I Saw the TV Glow: A Visceral Fever Dream

I Saw The TV Glow | Official Trailer HD | A24
I Saw The TV Glow | Official Trailer HD | A24 / A24

As someone who grew up in the 90s and has fond memories of all the television shows I binged during that time, Jane Schoenbrun's I Saw the TV Glow is very much a film that resonated with me. Though the feature focuses on a specific era, its themes are universally relatable. One doesn’t need to have grown up during the 90s to feel consumed by the film's powerfully poignant themes.

We all remember our awkward teen years, battling growing pains, acne, and identity formation. Our adolescence was brimming with change and, for many, a challenging period of isolation. After what felt like the longest school day, we could always rely on our favorite television shows to bring us comfort. Each 30-minute episode was a form of escapism, transporting us to another world that temporarily made us forget all our struggles and fears.

In I Saw the TV Glow, 7th grader Owen (Justice Smith), and 9th grader Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) are two lonely souls who attend the same high school. After Owen sees Maddy reading an episode guide of the show The Pink Opaque—which he recently saw advertised on television—Owen is even more intrigued by the program. Since the series airs after his bedtime, and his parents refuse to let him watch it, he invents a sleepover at his friend’s house. He then heads to Maddy’s residence for the evening to watch the show with her.

Throughout the years, the pair's passion for the series and their abusive upbringings create an unlikely bond between the two. However, as time progresses, the very television show that brought Owen and Maddy together skews their view of reality.

At face value, I Saw the TV Glow is a simple story about two teenagers who feel disconnected from society and share a love for the same television show, though it’s so much more than that. Though reminiscing can bring us joy, the film shows us how obsessing over the past can distort our reality, preventing us from living in the moment and wholeheartedly embracing the present. The feature reflects rosy retrospection, and our tendency to recall some memories in a much more favorable light than what may have been experienced.

I Saw the TV Glow also illustrates the devastating effects isolation can have on an individual’s mental health, especially when someone feels like an outcast because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or differing beliefs/values. Even if you haven’t experienced Owen and Maddy's struggles, you’ll be able to relate to the film’s themes of loneliness and the desire to belong on a personal level.

For Owen and Maddy, The Pink Opaque is a safe place, providing comfort from their difficult upbringings and feelings of severe loneliness. In this imaginary world, they can escape their challenging existence momentarily. In contrast, the feature reflects the dangers of overconsumption and a fixation on certain aspects of our lives, which can impact our relationships and mindset, while further alienating us from reality.

Smith and Lundy-Paine exquisitely embody the awkward experiences of an adolescent attempting to navigate an intimidating world full of uncertainty. Both Owen and Maddy experience the ill effects of abuse during their upbringings, leading to fear of judgment, isolation, and, for Maddy, a feeling of marginalization. They both find solace in The Pink Opaque, as it allows them to lose themselves in a fantastical realm. It’s an escape from reality where the rules of a mundane existence don’t apply.

Though I Saw the TV Glow is tough to watch, Schoenbrun's presentation of the material is truly stunning. The use of vibrant colors and breathtaking visuals engrosses you in the viewing experience, even though the subject matter is profoundly heavy. The feature also has an inebriating soundtrack that allows you to experience every emotion felt by each character on screen. In addition, the recreation of The Pink Opaque television show is highly effective. Reminiscent of popular 90s television shows such as Charmed, Roswell, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the film is a trip down nostalgia lane for those who grew up during that decade.

One thing I will say about I Saw the TV Glow, is that it won’t appeal to everyone. During my screening, some audience members were immersed in the experience, while others left the auditorium about halfway through. This film is going to be extremely divisive among the audience and will either leave you feeling completely disconnected from the material or captivated from the get-go. Thankfully, I fell into the latter category. In the days that followed, I couldn’t stop thinking about I Saw the TV Glow’s hard-hitting themes, and, as humans, our overwhelming universal desire to belong.

Although I Saw The TV Glow may be an uncomfortable watch, it’s tragically beautiful and utterly brilliant. If you’re expecting a straight horror film, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, the true terror in Schoenbrun ’s evocative narrative is depicted through the devastating effects of abuse, loneliness, and a sense of alienation from society.

Rating: 4/5