Last weekend everyone with a pulse was watching House of Cards. By Saturday afternoon at least 80% of my Facebook and Twitter feeds were people posting about what food they were binging on while binge watching. And yes, at least half of those people also made a clever joke about binging and binging. Hours of fun.
Why wasn’t I joining them? I’ve tried to like it, I really have. And yes I think it has its moments. But spending the better part of my adult life so far working in and around politics, I guess I’m a bit too close to the subject matter for comfort. Some of House of Cards is so ridiculous I can’t watch it. And some of it hits so close to reality I can’t watch it. That combo means I’m very slowly slogging through. I finally finished season 2 earlier this week and rewarded myself by watching Arrow. I’ve never had to set up a reward system to watch supposedly good TV before, but it is what it is. I’ll get there, if only because I hate living in a world where everyone is talking about something and I’m left out. Apparently I’m still in middle school.
While taking a sanity break from forcing myself to watch over the weekend, I visited that ever dangerous place where Netflix recommends things to me. (Have I mentioned recently that Netflix has become my best friend? It’s a little bit sad, but a lot awesome.) I stumbled across Prison Break, a show I loved, at least for two seasons. Good call Netflix, you got me again.
I watched the first few episodes and immediately remembered why I loved it. I remember watching it and thinking it was one of the craziest and smartest plots I’d ever seen on TV. And it was so well done, again at least for 2 seasons. For me, the one problem Prison Break had was the complexity of the story. It was nearly impossible to remember what part of the escape plan was being worked on, or how it fit in with the other parts. I would have loved to watch it this way the first time around. (Of course it could have backfired and made it even more obvious how bad it got in the end, but whatever.)
I started thinking about other shows that might have fared better today, when binging is the way of the TV viewing world. Ultimately any show that likes to end every single episode with some level of cliffhanger benefits exponentially from the ability to just hit “Next Episode” rather than waiting a full week. You don’t have time to stop caring, or to start thinking about plot holes.
Unquestionably some shows are too intense for binge watching. I know I always needed a week off after an episode of Sons of Anarchy or Spartacus. But others would have thrived under this format. Lost is one that I think would have been a smoother ride today. All the weirdness and all the mystery might have been a little easier for people to swallow if they didn’t have to wait months to find out an explanation for the random tropical polar bear. Admittedly some of us who loved it thrived on the arguments and speculation between episodes, and even between seasons. But if they were looking to attract people who haven’t already bought into science fiction, I think presenting an entire season at once could have mined some new fans.
One of the best examples of the potential has to be 24. Imagine watching that clock count down 24 straight hours (or whatever portion of 24 hours it would actually end up being, I can’t even begin to pretend to know how to figure that out). And don’t lie to yourself, that’s exactly how you would have watched it. Started after work on a Friday, stayed up all night watching, and finished probably sometime midday Saturday, exhausted and happy. That’s the dream. A friend even told me that he and his friends used to wait to watch until a season came out on DVD and would rent the collection. They were binge watching before binge watching was a thing. Kudos!
I wonder at times how long the current system can last. How much longer will we continue to watch anything one episode at a time, knowing that there is another option? When I finally gave in a few months ago and watched Scandal for the first time, I flew through the first three seasons in about a week. I couldn’t get enough. I was so excited to be caught up and watch season four weekly with everyone else. But you know what? I lost interest when I had to wait a week between episodes. I currently have a couple of eps sitting on my DVR. I’ll probably watch them on a rainy Saturday at some point, but who knows. Other than avoiding spoilers, which is nearly impossible at this point anyway, there’s really no reason to watch anything when it airs now. It’s easier to just wait.
What do you think? Do you think binge watching is the way of the future, and that pretty soon we’ll be streaming everything we watch? And what shows do you wish you could have binged on the first time around?
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