The Art of Bingewatching
I was the weird kid that disliked summer vacation.* To combat summer blues, I started a tradition of binge-watching TV watching that continues today. Summer of 2010, I developed a penchant for whiskey after soaking in 3 seasons of Mad Men. 2011, post MCATs, Community emptied my mind of organic chemistry and replaced it with meta pop culture references. I refilled my mind with chemistry after blazing through Breaking Bad summer of 2012. Also started throwing the word 'bitch' a lot. People were not amused.
Everyone is jumping on the binging bandwagon these days. According to a 2013 Harris Interactive Survey, nearly 80% of U.S. viewers use an alternate method of watching TV (in addition to watching when it airs). 62% of people who watch TV whenever they feel like it will watch multiple episodes back to back. Netflix has developed content made for TV addicts (House of Cards) and viewers are being encouraged to watch multiple episodes at a time. Hulu and Netflix automatically start playing the next episode. There’s research being done on dopamine release in your brain when clicking on the next button.
I was firmly in the binge-watching band camp until…Season 5 of Doctor Who. The start of the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. The one with the cool bow tie. I had an unexpected emotional reaction to this Doctor. After walking away from the episode, I realized I hadn't given myself enough time to mourn the end of the tenth doctor. Each doctor's ending felt like a break up, and I hadn't gotten over David Tennant and his marvelous way of enunciating "Allons-y". This was startling, and not pleasant.
Similar to a book hangover, a TV breakup is a real and unsettling phenomenon. You inadvertently use phrases or expressions from the show. You dream of Greendale or Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce. Most importantly, you miss hanging out with your friends, even when they were being total megalomaniac monsters. So. After several years, and dozens of TV shows later, I am officially giving up watching more than a couple of episodes a week. If that doesn't feel like much, remember that I’m the same girl who watched 11 seasons of Frasier in 7 weeks. This is progress.
Jim Pagels over at Slate wrote a great list of reasons you shouldn't miss binge watch TV. You can read it here. While I agree with most of his reasons, I will say the most meaningful one for me is reason 4. “TV characters should be a regular part of our lives, not someone we hang out with 24/7 for a few days and then never see again.”
I know I can’t stop the rush from instant gratification, so here’s my suggestion. Savor the good stuff. Watch one episode of The Sopranos and then switch over to shows that actually benefit from stuffing your mind grapes.
Built in repition, eg. Archer, Arrested Development. These shows are built on a foundation of character traits, excellent ensemble work, and bits that get funnier with repetition. The chicken dance is funny once, great twice, and goddamn genius the third time. Except for the new season. Do not binge on that! Same with Archer’s treatment of Wodehouse. (Except that’s sad, then sadder, then rapidly and bizarrely jumps to hilarious).
Brain Candy: We all have it. The show that shows up on the Netflix queue that you’re ashamed of in public but secretly love. Not so secretly, mine's Teen Wolf. Sometimes when the world gets you down, you just need to ogle some shirtless werewolf boys. You can be reading a magazine, checking your texts, and eating dinner all at the same time without missing what’s happening on screen.
Oldies & Goodies. Unlike Lost, you can watch Will & Grace out of order. I will still catch a few minutes of The Nanny when I'm up late at night, regardless of episode number. Anything that is or has ever been on Nick at Nite is fair game for a binge session.
I'm going to attempt to take Pagel's rule to heart. 24 hours before individual episodes and a couple of weeks before seasons. Maybe then I won't feel like I had my heart crushed by McNulty at the end of The Wire. Safe viewing and remember to stay hydrated.
* A: Hot
B. I miss the routine of school
**That’s the real reason end of school years were sad. It was also the end of the network TV season.