In an age where entertainment is increasingly available on demand, the practice of binge watching has become commonplace. For those who don’t know, that’s where you catch up on back episodes of a particular show in a short amount of time, sometimes in a single, marathon sitting. That can be quite an undertaking, since a single season of a television show can take up an entire day.
With the increase in cable channels and the continued expansion of the Internet as a source for media entertainment, we have become overwhelmed by the amount of content available at the press of a button. The advantages of binge watching are that you can fit your viewing into your schedule, letting you watch on days off from work or when you are sick. Plus you don’t have to wait a week (or a year) for the next episode; it is already cued up and ready to go. Plot points are still fresh in your mind, and it makes a long story arc easier to follow.
When Breaking Bad was drawing to a close, AMC began screening all the previous seasons. I saw an opportunity to get caught up on what, as I had heard from various sources, was one of the best television shows ever made. At the time I was busy, so all those back episodes waited patiently on the DVR until a week before the series finale. I decided I wanted to watch that episode live, so I spent the next week binging the entire series.
Again I was disappointed. It wasn’t the quality of the show, which objectively speaking is brilliantly written and executed, but the experience was different than if I’d had to wait in anticipation each week for a new episode to come out. Even though television is almost always viewed at home alone or with a few close relations, there are greater social interactions that are missing when television shows are watched out of sync with the general population. You don’t get to share your perceptions over the water cooler, and speculate on the motivations of the characters or the outcomes of the predicaments they find themselves in. Instead you find yourself covering your ears hollering, “no spoilers!” when someone starts to discuss the show.
In contrast, I missed the first season of Walking Dead, but was able to binge watch and get caught up. I find that I enjoy the show more now than when I started. I don’t have to avoid social media every time the show is on or be that guy who shuts down the conversation. Also there isn’t that fatigue you can get from watching the same characters for hours on end. Movies are made to be seen in one sitting, but television shows aren’t. Sometimes you just need to stop and let what you’ve seen get absorbed to appreciate all the effort that the creators have put into making it.
Entertainment isn’t just about passing the time between work and sleep; it’s a part of our culture and shared heritage. When you catch up on a show that all your friends are watching, you may get finally get the references and the jokes, but you’ve already missed out on the shared experience of the event. So if someone complains that you’re spending too much time in front of the television, tell them you’re not being lazy, you’re contributing to culture.