The Pleasures and Pains of Binge Watching

This has become my true pleasure of late.  Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m obsessed.  I am amazed at the large selection of past TV shows that I’ve never heard of before, that were competing with other programs to held my interest when originally broadcast, or that I simply never got into at the time.  Add in the numerous new content offerings that are readily available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video and my watch-list is packed full.

I was binge watching shows I had saved on the DVR long before the term was even coined.  Since my wife and I do not always enjoy the same programs, I would save several episodes of Lost, Fringe, and Chuck on the DVR during their current seasons so I could sit down to watch when I had the TV to myself.  Since then, I have watched Twin Peaks, Supernatural and a couple of seasons of The X Files.  My wife and I have binge watched the first season of The Blacklist and The Killing.

I compare binge watching to reading a novel or collection of novels.  I’m not talking about when you settle in to catch up on reality programs.  I’m talking about taking in one or more full seasons of a drama or comedy.  As I have finally caught up to the current season of Supernatural (Yes, I have binge watched all 9 prior seasons over the past 2 months), I am now searching out my next streaming adventure.  I just fell into Supernatural from a Netflix recommendation, so finding a replacement that lives up to Supernatural’s standards or those of other shows I have loved might take some work.  I have put quite a bit of thought into what my favorite shows have in common that make them so enjoyable to me.  Like anyone who keeps returning to Agatha Christie books after searching high and low for a mystery that lives up to the standards she developed, I too am looking for the next Lost, Fringe or Supernatural.

To be a success in my eyes, I have put together the following keys to a thrilling binge watching adventure:

  • The overall concept needs to have a storyline that continues from episode to episode, season to season, building to a climax and leaving you hanging at each season finale.  Binge watching offers the advantage here – you don’t have to wait several months for the next season to begin to discover what happens next.
  • We need a long term relationship with the characters to feel truly connected to the show.  Essentially the same cast of characters should be included from episode to episode so we can root for those we like and root against the characters we don’t.  Sure, some of our favorite characters will need to die, but if they do, their deaths need to be worth it in the end.  As we hope our lives have meaning, the same is true for those characters who are lost.
  • As with any good novel, each and every scene should move the story forward, add suspense and work toward the ultimate ending the reader waits for until the very last page is turned.  Good episodic television will do the same with each episode acting as a chapter of a book, teasing the viewer/reader with new information which leads to the final reveal or intentionally down the wrong path.  This, I think, is why most reality TV is a big turn-off for me.  With most popular reality programs, each episode stands on its own, more like a short story than a novel.
  • There must be an end, or at least the expectation that the characters we love and have been rooting for will reach some type of closure for this part of their lives.  Lost, yes I know, there is a raging debate about the ending.  It may not be the ending the faithful viewers hoped for, but I will argue there is an end.  I recall my wife saying halfway through season 1, “If they end up to be dead from the beginning and the island is just purgatory, I am going to be so pissed.”  She barely made it through Season 2 and felt vindicated when I told her the end since she didn’t “waste” watching 4 more seasons to see the ending she had predicted.  I, on the other hand, absolutely loved the show so waste was never a term I used for my time spent watching, then rewatching (at least twice) all six seasons.  Supernatural, my current guilty pleasure, seems to have had several “ends” already.  Although I do not want the series to come to a close, I look forward to a time where the writers will find a way to wrap up all that has happened to the Winchester brothers.

As with any unexpected use of technology, I see the trend in binge watching as an important transition for television.  With more people cutting the cable and focusing on shows that they find important rather than “whatever happens to be on”, television executives will need to be more in tune with this new form of viewing.  Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have already embraced this method of viewing as they release entire seasons at once rather than one episode a week over the course of a season.  Sure, if we happen to binge watch an entire new season immediately after it debuts, we will need to wait several months or a year if and when a new season is produced.  If it catches our attention, most of us will certainly be back.

Another great thing about binge watching is that if it doesn’t grab my attention I can quickly move on to the next show.  But if I am hooked, I can wallow in pleasure watching episode after episode without having to wait a week or more for the story to continue. 

It seems like I have addressed mostly the pleasures, so if I must, here are the pains – I just spent about 150 hours watching Supernatural (probably why I haven’t posted much to this blog for well over a month).  I’m now way behind in my reading – the Kindle books are stacking up, so it’s a good thing they are essentially weightless.  I have a persistent itch to view another episode or start another show in my queue, but I really do have other things I need to do!  Now I’m worried that I may need to find a binge watching addiction support group soon.

Now for the real pain – I made it to the end of the 9th season of Supernatural earlier this week.  I am eager to start season 10, but since I didn’t even know the show existed until February of this year, I came late to the party so my DVR only includes the current season’s episodes 10 and forward.  Sure, I can get the first 9 episodes by buying them on iTunes, but since I don’t own any other episode, it seems like a waste to own this small sub-collection of episodes.  The withdrawal I’m feeling of not being able to see instantly what happens next is the real pain I’m feeling now.  Although I’m excited that Supernatural may continue for several more seasons, maybe for my binge watching guilty pleasures I should stick with shows that have reached their series finales.

I’d be interested to know your binge watching guilty pleasures since I need to fill some time until I can start watching Supernatural season 10.  If you don’t have any show suggestions, let me know if there are any other keys to a successful series are that make you come back for more.

One thought on “The Pleasures and Pains of Binge Watching

  1. Pingback: Is it Binge-Worthy? | Midlife Creativity

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