How Sunday Night TV Helped Me Connect With My Teenage Daughter

For MDMA writer-director Angie Wang, The Affair and Sharp Objects have helped her see and discuss difficult topics in a new way.

I was out of control. As my fingers tapped out a series of nasty exchanges with my 19-year-old daughter Jade, I realized that this was about far more than her not doing the dishes. I was infuriated with her for devolving and engaging in some old behaviors. In short, I was pissed at her for being depressed. I managed to disengage and wipe the froth from around my mouth. I went to yoga and Shavasana-ed my ass off.

The next morning, I engaged in one of the rituals that keeps me from spiraling into complete psychosis: SoulCycle. As one of my favorite instructors shrieked positive affirmations above the blaring music, I wrinkled my nose a little with a sniff of superiority as I noticed a rider not keeping pace. They hadn’t earned that front-row seat! What was I doing relegated to the middle row? I was a front row rider! Then I realized that I was completely winded and unable to hold the intense cadence. Fuck me! How could that be? I give SoulCycle all my money! I rationalized that I was tired and had subscribed to the King Henry the Eighth diet over the weekend. “It happens, Ang, it’s just that easy to slip. It’s OK. You’ll get it back,” my little voice cooed soothingly. My kinder little voice speaks more softly than the self-loathing internal critic, but I’ve trained myself to look for her words.

My mind drifted back to my argument with Jade, and I had a sweaty revelation. She was fatigued also and had “slipped.” I thought of how difficult a road it had been for my baby girl, and how easy it is to fall back into old habits. We all do it. Hell, I was riding in the second fucking row. The thing is, with my girl, old habits include frightening self-harm and terrifying suicidal thinking.

I’m an avid TV watcher, love to binge-watch and immerse myself in different worlds. As Jade’s issues emerged and intensified, I became increasingly sensitive to portrayals of mental illness. I was dismayed by the sensationalism and hazy romanticism around self-harm and suicide. It was now Sunday night. Jade and I watch Sharp Objects together, and The Affair is a guilty pleasure of mine. I am known to watch each episode several times to catch every nuance.

Ruth Wilson as Alison in The Affair

I’ve been captivated and moved by the deep-dive into Alison’s character in The Affair. Here’s a woman who had lived through the worst hell on earth: the loss of her son. As the mother of a suicidal child, my body ached along with my heart at the thought of my baby perishing. Yup, Alison crashed around and made some mistakes. Yup, she cut herself and fucked a married man. She wreaked havoc in her life and the lives of those around her. But goddamn, if she didn’t manage to work her way through the darkness. She faced and conquered, or rather befriended her personal demons. She built a new life and found reasons to live … and then clung to them. She used her experiences to forge a stronger sense of self and purpose. She found ways to connect and give back to the world that had been so cruel to her. That is the real story. That kind of grit, tenacity and courage is a wonder to behold. The triumph of the human spirit in the face of horrific circumstances. When Alison was found dead, I wept like a baby. When they said she had committed suicide, my daughter asked me what I thought. I pondered, and said no, Alison wouldn’t abandon her daughter and the life she had so arduously created. I crowed triumphantly when we found out what her fate really was. Alison was dead, but not by her own hand. I watched as her ex-husband, who was still deeply in love with her, lashed out in pain. I saw enough of myself to realize that my anger at Jade was protecting the soft underbelly of fear and sadness that I’ve carried for years.

Amy Adams as Camille in Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects aired next. At first I found it ponderous, but now I buy whatever Amy Adams is selling. Her character Camille is so well-drawn and exquisitely played. This depiction of self-harm is gut-wrenching, not “cool” or “edgy.” I cringe as we get glimpses of her self-mutilated, otherwise beautiful body. The pain and the shame carved into her flesh is palpable, shrouded in her frumpy black clothing. My daughter recently sported new wounds and, watching Sharp Objects, she confessed to me that she didn’t want to “wear her damage on the outside” anymore. She regretted her actions, though they were familiar, like an old friend whose toxicity we’ve grown used to.

Angie Wang with her daughter, Jade.

It’s said that the health of a society can be gauged by the wellbeing of its youth. We have babies being thrown in cages at our borders. We have kids in Flint, Michigan, who don’t have clean water to drink. And our “cream of the crop,” our elite class, is falling prey to epidemic levels of anxiety, depression and suicide. Our young are killing themselves. WTF? We owe it to them to take a bracing collective look at ourselves and fortify our better angels to shout down our demons. Sharp Objects allowed my daughter a mirror to view herself through a different, but still authentic lens. The Affair offered me a glimpse of how my protective anger repels others. It also showed my daughter and me a woman who had battled her way through depression to face the light. When art reflects life but offers hope, models a way through the dark, this to me is the highest calling for us as artists.

The Dalai Lama said that “Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.” Amen to that. And long live good fucking TV.

Angie Wang is the writer-director of MDMA, an autobiographical ’80s crime drama starring Annie Q. and Francesca Eastwood, which is in theaters from September 14 through Shout! Factory. She was born in 1965 and holds a B.A. with a triple major in Economics, Political Science and Psychology from Rutgers University. She is a survivor of not only the 1980s, but also of Silicon Valley in the 1990s, where she became a successful entrepreneur after founding her own sales and recruiting firm there. Along the way, Wang also founded GROW, or Global Resiliency Outreach Work, which provides innovative programs to at-risk youth that foster emotional resiliency and broaden life perspective. She believes that film is the perfect medium to tell stories that entertain, inspire thought and shift perspective. She’s actively working on script for a thriller about a New York City cop with PTSD, and a number of other ideas she has for future projects.