Going to the movies or binge-watching TV can be fun, sure, but it’s also time-consuming, and quite possibly expensive too—and thanks to the wonders of the modern-day internet, it’s no longer necessary. You can get clued up on that killer twist, or super-emotional showdown, or scarcely believable character arc, via a web browser in minutes... and then talk about it like an expert.
Find out what happened on Wikipedia
There are quite a few proponents of this—including Rob Harvilla at The Ringer—and if you want to know the intricacies of a particular episode plot or the big reveal at the end of a movie then Wikipedia can help. It works well for the horror movies you’re too scared to see, or the seasons of a show you’re too busy to watch.
For example, The Sixth Sense isn’t necessarily worth sitting all the way through for just for the twist. Or, if you want to catch up with what happened in Game of Thrones season 7 before getting stuck into season 8, then this will work for that too—you can talk about the fall of Highgarden as if you were actually paying attention the first time.
You might be surprised at just how many shows and movies have detailed Wikipedia pages to their name—it’s not just the major ones. These pages also come in handy for making links between directors, actors and projects, but more on this later.
Catch up with episode recaps
This only works for TV shows, obviously, and only the big ones tend to get recaps, but you can quickly get caught up to speed on the seasons you’ve missed or the series that you just can’t bring yourself to sit down and finish. Unlike reviews, episode recaps usually include spoilers, so you get the full picture without actually seeing the picture.
Most of the entertainment and news sites out there run episode recaps that are worth your attention: Besides io9 and AV Club, you can also try Decider, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Vulture, or TV Line. A quick online search for recaps for the show you’re interested in should turn up a few interesting options, and don’t be afraid to search Tumblr as well—its not nearly as easy to find content via its search engine, but a search of a show, plus “recap” and “site:tumblr.com” should provide some solid results, or at least a vibrant set of fans eagerly dissecting the most recent episodes.
As well as coming in useful for when you’re not planning to watch something but still want to catch up with it, episode recaps can also help when you’ve got no clue about what you’ve just watched. In some cases they make a lot more sense than what’s on screen.
Watch the best bits on YouTube
If you don’t have the time, patience, or interest in a film’s subject matter to sit through all of it, you can very often still check out the editing highlights on YouTube—so you can check out an iconic plot twist or a classic fight scene or a memorable romantic encounter without sitting through all that other filler that gets added around the best bits.
Dig deep into YouTube and you can discover all kinds of channels dedicated to the art of recap and summary: The best bits of a particular character or character pairing, the most memorable lines through a show’s run, the theme tunes that everyone is singing... if you search for something, it’s usually there, whether on official or unofficial channels.
Want to be able to describe the very best moments of films and TV shows in detail, without ever having watched them in full? YouTube can help. And if YouTube doesn’t have what you’re after, you can usually find Tumblr GIFs to give you a flavor of something you haven’t actually watched—especially useful if you’re curious how a character might have died on The Walking Dead but don’t want to sit through all the undead cannibalism.
Connect the dots on IMDB
The Internet Movie Database, that bastion of early net culture and still going strong in 2019, is your most comprehensive resource for everything movie or TV related—and perfect for finding out what else a director directed, or a screenwriter wrote, or an actor starred in.
When it comes to wowing your friends with a deep knowledge of the works of a particular director, cinematographer, or even lighting technician, IMDB can help. On top of that you can dazzle acquaintances with bits of trivia or memorable quotes without ever having seen the film or TV show in question.
You can use IMDB to help settle debates about who starred in what with whom, when a certain actor first appeared on screen, how many awards a particular show or movie has to its name, and more besides.
Learn the craziest fan theories
If you want to come across as knowledgeable about something you’ve never watched, then you need to know about the craziest fan theories doing the rounds. The resources we’ve already mentioned can help, but a quick search on Reddit will in most cases bring you right up to speed.
Not every movie gets enough attention to have a subreddit dedicated to it of course, but forums, social media and episode recaps (don’t forget to check the comments) can usually fill in the blanks if there’s a particular fan theory you need to know about. In some cases, you’ll turn up a whole host of different takes.
Tumblr and Twitter are also good resources here too. The former will have extensive deep dives by fans, while Twitter may have a thorough discourse by the less obsessive. Searching can be difficult so focus on finding fans with larger followings and track their replies, you’re bound to turn up some interesting tid bits.
YouTube is another excellent place to find more fan theories than you’ll know what to do with. Once you’ve learned what the fan theories are, you can come up with an opinion on them to drop into your next conversation—or if you’re really daring, claim one of them as your own.
Tour the official site
Official sites for movies and TV shows often get overlooked by all but the most hardcore fans, but they can be invaluable treasure troves of information and content—spend a while clicking around the Star Wars site and you’ll soon feel like you’ve sat through all eight movies... (again?).
When it comes to faking an intimate knowledge of a TV show or movie without ever having watched it, the best that official sites have to offer are usually behind-the-scenes clips—you can often pick up useful tidbits of info or insights into filming here.
Oh and don’t forget the associated social media channels too—yet more resources you can turn to for deleted clips, behind-the-scenes looks, and other resources to help you quickly imbibe essential knowledge about whatever it is you haven’t watched.