New Year’s weekend was supposed to be a fun and exciting weekend. UK had a bowl game, it was week 17 of the NFL season, but the two things I looked forward to the most were the season premieres of Homeland and Sherlock. Well the UK game wasn’t all that great, week 17 was boring, and both premieres were just okay. That last part was really disappointing. Homeland was returning off it’s best season since Season One and Sherlock was returning after a near three-year hiatus (I’m not counting the one-off movie from last year). The expectations were high but at the end of both premieres I was simply left with an “eh, that was okay” feeling. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the problem I had wasn’t necessarily with the episodes in question, it was the fact that I was disappointed that I had to wait for the next episode. I realized that I have become addicted to binge watching.
I don’t remember much about May 23, 2010 but that was a day that I highly anticipated. That was the day of the series finale of Lost. The struggle of waiting week to week, season to season to get to the end of that show was real and there was a great deal of emotional investment in that final episode. Now I won’t get into whether that ending was good or bad, but the journey to that point is what made Lost (for me at least) one of my favorite shows ever. Fast forward six years later and I can’t hardly stand to wait a week between episodes. I only watch two shows now on an episodic basis: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Of those two GoT is the only one which seems worthy of the wait. TWD feels like a crawl from one big event to the next and that makes it difficult to enjoy at times. I watched the first two episodes of Westworld when they came on then decided to wait until the season ended and watched the rest. I have no regrets, that was an awesome way to watch that show.
My obsession with binging started back in 2012. When my wife and I got married we opted to not get a cable subscription and went with the Netflix/Hulu route. During the first couple of years I binged everything. Battlestar Galactica, X-Files, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Frasier, I couldn’t get enough of these shows. Then Netflix got Breaking Bad and I knew that I’d never be able to watch tv the same again. The thing about a tv series, especially dramas, is that we as viewers become invested in the journey of the characters and want to see how their stories end. Binge watching allows viewers to achieve that end sooner and get that fulfillment.
Binge watching is also incredibly convenient. How many times have you DVR’d a show with the intent of getting to it later in the week and then you realize that you’re four weeks behind because you never got around to watching that first episode four weeks ago? Thanks to things like DVR and Netflix it’s easy to get caught up on a show. Binge watching is especially convenient during sports seasons. Between UK games, the NFL, College Basketball/Football, and the NBA (with the occasional MLB game thrown in) it’s easy for shows to get cast aside for sports. Even if it’s only a season of a show, it’s as easy or easier to find a couple of afternoons to binge a show as opposed to carving out an hour each week to watch each episode individually.
Now as much as I like binging there is a definite drawback. Binging creates an insatiable thirst for more which can diminish the value of single episodes. Going back to the premieres I watched last weekend, both were okay. I’m confident that when placed in the context of the entire series their value will increase, but alone they were mediocre at best. Look at the last season of GoT and this current season of TWD. Both had strong starts but then lulls where you would think “this is setting up for something great later in the season”. Those episodes ended up delivering in GoT and the jury is still out on TWD. Every show does this though. There are lulls in the action and some episodes just aren’t that good compared to others. Binge watching helps eliminate this problem, but because of binge watching I can’t take Dr. Dre’s advice and just chill til the next episode. I have to keep moving on.
There are arguments for binging and for traditional episodic viewing. Watching a show like I watched Lost was a great experience and I loved the discussions I had with friends about the theories and trying to figure out what was going on. I’d say that the discussion aspect of watching week to week is the only thing I miss, but as I have developed a binge habit so have my friends. Instead of having one discussion a week about a show we’re having multiple discussions about more shows.
Ultimately whether you binge watch a show is a personal choice. For me, binge watching is like having super speed like The Flash. You get used to going so fast that when you try to do something at normal speed, like watch one episode each week, it feels super slow. Even when there is a great episode, like GoT’s “Battle of the Bastards”, I just want to get straight to the next episode. This is what binging will do to you and I felt it necessary for you to know the risks. It’s funny, who would’ve thought the Dawson’s Creek theme song would’ve been so ahead of its time when it comes to watching tv shows.