Television Binging

People don’t watch television the same way they used to.  We buy whole seasons of shows on DVD, or on some cases whole series.  We have every episode of something streaming on Hulu or Netflix, and even while shows are actually being broadcast people complain if there are repeats or a week off with no new episodes.  We like to consume our television shows all at once, as if we were watching some movie dozens of hours long rather than individual episodes of a longer-running serialized program.  Even when the shows themselves are not intended to be one overarching story, we still sit and watch 6 episodes of Seinfeld in a row and totally immerse ourselves in that world.

The other day my wife sent me this article, explaining exactly why, in that author’s opinion, this is not a good thing.  It was especially funny to us because, having just recently finished watching every episode of 30 Rock in a row, we had moved on Breaking Bad, the very show the author was pointing at and telling us not to binge on.  I read the article having just watched 4 episodes of Breaking Bad in a row, and it made me feel kind of guilty.

The main crux of the article, if you don’t care to read it, is that when people create these shows they are created with the goal of each episode standing alone, and sometimes half the fun of these shows is how engaged your mind gets in trying to process or figure out what you have just seen in between episodes.  It brought to mind the time I watched the entire first season of Lost on DVD and then had to agonizingly wait between episodes and seasons for the mysteries and secrets to unravel.  That week in which I watched the whole first season was glorious, but it is also true that I spent so much time thinking about the show, posting on message boards, creating excel spreadsheets, and otherwise obsessing about what the heck the island was, that I had a totally different, and equally wonderful, experience over the following five years.

I have thought a lot about this over the past couple of days.  I don’t want to diminish my viewing experience by cramming it all into my brain so fast that I can’t process it!  On the other hand, without the binging I might not have stuck with some great shows.  My wife watched the Lost pilot originally and wasn’t into it, but a few episodes in, once we got our first John Locke episode, there was no possible way that this was not going to be my favorite show of all time.  We also watched the first episode or two of The Office when it came on and thought it was horrible.  We later sped through the first subpar season on DVD in an evening and were able to dive into the truly excellent season 2.  Actually the same thing happened with Parks and Recreation, arguably the funniest thing I am watching on actual TV right now.

When we started watching 30 Rock we had a similar problem.  We watched a few episodes on Netflix and I posted on Facebook, asking my friends when it actually got funny or good.  We had heard so many good things about it, but it was not holding our interest at all.  Thankfully we stuck with it and now we love it, thanks to binging.  So my revised advice is that binging is okay at the beginning.  I think if you want to spend a night or two blowing through episodes of something and really getting into it, that is only a good thing, but after that maybe it might be nice to slow it down.  If I had only watched one episode of Breaking Bad I might not have stuck around for more, but, having binged once, I am happy to watch them one or two at a time and let them really sink in now.  I’m hooked.  And who knows?  Maybe with this new system we could get a couple of shows going at once, but only watch one episode of each of them per night.  24, Weeds, Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men, now the question becomes: which shows to choose?

Posted in 30 Rock, Breaking Bad, Lost, Television.

One Comment

  1. Hi Ted– I really enjoyed your blog post about TV binging. It was insightful and personal, and it is the exact thing we are looking for at HuffPost Live. HuffPost Live is actually doing a segment on TV binging and we would love for you to be a guest. Please email me if interested. Thanks!

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