When you’re alone you can always go “Downton”: The transition to a binge watching culture
Last week, I watched a video by College Humor in which a couple discusses the pros and cons of starting “Breaking Bad,” much in the way a young couple would discuss the pros and cons of having a child.
This, along with the basis for one the “B.S. Report’s” Half-Baked Ideas, brought me back to an old relationship I had with a girl, coming out of college. She’s a year younger than me so we did the long distance thing for a while. Whenever I visited her for the weekend, we watched a couple of episodes of “Freaks and Geeks.” We broke up with episodes to spare. I had seen the show multiple times but one of my first thoughts after we ended was concern for how/if she would finish the series because it’s a pantheon show and her seeing it was more important than our relationship. It’s a wonder we aren’t still together.
I had a similar experience with an old roommate and THE pantheon show, “The Wire.” He had the second season on DVD despite not owning or having seen the first season. We agreed to watch the show together but we were in the process of moving out so I had to take matters in my own hands.I marathoned through the first season so I could do the same with his second season discs before we parted ways. I know this was insensitive and a display of a skewed priorities but there was no way he had the required dedication or endurance to finish in time. In case you’re wondering, we’re still good friends.
Netflix’s decision to release the entire first season of it’s new show, “House of Cards,” at once draws attention to the changes in the way we watch TV that began with the “24″ DVD sets. TV became a weekend activity as well as a weekly one.
Binge also turned out to be a very different experience than watching week to week. Shows became movies rather than a one-hour entry. Seeing Niki and Paulo on DVD is as easy to get over as hitting next on the remote but seeing them on air is all you get for 167 hours (although I like that episode as a standalone piece of Hitchcock-ian drama).
With “House of Cards,” the only way to watch it is in a few giant gulps . It’s possible to space the episodes out to one or two a week but why would you? From my own experiences, It’s nearly impossible to leave a good cliffhanger alone. If I can find out how it ends by watching the next episode, I will.
This is strange since discussing TV drama’s is more than half the fun of the process. Cubical neighbors are disappointed if their discussion about last night’s “Mad Men,” is interrupted by “I haven’t seen it yet,” forcing the an end to the conversation. We’re always in different places in our shows, making it necessary to watch in solitude (or with those who can simulate the experience) as well as to develop our own ideas before joining the conversation. This is why episode reviews/recaps on sites like The AV Club (hence their mention in video) have become so popular. They simulate these discussions but with someone of authority on the subject.
Heads up, spoilers in the video below:
Netflix’s distribution method is “audience Darwinism.” It makes sense the platform that changed the way we consume movies and TV would spark such a change. Watching the first two episodes of “House of Cards,” I know it would be my dad’s second favorite current show TV (behind “The Americans”) but his abandoning Netflix after a lack of use, means he will never enjoy it even though he is barely aware of it. This isn’t a tragedy by any means – it is just TV after all – but this format will phase-out traditional viewers, for lack of a better phrase.
Once this transition finishes – though at the rate these things change, it might never have a chance to – and binge watching becomes the norm and in doing so, a social experience just as TV viewing once was.
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