With the advent and incredible popularity of things like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBOGo, and, well, less-than-legal sites, we now have basically unlimited content at our fingertips. Plus, we’re in college, and that typically means a lot more free time in which to view said content!
Therein a dangerous situation arises. When I approach a new-to-me television series, how should I proceed? Should I try to watch as much as I can as fast as I can, or should I try to pace myself, watching no more than two or three episodes in one sitting so as to savor the experience? My answer to this is that it depends on the show.
Let’s take a comedy series, like “The League.” I recently came back to this show after watching the first season and a half, and in the past two weeks, I’ve watched the subsequent three and a half seasons. I’d call that binge-watching.
I justify this for the following reasons:
1) There’s little-to-no depth. Because there are few if any “messages” to be taken from this show, it’s all kind of the same feel. I don’t have to adjust my emotions or really emote at all.
2) I can multitask. When I’m working on semi-mindless activities like sewing or cleaning, I like to have a show on in the background that doesn’t require much concentration. In fact, I’m watching it as I write this!
3) While the show is funny, it is, honestly, also kind of terrible. Although pretty hilarious, it doesn’t qualify, to me, as a truly intelligent, inventive comedy like, say, “Arrested Development” or “Community,” so if I miss something, I’m okay.
(Side note: I seriously love “The League,” so I’m not trying to offend anyone who likes it!)
What about another show? Let’s say you start watching the greatest drama series of all time, “The Wire.” We could also take any other significant drama, like “Breaking Bad” or “House of Cards.” In these cases, I can’t say “DO NOT BINGE!” loudly enough.
Now, before you disagree, let me explain my reasoning:
1) It has important ebb and flow. If it’s truly an excellent show, each episode is well-crafted, and intentionally so. It might have a central theme or a certain feel.
To pick up on this precision, I don’t think you can watch six in a row and still get it. Beyond that, pacing is important in any extended work of art. If you consume it all in one go, your digestion of the content will not be as satisfying.
2) It requires thought. If you’re watching “The Wire,” for example, you can’t look away for a second. You can’t miss a line of dialogue. Important revelations might come in the form of a muttered side remark or in one silent shot. All the pieces matter.
3) Emoooootions. Great dramas try to make you FEEL something. How can you feel everything they want you to feel if you’re cramming eight episodes into one night? How can you feel the full emotional weight of the death of an important character if you keep watching for three more episodes?
The episodes will run together. As a result, a truly great episode won’t stand out in your memory.
So, OK, I’m revealing myself to be a bit of a purist. But lest you think I’m a scold, allow me to clarify; I love television! I think we should all watch it! I just think there are some shows to binge on, and others with which you need to pace yourself.
So, work your way through the easy shows as fast as you like. Do yourself a favor and respect the great and difficult shows; if you do, you’ll be the one reaping the rewards.