Review: I Saw the TV Glow


Pink lights, psychic bonds, a dead-end job. Burning TVs, sleeping on the basement floor, missing friends. Time passes you by, dragging on yet skipping entire years. Gender dysphoria, the disconnect between your body’s gendered appearance and your self-perception, is one of the major parts of being transgender. While not every trans person will face dysphoria, many of us do. And while many of us seek gender-affirming care, not everyone can or does.

I Saw The TV Glow | Official Trailer HD | A24

I Saw the TV Glow
Director: Jane Schoenbrun
Release Date: May 3, 2024
Rating: PG-13

Jane Schoenbrun’s sophomore feature film, I Saw the TV Glow, is a film about gender dysphoria. I have seen a lot of movies about dysphoria, sometimes made by transgender filmmakers but usually not. Regardless of who is behind (or in front) of the camera, these films often position gender dysphoria as something that must be overcome. Schoenbrun’s film takes a slightly different approach, proving that gender affirmation is both a life-saving necessity and also a way for us (as trans people) to relate to one another. To ignore or be denied one’s gender is to live in a static world, set adrift from both the self and the collective. Turn on the TV and watch it glow.

Like their debut feature film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, Jane Schoenbrun’s stories are layered with subtext that invites viewers to understand how queerness affects the psyche. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, a slow-burn horror, is focused on the malleability of one’s place in the world. Casey (Anna Cobb) participates in a creepypasta game and starts to believe that it’s real, changing the way she interacts with the world around her and causing a disconnect when she discovers it’s all simply a game.

In I Saw the TV Glow, Owen (Justice Smith) and his obsession with a network show The Pink Opaque affect the malleability of self. Both films blend the inner world of these characters (and their rapidly unwinding sense of self) with cult media around them. What Schoenbrun does here is unlike any other director: they reflect the dysphoria of their characters onto the audiences, creating levels of text and subtext that refract through music, genre, and ideas about media to cement their overarching message about the desire and fear to live authentically.

Owen and Maddy sit in front of the TV.

From A24.

I Saw the TV Glow’s story spans over years of Owen’s life. It opens with him as a seventh grader, with no real friends and a tense life at home. He’s introduced to the world of The Pink Opaque through high schooler Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine). Similar in style and content to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Pink Opaque depicts the psychic bond between Tara (Lindsey Jordan) and Isabel (Helena Howard) as they fight against big bad Mr. Melancholy and the array of bad guys he sends their way.

As Owen gets older and becomes a high schooler, the lines between reality and television start to blur for him and Maddy. The Pink Opaque turns into more than a mere form of escapism for the two teens – it becomes their lifeline and tether to their combined futures. Maddy attempts to convince Owen that the two of them must leave their small suburban town to find somewhere they might feel safer and fit in more, but Owen backs out and Maddy soon disappears.

Years continue to pass for Owen, who becomes increasingly distressed about the state of his static life. Maddy comes back, looking much more like Tara. In fact, Maddy is convinced that the two of them are truly Tara and Isabel from The Pink Opaque and that Owen needs to be buried alive like Isabel was at the end of The Pink Opaque’s finale to regain his heart. Again, Owen denies this accusation from Maddy. Afraid, alone, and unhappy with his life, I Saw the TV Glow ends with Owen having a public meltdown at his job and returning to his life.

An ice cream truck sits on an empty road.

From A24.

So how does gender fit into I Saw the TV Glow and why does this specific subtext make the movie both upsetting and horrifying (or, in some convoluted way, maybe even euphoric) for people like me? I think Schoenbrun’s ideas about gender and queerness are both personal and collective, allowing people under the umbrella term transgender to become uncomfortably related by the horror elements of their films. The unsettling nature of a suburban life, where assimilation to the hegemonic cisgender and heterosexual life is the norm, and deviance from this is perceived as a threat from the dominant society, and the pressures of family members to “fit in” are narrowed in through our relationship to media.

Growing up, I was immensely shaped by the media I became obsessed with. Entire blocks of my life are marked by my relationship with TV, books, music, and movies. I was desperate to see myself, or maybe to see something completely unlike the confusing world I lived in. I Saw the TV Glow is a manifestation of this feeling, where life sometimes feels less real than the plasticity of media. The scenes where Owen dresses up like Isabel, or Maddy comes back to town looking impossibly like Tara, reflect how sometimes it’s easier to simply be someone else rather than confront who you really are.

Jane Schoenbrun never uses the word transgender in I Saw the TV Glow, though queerness is explicitly discussed and gender becomes text throughout the film. Regardless, it is obvious that both Owen and Maddy are trans. The film’s ending, as bleak and unsettling as it is, reinforces the imminent danger trans people face in a world reluctant to accept gender variance. Maddy, who has undergone a radical journey of self-exploration, urges Owen to do the same. However, his fears prevent him from leaning in. He sits in the uncomfortableness of normality rather than face the free fall of acceptance and transition. There’s nothing he or I can do about it. Transitioning would save his life, as would fighting off Mr. Melancholy and freeing Isabel from her earthly grave.

The ice cream monster from The Pink Opaque.

From A24.

I Saw the TV Glow is one of those films that both transcends time and is deeply necessary for the specific moment we live in. As anti-queer and anti-trans laws and a moral panic sweep across America, trans art (and trans lives) are heavily debated with relativity to cis-gendered people. Jane Schoenbrun denies this pandering and instead focuses on their lived experiences and the real horrors that trans people face. Denying trans people the ability to transition socially or medically comes with catastrophic consequences, which Schoenbrun outlines in their film. 

Featuring one of the most memorable soundtracks in recent cinematic history, and bathed in a pink light, I Saw the TV Glow is a testament to cinematic plasticity. Schoenbrun’s ability to capture nostalgia through their story, sound, and visuals presents I Saw the TV Glow as both liberating and horrifying. Things can’t change unless we change, and the only way to avoid a repressed life is to lean into the strange world of the unknown. Seriously, go see this film.




Atmospheric and unsettling, I Saw the TV Glow is one of those films that will sit with you for a long time.

Sophia Schrock
Sophia (they/them) currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. They are passionate about queer cinema, horror, anything gothic, and their beloved cat Salem.