How ‘Finding Carter’ Became the Perfect Summer Hate-Watch

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When Finding Carter premiered earlier this month, my general reaction was an underwhelming “meh.” It featured a compelling premise about a teen girl who finds out she was kidnapped as a child and is then returned to her old (but new-to-her) family. But the pilot somehow took that story and made it utterly bland, bogged down with boring tropes and unnecessary drama. The episodes that follow, however, are a different story. No, Finding Carter is still not a good show, but somehow, over the course of four episodes, it’s become my go-to hate-watch of the summer.

“Hate-watch” is a tricky term, because it’s not truly something I do strictly out of hate. It’s more of an appreciation for utter ridiculousness or awfulness. Finding Carter‘s first episode ends in a way that’s very silly — with the title character’s kidnapper “mom” Lori disguising herself in Carter’s work uniform and easily slipping out of a yogurt shop that is literally surrounded by police officers looking for her. From there, it continues to go hilariously off the rails.

In keeping with the Rules of Teen Dramas, Finding Carter gets the drug-experimentation-gone-wrong plot out of the way in Episode 2. Carter does molly, kisses her crush Gabe in front of her twin sister who likes him too — and her dopey-eyed ex-boyfriend. Her angry sister tells Carter that everything was better when the family thought she was dead; Carter responds by dropping to the floor, convulsing, and ending up in a hospital.

In the next episode, Carter has a meet-cute with a juvenile delinquent named Crash (Crash!) at a police station where her mother is a cop, and it turns out he’s the one who provided the drugs. But he’s cute, so Carter doesn’t care! Gabe, obviously jealous, actually utters the lines, “Carter just got out of the hospital. She had a blackout seizure from some of your ratchet molly.” A writers’ room sat down to think about how teenagers talk, came up with the phrase “ratchet molly,” and just went with it. Later in the episode, Crash goes to dinner at Carter’s house and proceeds to teach her little brother how to roll a joint. His defense? “The kid says he was 12!” and “Out there in the real world, this is considered a basic life skill.” Carter is also pissed but still furiously kisses him in front of her mother to prove some kind of point? It doesn’t make sense.

At one point in the series, Carter finds out that her mother Elizabeth is tracking her phone and reading her text messages. Her friends begin to send fake texts from burner phones (there is a high school student who just has a seemingly endless supply of these burners) “from” Lori, arranging to meet up with Carter in the food court. A worried Elizabeth shows up at the mall only to be confronted by a large group of students who all wave around giant foam middle fingers. It is one of the dumbest (and most heartless) things I’ve ever seen on TV. It’s unclear what the point of this is. Should we laugh at Elizabeth or feel sorry for her? Should we root for Carter to keep treating her mother like shit and run back to her kidnapper or should we loathe this terribly selfish teenager? Or should we just be confused that this entire scene is scored to “Cocaine” by FIDLAR?

There is awful, confusing stuff happening throughout all four episodes. Max, Carter’s ex, is invited to live with the family because Elizabeth wants him to date Carter again, I guess, but instead he falls for her sister. They exchange sad goodbyes when he goes back home, but then he returns about 15 minutes later, saying his mother gave him permission to just fuck off and live wherever he wants. In that same episode, a classmate paints a portrait of Carter as a bloody two-face, reminiscent of Gus Fring’s death, for no apparent reason. When Carter protests, the entire high school is suddenly covered with flyers of the painting. It’s crazy drama that comes out of nowhere, but by the end of the episode, they are best friends.

There is nothing in Finding Carter that makes any sense, unless the point is that we’re watching an entire family full of sociopaths. Carter is awful to everyone in her family, especially her twin sister and her mother, because she’s too attached to her kidnapper. Her mother is just as bad, following her every move, plotting revenge, and manipulating her kids’ personal lives (and sleeping with a fellow cop). Lori is stalking the family, planning how to get Carter back, and approaching her friends. At first, her father seems like the only normal person, but we soon learn that he’s planning to write a tell-all book about his daughter (even after she explicitly tells him not to) and has been secretly recording their family therapy sessions.

In short: Everyone on Finding Carter is an unlikable asshole. Every plot is patently absurd and every line of dialogue is straight out of an outdated teen-slang dictionary. There is nothing redeeming about the show, but it’s such a television trainwreck that I can’t stop watching it or tweeting about it or laughing about it. I hate it so much that I never want it to end.