By Pete Barell
There’s something luxurious about being able to watch every episode of a TV show all at once. No restraints, you can watch it all in one sitting if you want to. And the popularity of binge-watching shows has become a marketing model: Netflix has taken to releasing shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” in seasonal blocks.
While I do appreciate this model for its convenience, I do have a special place in my heart for old-fashioned serialized television. To me, it’s like opening an advent calendar day by day, rather than caving and eating all of the chocolates at once. Every day or week there is something to look forward
to, and so it is more rewarding.
Let’s speak in hypotheticals here. You order a pizza. You’re pretty hungry, so you scarf down two, three, four, eight slices. As you sit on the couch, stuffed to oblivion, you can barely think about pizza let alone any type of food without feeling queasy. I think the same stands for television. There have been times where I’ve absolutely stuffed my head with “Family Guy,” “The Office,” “Hell on Wheels”… and then found myself sick of them.
My shows right now are: “The Walking Dead,” “The Knick,” “South Park,” “Last Man on Earth” and “Fargo.” Yes, a lot. Being a reader of the “Walking Dead” comics, I have perhaps a special appreciation for the process of waiting. In that interim week (or month for comics) before the next episode or issue, the anticipation builds.
The audience is allowed time to theorize, to make predictions and discuss the characters in a way that I believe befits the storytelling process as a whole. Some may think they’ve waited so long for this new season, waiting for each episode is just another inconvenience. And that argument is valid, but one can also consider the amount of effort and time that goes into creating a television show. Why compress months of hard work into one week of binge watching?
Take “Game of Thrones,” for example. The fantasy show on HBO features masterfully crafted set design, lighting and award-winning acting, which all takes a great amount of energy and time to perfect. This is a show that has so many twists and turns (cough, cough Red Wedding) that benefit from being released weekly. Fans can discuss the latest character deaths, analyze dialogue and symbolism– all very much like reading a book.
Original fans of the “Song of Ice and Fire” book series can attest to the joys and woes
of waiting years for George R. R. Martin to release the latest addition, with online communities devoted to digging up new ideas and discussing the story. To me, this measure of great passion and individual dedication to a story amplifies the experience and allows the audience to feel a deeper connection to the characters.
Finally, it’s important to consider the ritualistic nature of watching TV weekly. In my family, we make a point to watch certain shows as a unit. It’s a way of bonding. While some families may not do this, friends can. It is not unheard of for people to have viewing parties for TV shows, especially finales and premieres. I believe that there is a certain distinct value in it, one that doesn’t leave the viewer feeling like they’ve had a sugar crash when they’re done.