In Praise of the Binge

I was excited about the reboot of Battlestar Galactica when it first burst upon the scene back in 2004. I’m a big Edward James Olmos fan and the idea of swapping genders for Boomer and Starbuck I thought would help tone down some of the cheese from the 1970s original.

And then it came out and it was… awesome. Kind of mind blowing, really. It was one of the rare shows that you can’t wait to talk about at work the next day because everyone was watching it live.

Then SciFi announced that it was going to move from miniseries to full series and we all lost our shit. I mean, it was all we talked about.

But I didn’t watch it. I wanted to watch it. All those months while they were shooting the first season of the series I was planning on watching it, but then it came out and I just didn’t. My friends enthused over it. Everyone assured me that it was on par with the miniseries quality-wise. And I still didn’t watch it.

This was not a new syndrome creeping through my already damaged brain. In one way or another, to one degree or another, I go through this same unwillingness to recommit every year. The show ends in the spring, summer passes, the show comes back and I have to force myself to watch that first episodeĀ so I can get back into it. Sometimes I don’t. With BSG, I didn’t.

Right now the final season of Mad Men is still sitting unwatched on my DVR for the same reason.

I should also mention this only happens with dramas. Comedies are no big deal. Right now I’m counting down the days until Brooklyn 99 comes back.

During the time that BSG was playing out its seasons, I somehow came into possession of all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show I had watched religiously when it was on the air, and one summer I just started watching from the very beginning. I watched every episode, even the ones I knew were sub-par, and listened to every commentary track.

It was an epiphany for a completist. (dibs on the album title)

I understood for the first time, that when you binge watch something, you don’t have that gap between seasons (or even between shows during Nielsen deadzones) that causes you to lose your commitment. So as soon as BSG reached its conclusion, I spent a summer watching the whole thing front to back.

It was a revelation. All the myriad story threads were there to behold because my mind wasn’t dropping them between seasons. Character arcs, plot twists, everything was coming at me like a novel for television unspooling at a steady rate.

So when I lost the desire to watch Breaking Bad during the first season – I think I got five episodes in and just lost interest – I waited until it finished its run and then binge watched it with My Lovely Assistant.

Actually, the deal that I made to myself was that if MLA would watch it with me, not a sure bet because she doesn’t normally care for violence, then we would binge watch the whole thing together just to get everyone off our fucking backs about it. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for both of us.

But like any drug, it left us thirsty for more and supply was thin.

Binge watching a show for the first time requires two hard-to-find ingredients. 1) You have to actively not watch a great show that all your friends are addicted to and 2) You have to keep them from spoiling it for you. For years, if necessary.

Yes, I was one of those assholes who didn’t want anyone to talk about Breaking Bad in front of me because I was going to watch it “someday.” Despicable, I know.

I can’t force myself not to watch Better Call Saul, it’s arguably the best show on TV right now, and shows like Sleepy Hollow play to obviously into the “building a mythos” strategy. They drop it on you all at once like then contents of a haunted bric-a-brac drawer. You end up feeling simultaneously overwhelmed by too much information and underwhelmed by a general lack of creativity.

The binge series is just one of those things that has to happen on its own, coming to you from the blue via circumstances that are out of your control. Like magic and unicorns.


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