Shows, a Sabbatical Story

I trace my love affair with TV to Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd.

Moonlighting ran from when I was 10 to 14, a time when I had a super small TV in my bedroom.  Before I even knew it was a thing, Moonlighting taught me to go all in on the will-they-or-won’t-they.  I can still remember – without any googling….

You can see how this might get lodged in a 13 year old’s brain.

I also remember the nights I’d decide to watch it – no DVR or catching-up-when-it-hits-netflix back then – without having finished my homework.  And the staying up way too late afterwards to slog through Grapes of Wrath or Spanish III vocab.

It’s a pattern I really never unlearned, despite today’s on-demand-culture. I’m still willing to sacrifice sleep and good sense for a good ‘shipping.  (I mean, I can basically attribute my whole marriage to another will-they-or-won’t-they story…but I suppose that’s another post entirely…..)

Which is to say, even when I’m not on sabbatical, I love shows.* But it’s only on sabbatical that I get to follow that love without guilt, and without (too much) lost sleep. 

My best guess is I watched about 22 shows in the last 14 weeks, some of them spanning multiple seasons.  I have a pretty-close cataloguing at the end of this post, but before that I want to highlight just 5 (ok, 6)- which I picked not only because they are shows I’d recommend to most anyone, but also because I think they do a good job of telling the story of my sabbatical.

  1. Better Call Saul – Carri was late to the Breaking Bad party – despite my urging, she kept getting stuck on how dark it all is, and how Walter is just such a selfish whiner. And, I mean, she’s not wrong.  But this last year she went all-in, and immediately dove into this pre-quel spinoff.  On the other hand, I’d resisted going any further into the dark world, and we role-reversed, and she was the one now constantly confused as to why I wouldn’t just give in and enjoy all this brilliance.  Sabbatical gave me the head space to finally imagine doing that, and I quickly realized what she’d been telling me: Saul is even better than Breaking Bad.  Dark in more tolerable ways, but still with characters just as problematic, yet even more lovable – making choices that have you cringing in advance for what will inevitably – maybe 3 or 5 episodes or even whole seasons later – lead to their ruin.  And still the acting, writing, and filming is just stunning.  Also, if you are like Carri and just cannot with Breaking Bad, I don’t think it matters.  I think it works on its own, and it’s just a bonus if you happen to already know the later-tragedies of these characters.

2. Pose – The whole of the first Season I was pinching myself that this show – about trans and gay folx of color in NYC in the late 80s and early 90s – exists on TV.  I loved (and cried through) every single episode – it even made me love Ryan Murphy again.  Which is why I was both obsessing over / dreading Season 2 – I figured there was no way to keep up all that brilliance.  But then, at least as far as I’ve watched, I was happily, fully, proven wrong.  The characters and stories remain fierce, and queer, and complicated, and beautiful.  The actors blow my mind.  Billy PorterMJ RodriguezIndya Moore.  I thought a lot during sabbatical about queer identity, and how queerness is (or is not) compatible with church life, and ministry.  I wrote some on queer relationships, and queer love (which hasn’t yet been ready for sharing), and what especially gets me about this show is how well it manages to get at the fragility and the fidelity of the queer community.  The family that is created by choice by those who know everyday of their lives – as Audre Lorde said – we were never meant to survive.  


3. Fleabag – About half-way through my sabbatical I got to spend some time with my friend Kelly Dignan, who was just a few weeks from concluding her ministry at the UU Church of Boulder.  Kelly and I get along for so many reasons, but one of those is our mutual drive and ambition, and our relentless work ethic.  Which is why it was especially fun to spend some time with her in the middle of my time-away, and a couple weeks from her quitting her job to leap into a great unknown.  We took a hike in the foothills of Boulder, marveled at the wildflowers, and each expressed a lot of gratitude for where we have been, and for the chance to re-group, and to make choices for our lives that are more fully aligned with our call – rather than a need to prove ourselves and our worth through our to-do lists.  While I was there, Kelly told me that of all the shows I could watch on sabbatical, I had to be sure to watch Fleabag.  I hadn’t heard of it, but came home and started immediately – and loved it. It’s a show about grief, and friendship, and family, and regret.  It’s witty, tragic (though, like the main character, it hides it well), funny, and smart.  And it’s a great length for such a powerful show.   The second season is a world unto itself, probably even better than the first.  Especially fun (and again, tragic) to watch as a clergy person who has spent a lot of time thinking about boundaries, intimacy, and power in the church.

4. Marcella / Broadchurch – I’m cheating a bit by putting these as one – but I watched them quickly and sequentially so I experienced them as all one.  I’m including them here because they represent my “British TV” phase of sabbatical.  They are – fair warning – extremely dark.  Especially season 2 of Marcella and pretty much all seasons of Broadchurch.  Still, the characters are so compelling – and it was so mesmerizing to live in the British police world for a while – how few guns they all have! How little worry there seems to be about their makeup, or love interests, or especially perfect looks by any of them, or tying up all the leads they threw our way.  I thought a lot about betrayal, and how we decide to believe what people tell us – even ourselves – during sabbatical – and these were themes played out in both of these shows.

5. Dear White People – Through my sabbatical I had the chance to participate in a series of conversations with community leaders and activisits from across Fort Collins (facilitaed by the Colorado Trust) – many of whom are people of color.  And in these conversations we talked a lot about who feels at home in our city, and why – and whose story is told when we talk about Fort Collins.  I’ve been wrestling with the questions of how change happens for our city, and if it’s even possible – and how to listen more, and support the leadership of those whose stories have not been told, or told as centrally.  I thought about all of this watching Dear White People – both seasons 2 & 3 – as the main character, Sam, moves out of sheer idealistic and righteous activism, into a more active heartbreak and disillusionment.  Especially in today’s polarized, social-media-fueled and white-supremacy-normalizing world – how do we confront and counter racism in ourselves, and in the world?  And how does real change happen? Does it? Bonus: one of my conversations this summer introduced me to the term “hotep,” and despite a shallow googling, I wasn’t quite getting it.  Until one of the episodes of Dear White People featured a dude getting called out as hotep, and it all became clear.


I toyed a lot over sabbatical with starting up a whole new blog just dedicated to reviews and recommendations of shows (with a splash of podcasts and music for variety). Afterall, Carri often tells me she can’t keep up with / remember every show I tell her she should watch – and also that recommending shows to watch is one of my love languages.  Which made me like: she sees me….

But I decided that one of my favorite things about shows is that they are almost always an experience entirely related to my own pleasure.  Without justification, explanation, or work product.  Hardly ever do shows translate well into sermons in any setting – but especially in a UU setting, there’s a longstanding too-good-for-TV orientation so it’s rare to find congregants – or even colleagues – who can speak this language with me.  If I was an avid book reader, I could more easily bring up the books I’d read (even fluffy novels find an easier conversation in after-church coffee time than the latest netflix binge).

Instead, shows are like my little mini-rebellion in the middle of life always oriented towards producing, and efficiency, outcomes, and utility.

We all need these things in our lives, these things we choose for no other purpose than joy, and relief, and the remembering of entirely other worlds, other stories than our own, and the ones we carry.

And it was this personal, private joy that was the story of my sabbatical.


Below you’ll find my full list of shows I watched (I think) from May through August  – feel free to ask me about any of them if you’re curious. Or tell me what you thought about something – though I don’t want to write (more than the occasional) blog posts about shows, I do love talking about them.

  1. Jessica Jones – Season 3
  2. Catastrophe – all Seasons
  3. Big Little Lies – Season 1 and half of Season 2
  4.  Workin’ Moms – Season 2
  5. Handmaid’s Tale – current Season
  6. Pose – current Season
  7. Dear White People – Seasons 2 and 3
  8.  Shrill – Season 1
  9. Better Caul Saul – all Seasons
  10. Younger – current Season
  11. Queer Eye – current Season
  12. Cooked – all episodes
  13. Marcella – all Seasons
  14. Broadchurch – all Seasons
  15. Bodyguard – Season 1
  16. Dead to Me – Season 1
  17. Bonding – Season 1
  18. Insatiable – Season 1
  19. Fleabag – all Seasons
  20. The Defenders – all episodes
  21. The OA – Season 2
  22. Pen15 – Season 1

*Since today, a lot of watching TV shows doesn’t happen on an actual TV, I’ve taken to just calling them simply “shows.”

About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley is relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy of pop culture (reflected in this blog by random posts on Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Scandal, Orphan Black, or the latest Marvel movie). She has an audacious ambition for the liberal church, believing in its capacity to transform lives and our world by way of hyper-local relationships and partnerships that inspire the unleashing of courageous love. She's all in on adrienne maree brown's emergent strategy, and finds solace in the trails in and around Fort Collins Colorado where she serves with the brilliant Rev. Sean Neil-Barron as one of the ministers of the Foothills Unitarian Church. She and her amazing partner of over 20 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (14) and Josef (12) who both relish and resent being PKs, and who keep her grounded, frustrated, inspired, and humbled, everyday. She is basically obsessed with her puppy, a large sized mutt, Charlie.
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1 Response to Shows, a Sabbatical Story

  1. Pingback: Telling the Stories of Sabbatical | Another Possibility

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