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I Saw the TV Glow is currently available for VOD rental (premium pricing) or purchase.



FEATURING: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman

PLOT: Two misfit teenagers become obsessed with a paranormal TV show, leading them into delusions that persist into adulthood.

Still from I saw the TV glow (2024)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Glossy yet staticky, ever-glowing with pinks and purples, I Saw the TV Glow broadcasts lo- and hi-fi visuals that always threaten to drift away into dreams and nightmares. Paired with its melancholy psychological depth and extreme narrative ambiguity, Schoenbrun‘s plucky hallucination is a clear contender for one of the weirdest low-budget, high-impact films of 2024.

COMMENTS: To sophisticated eyes, “The Pink Opaque” doesn’t seem too entrancing; but when you’re a teenage outcast yearning for an escape from reality, you cleave to any alternate reality you can. The fake TV show within the movie is about two teenage girls who communicate through a psychic bond; in each episode they fight a different “monster of the week” sent by the “big bad,” Mr. Melancholy, who is also the Man in the Moon. The show’s theatrical character designs are culled from “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” Nightbreed, and A Trip to the Moon, and the mythology and general vibe resemble “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or a juvenile version of “X-Files.” Or does it? Owen’s memory may be unreliable. The show’s stylistic characteristics aren’t stable, but get jumbled up in his mind. The series finale he remembers seeing—or maybe which Maddy only convinces him he saw—includes the main characters being drugged with amnesia-inducing “luna juice.” It has a much darker tone than the rest of the series, more indigo than pink and more murky than opaque. It seems highly unlikely the Young Adult Network would greenlight this disturbing ““-adjacent finale.

Owen is drawn to the program for several reasons, the most important of which is that he has trouble making, and keeping, friends, and Maddy is so obsessed with the show that she showers anyone who expresses the slightest interest in it with attention. “The Pink Opaque” also has a forbidden allure for Owen: it airs in the latest original programming slot on the Young Adult network, after his strictly-enforced bedtime, and his stern father disapproves of it, scoffing that it’s a “show for girls.” Sneaking over to Maddy’s house to watch it, or secretly watching the clandestine VHS copies Maddy leaves for him, is an adventure. Maddy’s attachment to “The Pink Opaque” is even unhealthier: although we are spared direct evidence, there’s a strong implication of abuse and neglect in her home life. The show is the most escapist form of escapism for her—that is, until she decides to actually run away from home, leaving a burning husk of a TV on the lawn in the wake of her disappearance. Coincidentally, “The Pink Opaque” is canceled when Maddy leaves town.

While the following paragraph may be spoiler-ish—so zip out of here if you wish to go in blind—it is likely you’ve already heard that I Saw the TV Glow is a metaphor for gender dysphoria. The allegory, however, is not too on-the-nose. If I didn’t know writer/director Schoenbrun was trans1, would I even pick it up? Given the clues scattered about, I think I probably would, but I can’t say for sure. Owen’s backstory is only revealed in hallucinations and hallucinatory flashbacks. All we really know is that he feels like he doesn’t fit in—that pervasive teenage affliction that, in his and Maddy’s cases, is simply more pathological than their peers. Meanwhile, the theme of the effect of media on vulnerable populations—which was also explored in Schoenbrun’s debut, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, wherein a similarly alienated teenage protagonist gets delusionally swept up in a viral Internet phenomenon—is more at the forefront. By the film’s end, imagery merging humans and TVs, reminiscent of Videodrome, reinforces the focus on pathological fandom in the face of pervasive media—but leaves a crack for Schoenbrun’s underlying metaphor to shine through.


“…a trippy experience about soothing teen angst and existential uncertainty with media… the narrative doesn’t always engage, and some choices feel broad or more like weird-for-weird’s-sake flourishes. Still, there’s enough here to applaud and consider for days afterward, particularly the raw performances by Smith and Lundy-Paine, who each have a magnetic screen presence.”–Brain Eggert, Deep Focus Review (contemporaneous)

  1. The original text of this review read “Shoenbrun was a trans woman.” Further research, inspired by a reader, showed that Schoenbrun does not specifically identify as a “trans woman.” Most common they refer to themselves as “nonbinary, using they/them pronouns.” However, in interviews Schoenbrun does identify as “trans” or “transfeminine,” though not specifically as a “trans woman.” Since “transness” is so essential to the movie’s theme, I have chosen to use the word “trans” here. ↩︎


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