay devotees would be the cult of Dynasty in the 1980s.” But the appeal of RuPaul and her racers transcends subculture. Halter astutely identifies one cause: Drag Race distills the quintessence of reality TV, from the dramas of its queens to the viciousness of their catfights. He also points to another reason just as—if not more—crucial: “Through the wisdom and diplomacy of Mama Ru, vigilantly working through the problems of her invented family, we’re in many ways given an image of the world we’d like to see, not to mention the benevolent mother figure we’d like to have run it.” If what one gains for the duration of an eight-hour flight is the free time to glimpse a vision of RuPaul’s utopian promise, it’s well worth giving up niceties like leg room.

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