Topline: The agony and ecstasy of a good cringe-watch

Philosopher king Dawson Leery offers a surprising balm from feeling “stressy and depressy”

Hey folks! I’m Lito Howse, a freelance journalist and video producer at Xtra, and this is my first stint curating the newsletter! A bit about me: I’m a non-binary queer from Vancouver who lives in Toronto with my partner, our roommate and a 10-year-old dog named Maya. I have also lived with depression and anxiety since I was young and spent a lot of time isolating myself by choice, so I feel like I know a thing or two about running out the clock on a bad day, week or month with the help of trashy TV, fantastical video games and adorable dogs. As someone who makes the news, I sometimes find it necessary to take breaks from it, especially during the pandemic, so here’s how I do that.

But don’t take too much of a break 🙃; subscribe to Xtra Weekly to get the full newsletter experience—this “Topline” is just a sample.

What’s the buzz🐝

As winter drags on and the pandemic continues to force us to isolate, I’ve been thinking about how we choose to spend our ample free time. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression—or “stressy and depressy” as I like to call them—since I can remember. I prefer to steer clear of entertainment that challenges me emotionally because I don’t need another reason to cry. I have plenty of buds who are scrambling to discover new, well-written shows, and if you can manage that, go for it. Personally, I cried TWICE while watching My Octopus Teacher, which is just a documentary about some dude freediving daily and befriending a small octopus. So yes, I’m taking breaks from good shows to hate-watching a plethora of bad teen dramas from the ’90s and early aughts, with their terrible writing, awkward acting and problematic plots that have not aged well. 

What were we thinking 📺

Currently, my partner and I are cringe-watching the first season of Dawson’s Creek, and oh boy is it painful. I have a visceral response to onscreen awkward moments and react by turtling into the covers and partially covering my ears, as if hearing it at a lower decibel will make it more tolerable. As you can imagine, Dawson’s Creek makes me recoil frequently thanks to Dawson Leery’s painful lack of self-awareness and trite, often irrational theorizations about teen life amid longing stares and ample sexual tension. 

This show, like most in the genre and era, is problematic AF, so I strongly recommend watching it with a friend in your bubble or remotely using something like Teleparty so you can shout and scream at the screen when, for example, 15-year-old Pacey loses his virginity to his English teacher (HOW DID THIS SHOW SURVIVE SIX SEASONS?!?!). At least once an episode, a character will say something so truly absurd that it will live rent-free in your brain for days and make you feel like you could have done a much better job as a TV writer in the ’90s. Here are two examples (consider them my gift to you): 


Aside from revisiting terrible TV, my favourite part of the pandemic is seeing all the puppies. Everyone seems to have gotten a puppy two-to-eight months ago, and I am here for it. My partner and I experience genuine glee while pointing out cute puppies on walks with Maya. Our favourite puppy in the neighbourhood is a Newfoundland dog named Jolene. We can spot her a block away, and get embarrassingly excited when she lumbers toward us as we manically wave at her owner who is kind enough to stop and let us say hi to her. The owner doesn’t know it yet, but we’re playing the long game and by the end of the pandemic, we’re hoping to work up the courage to offer to pupsit Jolene if she and her family ever need it. It’s important to have goals, you know?

Something else that provides me joy (and the space to exert my frustration) are video games. I’m definitely not an online gamer; I prefer to stick to my offline solo campaigns and not embarrass myself in front of strangers. Currently, I’m playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, which, as you might have guessed, is about a creed of assassins and follows a fictional narrative of Vikings invading England in the ninth century. To my surprise, it actually has a bit of gender-fuckery built into the main character: Early-on in the story, you get to choose whether your character is a man or a woman, or if they randomly switch between the two depending on some feature in the story. It’s definitely not the non-binary/trans character I dream of seeing in a blockbuster game, but I’ll give them minor props. So far, I’ve also encountered a couple of large, butch mercenary dykes out getting theirs, and I wish them all the best.

So these are some things providing me with a bit of joy and escapism, which sometimes is all you can ask for when things get tough and you just need to make it to the next day. But since you can’t always rely on escapism—trust me, I’ve tried—here are some stories of people who are finding or creating spaces for their queer selves to exist in the real world and online.

Other Xtra news

👉 Check out the warming story of Nelson C.J, a Black queer man living in Nigeria, who writes about finding a safe space in his small bungalow apartment where he can be himself.

👉 For those who are less accustomed to hermiting and instead long for the days when we can venture to our local homo haunt, U.K. writer Jeremy Atherton Lin shares his experiences chronicling the history of the gay bars he’s visited.

👉 The internet is not just a place to fear embarrassing yourself at online gaming, it’s full of opportunities to create community—which is exactly what non-binary writer and editor Sam Moore did with their Instagram zine.

👉 Want more headlines? Subscribe to Xtra Weekly.


The executive editor promises me that there will be puppies in Xtra next week. Until then, here’s one of my favourite cry-faces 🔥😂…

Dawsons Creek Crying Dawson GIF by HULU

Lito Howse (they/them) is a queer and trans/non-binary identified videographer, editor and producer based in Toronto. They previously worked for the CBC where they wrote TV stories, edited and control room produced for News Network. They also produced videos for CBC Radio and wrote web articles for shows like The Current and As It Happens, among other roles. They speak English.

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