I Saw the TV Glow Is An Odd Nightmare of Nostalgia In The Video Era

I Saw the TV Glow still of Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) sitting beside each other.

I Saw the TV Glow takes the anxiety of identity, trans especially, and funnels it into a neon-shrouded nightmare of regret.

I Saw The TV Glow is the existential crisis of youth as they question the point. It’s both a tragic story and arguably a cry against the mindless drone and grind. Not to mention, the crucial struggle for identity as it uses a childhood series to show the unraveling of Owen and Maddy. Yet it nestles horror within the film’s suburban mundanity. Leaving it up to the audience to decide works in the movie’s favor, even if viewers see their own cycle and decry its familiarity reflected at them. I Saw the TV Glow is a creepypasta meets coming of age meets nostalgia and awareness whose impact will vary.

Written and directed by Jane Schoenbrun (We’re All Going to the World’s Fair), it’s a film immersed in a distorted, 90s essence. Life is often dull, bleak, and pointless. So, shows portraying scary elements as tv kids circumvent foes through magical, spiritual, and reality-bending means give respite. But the trouble with this escape is how often hindsight reimagines consumption, usually burying one’s self in a show. The degree of such can be so immersive that identity becomes elusive. It’s especially so when acknowledgment breeds repercussions from the close-minded brigade. I Saw the TV Glow delivers a message on the dangers of looking back while ignoring the now that breeds discontent. 

I Saw the TV Glow Shows the Lengthy Impact of Childhood Escapes

I Saw the TV Glow still of a creepy ice cream truck at night with pink smoke wafting from it.
Still from I Saw the TV Glow. Courtesy of A24.

With stylistic shots and awkwardly long stills or tortuously slow zoom-ins, I Saw the TV Glow belongs in A24’s cachet. Starting in 1996, a seventh-grade Owen (young Owen played by Ian Foreman, Exhibiting Forgiveness) meets ninth-grader Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine, Bombshell),  reading an episode guidebook to a series called The Pink Opaque. He’s there because his mother dragged him in to experience the presidential voting process. Here, the movie sets up the pangs of horror and emphasizes his reticence with growing up and his awkwardness. 

Maddy’s obsession with The Pink Opaque is apparent at the outset. At the start, she proclaims the lore too complex for the mere young adult label. Childhood books and shows’ influences remain long after childhood—look at Harry Potter stands. A danger comes when kids lose themselves in media, particularly when it prevents them from viewing present reality. After getting a chance to view the show at Maddy’s home, two years pass. Now, Owen (played by Justice Smith, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) watches the episodes at home as Maddy leaves him VHS recordings in the darkroom at school. Even though the pair rarely speak at school, both struggle to separate fiction from their life.

Performances Emphasize Hiding Through Media

I Saw the TV Glow still of Owen (Justice Smith) looking at the camera as a screen behind him says "Thank You for Watching."
I Saw the TV Glow still. Courtesy of A24.

Justice Smith’s mesmeric and vulnerable acting highlights Owen’s struggle as he conceals who he is in I Saw the TV Glow. As someone fighting their identity by retreating into a show, his expressions convey a depth of pain and fear. Brigette Lundy-Paine counters his pain as she gives off simmering anger with her pain. She tries to face things head-on, determining that she is Tara (Lindsey Jordan) in The Pink Opaque and Owen is Isabel (Helena Howard). Often, kids feel themselves reflected in their favorite show’s characters. The danger comes when that reality becomes the believed one. Overall, the cast gives memorable performances. 

I Saw the TV Glow takes the anxiety of identity, trans especially, and funnels it into a neon-shrouded nightmare of regret. Both Owen and Maddy sense something is amiss. Shows can cement the realization of being caged. But Maddy takes it to Inception levels to break out. Yet that feeling of death if one does not flee their home is frighteningly familiar.

Director Schoenbrun uses all the customary bits, like “monster of the week,” for her in-movie series, making it identifiable with many television series. As the magnetic pull becomes insurmountable, options like escape or conformity, like life, reverberate long past the moment the decision crystallizes. I Saw the TV Glow brings together the danger of nostalgia, hiding oneself in a favorite show, and a life half-lived, if at all. 

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