Let’s take television a little slower…
Binge watching has now become a term that has broken into the public lexicon. Various media outlets love to hark on about it in relation to television and with the increasing popularity of services such as Netflix and their original content, that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black have both had an entire season’s worth of programming launched on the same day to be consumed in a binge marathon if the consumer so wants. Reports are that Chelsea Handler’s new Netflix Late Night Talk show is going to be released all in one batch too.
Binge watching is not going away and if you believe the media, everybody is doing it…
Well I’m not. Binge watching has never appealed to me. I can only take in a maximum of two episodes at a time of television (maybe more if it’s a twenty minute sitcom). If you are a binge watcher, I’m not going to sit here and lecture you on how your preferred method of consuming television is wrong but I am going to bring up some points for why you should consider watching television at a slower pace.
I have binge watched certain television shows in the past and one of the biggest problems I have with it is that the whole experience seems to blur into one giant lump of plot and character development rather than individual episodes. It means that you can lose appreciation of certain episodes. You can’t sit back and reflect upon a great episode of television because you’re already pressing buttons on your remote to jump to the next episode or Netflix has already begun the twelve second countdown to the next episode.
Because of this sudden rush to jump ahead to the next episode, the impact of cliffhangers is now muted. Take a show like Lost. No matter what your opinions on that show was, you can’t deny that it didn’t have some great cliffhangers sometimes. It was a show that loved to tease. Take the ending of the season three finale. That was a great moment that really pulled the rug from under your feet. Before you can even process it in your head the show has ended and gone to credits. But with the binge watcher’s ability to jump straight ahead to the season four premiere, that cliffhanger is now pretty much rendered null and is just another story beat to the viewer. 24 is another good example of a television show that loved a good cliffhanger to leave viewers on the edge of their seats.
One of the great joys of watching serialised television is watching characters grow and change throughout the show’s run. This process runs for several years while the show is on the air. However if you’re a binge watcher, then this process will be condensed down into a mere few weeks/months. Take a show like Mad Men. The beginning of Season One takes place in 1960, by the time the show ends next year, it will be 1969/1970. Over those ten years, every single character has grown. I think the best example may be Peggy Olsen. Viewers have followed her from being a meek secretary willing to sleep with her boss to get ahead, to becoming a more independent woman who rose through the ranks of Sterling Cooper and is now a leading copy chief who even got ahead of that same boss from 1960 and has earned the respect of her peers. Another great example is the character of Sally Draper who has literally grown in front of the audience. In the first season she was just a five year old who played with dolls and had a childish lisp. She is now fourteen and viewers have followed her as she has gone through puberty, her parents divorce and her fractured relationship with her mother. It’s kind of like Richard Linklater’s new film, Boyhood but in almost real time. This process however is lost upon binge viewers.
I have heard of some people who like to wait till a show has completely finished it’s run before getting into it and starting from the beginning. They don’t want the agony of having to wait a week between episodes and months between seasons. I love that wait between episodes/seasons. I’ll use Lost again to explain why. One of the fun parts of Lost was the fan theorising and examination that happened post show. Message boards such as that seen on the AV Club or reddit were alive with fans going frame by frame of each episode looking for clues as to what could be in store in future episodes and there was much fun in dissecting these various elements of episodes. Take the second season episode of Lost, ‘Lockedown’. Viewers were treated to a glimpse of a map painted in ultraviolet paint. What did it mean? Fans agonised over this for weeks and months on end…binge viewers however could just keep on watching to find out or even just look on the internet because the show has now ended. It’s like being presented with a crossword puzzle but rather than trying to solve it, you just skip to the answers to fill it in.
A final reason for watching shows as and when they are shown on television is so that you can become a part of that television show’s watching community. Not just to discuss the latest episode with your peers, but to help keep that show alive as well. A very recent example could be the military comedy, Enlisted, on FOX. It got great reviews from critics but unfortunately FOX felt the ratings could not justify the show continuing. In it’s final weeks, the creator of the show organised mass Twitter simulwatch’s with legions of fans all watching the same episode at the same time and tweeting about it to try and demonstrate to FOX that Enlisted was a show worth giving a damn about. The hash tag for these simulwatch’s was consistently on Twitter’s top trending topics but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. But there have been successful fan campaigns such as the one for Jericho and the fan campaign for Friday Night Lights. Which saw fans posting in light bulbs to the network to demonstrate FNL’s fan base. Community has been consistently on the cusp of cancellation since it’s debut but it’s rabid fan base has certainly played a part in keeping it alive. Even after NBC snuffed it recently, Yahoo still saw that there was a fan base for the show and commissioned a sixth season. These little shows that could (or could not) need as many fans as it can but when there are people who refuse to watch a show until it completes it’s tenure, these shows lose out on potential fans who can help keep them alive. Meanwhile Big Bang Theory gets ten seasons….yes I’m bitter about Enlisted getting cancelled!
Seriously though, you should watch Enlisted. It’s a marvellous little sitcom that is kind of like Stripes or Animal House. It’s got a great bunch of actors including Keith David who is fantastic. I know this article started off as a discussion on binge watching but I’m going to end it by telling you all to watch Enlisted because there’s a chance it too could be picked up by Yahoo!
Yes, that is a picture of Keith David in a milk bath. Yes this is a still from Enlisted