The fall television season is in full swing, as the broadcast networks dispense new shows and new seasons of returning shows for the viewing public to watch religiously every week. There’s a good chance, however, that many people will just wait until the season is over and take it all in during a lazy holiday weekend.
It’s called binge-watching, people. It’s when viewers make some time to go through episodes like potato chips or a 12-pack of Budweiser. Really, binge-watching isn’t new. Back in the day, cable-TV networks would program marathons of TV shows that usually lasted a night, a day or even a weekend. (Cable channel FXX recently ran a 12-day marathon of “The Simpsons,” showing all 552 episodes of the iconic cartoon show.)
But, for a lot of people, the days of appointment television are over. Thanks to streaming video services like Hulu, Amazon and the all-mighty Netflix providing whole seasons of TV shows, people watch their favorite shows whenever they want, wherever they want and however they want. (Who needs actual TVs to watch TV when you have a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone?) They can also wait until the season comes out on DVD or just burrow through episodes they’ve recorded on their digital video recorder.
Matt Zoller Seitz, TV critic for New York Magazine, told me he’s pro-binge.
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“I like it because it brings TV-watching, which used to be a one-off, weekly activity, in line with something like reading a novel, or in the case of a show where the episodes are more self-contained, reading a book of short stories,” he says.
I’m more of a savor-watcher, taking a few episodes at a time at my own pace – mainly because I got other things to do. (It basically took me a year to watch that new season of “Arrested Development” on Netflix.) For me, good television is like a fine wine – I like to take in every distinctive, delightful drop in order to catch all its deliciousness. (Did that sound pretentious enough?)
But there are those who gobble up episodes like Pac-Man. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that, in an effort to cheer himself up after losing his job as Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer watched 100 episodes of “The Good Wife” in two weeks. (That must’ve rejuvenated him – after that, he completed a $2 billion acquisition of the Los Angeles Clippers.)
Of course, regular folk who don’t have $15 billion in Microsoft stock have also been known to binge. Cynthia Worsham Urquhart of Raleigh told me she went through the first two seasons of Netflix’s Emmy-winning political drama “House of Cards” like M&M’s.
“I got started and I couldn’t stop,” Urquhart says. “I probably watched it all in less than a week, what with other stuff demanding attention.”
But binge-watching can lose its allure for some. Leah Tipton Magner of Raleigh said that while she watched seasons of “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” (that other Netflix favorite), she hasn’t gorged on anything since.
“I think I’m over it,” says Magner, “meaning sitting in a chair and continuously watching TV.”
There has been debate on whether binge-watching is actually a healthy way to watch TV. Associated Press technology writer (and avowed binge-watcher) Anick Jesdanun recently wrote how there are just as many minuses to binge-watching as there are pluses.
For starters, there’s the whole spoiler issue, where people who aren’t up to speed on their favorite shows try not to get wind of plot developments, twists or surprises. Nor do they want to accidentally dispense their spoilers to others. (I saw a guy tell a girl about a major spoiler in the second season of “Boardwalk Empire.” Unfortunately, the girl had only seen Season 1. “You’re exactly the type of person they make fun of on ‘Portlandia,’ ” I told him.)
Jesdanun also wrote about losing all sense of time while binge-watching, especially when it comes to dissecting – or, shall we say, savoring – each episode.
“I miss having a week or even a summer to reflect,” Jesdanun wrote. “Instead of challenging my mind to play out potential outcomes following a cliffhanger, I can simply press ‘play’ to find out in the next episode.”
Sometimes, it seems impossible to take in all that television has to offer these days, which a binge-watcher like Jesdanum recognizes.
“In the past, when you heard about a good show, you started with the next episode that aired, and you managed to figure out what was going on,” Jesadanun wrote. “Nowadays, there’s a temptation to start from the beginning, even as new episodes air, such that it becomes overwhelming to catch up and keep up.”
But, hey, if you’re the sort of person who can wolf down TV shows in one sitting, more power to ya. As for me, I’m gonna go old school and take in my stories real nice and slow.