I Saw the TV Glow Review

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Growing up, did you ever stay up late to watch a scary show or movie that gave you a nightmare? I Saw the TV Glow is that nightmare, right down to making little sense. Even if you don’t understand it, I Saw the TV Glow will stick with you like a dream that lives rent-free in your subconscious. Behind the mystifying dialogue and plot points that seemingly don’t add up, there are deep-seated themes to unearth. The experience plays like a David Lynch film through an LGBTQIA+ lens. Straight and cisgender viewers might miss these parallels, but anyone who’s ever been forced to hide their sexual and/or gender identity will connect with Jane Schoenbrun’s film.

Young Owen, played by Ian Foreman, is a lonely seventh grader who lives under the thumb of his distant, controlling father. His parents won’t even let him stay up past 10:30 to watch The Pink Opaque, a supernatural teen drama. You can tell from the font used in the show’s credits that The Pink Opaque was inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy, even makes a cameo. The show’s monsters of the week strike a balance between the campiness of Buffy and the surreal nightmare fuel A24 is infamous for. Of course, this is from the perspective of a little kid. In reality, the monsters are closer to the ones you’d see on Power Rangers or Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

Nonetheless, Owen becomes obsessed with The Pink Opaque after meeting a fellow student named Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine). This being the 90s, Maddy tapes every episode of The Pink Opaque, which she lends to Owen. Fast-forward two years, Owen matures into the world’s oldest-looking ninth grader, played by Justice Smith. This significant growth spurt is one of the many creative choices that defy logic. For all the moments without an explanation in sight, one poignant scene gets to the root of what I Saw the TV Glows is all about. Sitting on the bleachers, Maddy discusses liking girls, asking Owen who he likes. Owen describes an internal emptiness, unable to put a label on it.

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While nothing is spelled out, the fact that Schoenbrun is trans, Lundy-Paine is non-binary, and Smith is queer leaves much to interpret. For many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, there’s a specific memory when they realize who they are. As reflected in The People’s Joker, it can often be a movie or TV show that marks a turning point. The Pink Opaque unleashes something within the repressed Owen, although it’s unclear even to him what it is. Rather than get to the root of what’s inside, Owen’s entire identity becomes wrapped in The Pink Opaque. Once the nostalgia goggles come off, Owen is left with nothing. Every day is like a nightmare that Owen desperately wants to wake up from, but it never ends.

Although certain scenes overflow with haunting, even profound imagery, others meander without much purpose. Even if Schoenbrun were to provide a breakdown of what every specific frame means, I Saw the TV Glows ultimately drags at 100 minutes. While the dialogue clearly isn’t aiming to sound natural, the script can still come out as awkward. The characters say the title, “The Pink Opaque,” so many times that it’s borderline comedic. The ending, in particular, could be described as anticlimactic, but even anticlimaxes are technically climaxes. I Saw the TV Glows just ends, making Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s conclusion look like a tidy package. Maybe this was the intention, especially given how The Pink Opaque wraps up, but it held me back from loving this film. Then again, since Owen may never feel complete, perhaps the ending’s abrupt nature is fitting, for better or worse.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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