Watching in Bulk, Watching in Isolation

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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58 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    There are few shows i watch nowadays but for some of them, Mad Men, watching a couple episodes night is the best. Serialized shows with really compelling long story seem a bit short watching in one 50 min episode every week. Two shows is a hour and half or so which is more like movie length but also heightened the emotional involvement think. A longer night of watching is more fulfilling. I’ve watched more then two episodes of anything in a night, that seems like to much, but i’m an outlier on tv watching.Report

  2. Chris says:

    Maybe I’m odd, but I really enjoy binge watching when I find a show that I really like. I did it with the first 4 seasons of Breaking Bad, for example, and one of the effects was to be in a constant state of anxiety and excitement because every episode hit hard, and I was watching them one after the other. It was a pretty intense experience, one that I don’t get when I watch a show once a week, and spend 99.9% of the time in between thinking of other stuff.

    I do find myself binge watching with other people, though. A frequent conversation in my social circle is, “What are we going to watch next?” Then we all watch a season of Damages or Suits or something, and talk about it along the way.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

      Damages is on my radar. Should it be? How up-to-date are you on Suits?

      That’s pretty cool that you have a watching crowd. A lot of my friends will end up watching the same shows, but rarely in the same order.Report

      • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        We didn’t start that way, but with everyone always recommending shows to everyone else, it just sort of happened. I suppose it’s a case of self-organization.

        I’m only on the first season of Suits, only about half way through, because right after we started watching it, Amazon got the 4th season of Justified, and damn it, we have to watch Justified (having lived in Lexington for 5 years, I’m just proud of them for pronouncing “Versailles” right).

        Damages is kind of slow, but really well acted, and some of the characters are great, particularly in the first season. We’re about to start season 4.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        Just to warn you, the 1st couple eps of the current season of Justified started so slowly and strangely that I was worried they’d lost it.

        They haven’t lost it.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

      I watched all of BB Season 4 over a weekend. It was exactly like staying up until 3 AM to finish a book: just one more chapter. Then another. Then another …Report

  3. Rod says:

    With my job, watching TV the way G-d intended is impossible, since I’m away from home for two or three weeks at a time. Then cutting the cord on cable/satellite sealed the deal. You can almost watch in real-time with Hulu, since the current season is only a few days behind. Assuming what you want is on Hulu.

    I still haven’t seen the end of BB. I’m not even sure if I can since Netflix is normally a season behind. For quite a while (few years) Dexter disappeared from Netflix, but now it’s back and I’m bingeing on blood spatters. And Walking Dead. And the Once spinoff. And OITNB. My tastes tend toward the dark stuff. 😛Report

  4. Vikram Bath says:

    I didn’t go through Breaking Bad, but I remember the week-to-week excitement of the X-files in those few seasons in the middle when it was really good.

    But that model of watching usually requires commercials and watching at a specific time on a specific day, both of which are lame. I actually think the best thing might be the OT way. Watch something commercial-free according to a group schedule.Report

  5. Marchmaine says:

    Fred and Carrie agree.

  6. Maribou says:

    I am such a binge watcher. Sometimes I go through a season in 1 or 2 days. Even now, when I’m in school, Jaybird ends up uttering things like “You’ve watched HOW many episodes of that season in the last week???”

    I don’t like reading single issues of comics, either, and will wait for the trade paperbacks instead, no matter how much I love the series. I tried not doing that once or twice, and it got on my last nerve.Report

    • zic in reply to Maribou says:


      I wonder if preferences here has something to do with how we move information from short-term to long-term memory; and I guess that people who do that move easily would prefer the pro-longed telling; people who do it less easily the binge telling.Report

      • Maribou in reply to zic says:

        @zic It’s possible, but I’m not sure that’s what is going on in my case. (My memory performance fluctuates wildly, but its norm is for transfers to happen pretty easily if there is a story involved… Although it might be that I have trouble moving things from long-term into short-term? I have to work at revving the engine back up, even though it’s all *there* … in minute, verifiable detail even … once I get it back out.)

        For myself, I always figured that it’s more that I just really don’t like it when things stop.

        *gnashes teeth* WANT MOAR.

        I would take the marshmallow every time; and yet I do ok for myself. One can have discipline in the important things while still preferring to be undisciplined whenever it doesn’t really matter.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        @maribou I think the memory transfer thing might actually be pertinent in both directions, now that you mention it.

        And even as a kid, I would have left the marshmallow; but that’s not discipline, it’s something about the marshmallow.Report

  7. Mike Dwyer says:

    I watched the first two seasons of Game of Thrones over a two-day period while I was on vacation and my wife was out of town (thus, no guilt) and it was like one big awesome movie.

    I really, really love binge watching most of my shows these days. I will still watch a few as they come out. HIMYM (please no comments on how awful it is this season, I know, I know…), Big Bang Theory, Walking Dead.

    I have discovered with most of the dramas I watch, if I look on the DVR and there is only one episode I feel disappointed. “Only one? I’ll wait for more.”Report

  8. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Smith’s pity-fest sounds like the classic conservative lament. Things are changing, all I can see is the things I like disappearing, I can’t yet recognize any of the values of the new way, so culture is ever declining.

    I really think we need to go back to washing our clothes communally, down by the river. The social isolation caused by washing machines is such a dreadful cultural loss.Report

    • Glyph in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      “Smiths pity-fest”?

      Geez, professor, we already went over this, some of us like Morrissey, let it go. 😉Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      Adding to this, cable already did enough damage to the old way of watching TV without streaming. You could only get really big mass audiences for shows when people had fewer options. In a recent Slate article about the Beatles, I learned that the Ed Sullivan Show used to have a viewership of 50 million. That is out of the 100 million television watchers, half of them would turn on the Ed Sullivan Show every Sunday night. These sort of statistics aren’t possible when people have options. So even if people couldn’t binge watch, the numerous channels provided by cable destroy any sort of mass audience that was possible with only three networks. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and other prestiege shows have an audience in the millions not the tens of millions.Report

  9. Reformed Republican says:

    Both ways of watching have merit. The first time I watched B5, it was a binge. Usually 1 episode a night, but sometimes a weekend might let us get in multiple episodes. Towards season 3, it starts moving fast, and we often found ourselves staying up late just to see the next episode.

    On the other hand, watching shows over time can definitely help with the suspense. Sometimes, even the lack of a commercial break can affect the pacing. The 2 minutes can give the feeling of time passing, and when the commercials are gone, the cut can be jarring.

    As far as the social aspect, I have never really been involved in water cooler talk about shows that I have been watching, but they may be a reflection of my own unhip self.Report

    • Kim in reply to Reformed Republican says:

      Star trek had one or two episodes done so that the commercials needed to be there. (the Klingon one in the second season was polished to the max).Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Reformed Republican says:

      I saw research done that said people who watch shows originally broadcast with commercials without them enjoy the shows less, because they don’t have the built in suspense which writers often account for. The effects were small, largely subconscious, but non-zero.Report

  10. Kim says:

    Chris Smith has bloody forgotten that before the era of binge watching, there wasn’t anything TO DISCUSS over the watercooler. Because that was the era of episodic programming.

    With long plot arcs, and people better situated to take television as an actual art form, you get
    shows like Arrested Development and Game of Thrones, both of which are incredibly complex —
    and fun to talk about and discover together.

    The japanese have been making shows like that for years. But it took the era of binge watching to get
    us to shows like Breaking Bad.Report

  11. Pinky says:

    If a show is interesting, it takes a little time to digest. A rich show is like a good book. You want time to think about the characters, the setting, et cetera. I don’t mind buzzing through a fluff read, but there’s no point in reading a really complex work in a couple of days.

    I watched Lost over about six months. I had seen a bit of the first season when it aired, and I always wanted to get back to it, but I had other things to do. So before the final season, I went back and watched all of it. I caught up to live-watch the second half of the last season. I’m glad I did it that way. I would have forgotten quite a bit if I’d watched it over all its years. But any faster than that and I wouldn’t have been able to immerse myself in it.

    The thing I really don’t like to do is binge a show season by season. You get the loss of the full-season excitement without the benefit of the all-at-once continuity.Report

  12. Patrick says:

    The end result is that it that while we enjoy it more on its own, we enjoy it less socially.

    Except I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I think it’s completely backwards.

    People still watch new shows socially. Indeed, you’re highly pressured now to keep up so that stuff doesn’t get spoiled for you. Shoot, if you watch certain shows now and you have friends on the East Coast you have to watch for spoilers on a nightly basis.

    And the proliferation of “entire series” availability enables people to watch a show that they missed, the first time around. Given that there are literally hundreds of fairly decent quality television shows that aired back before the average 18-25 year old was *born*, the ability to acquire and watch, say, the entire run of Space: 1999, or Dr. Who, or the original Battlestar Galactica or Quantum Leap or M*A*S*H* or any one of dozens of other shows enables them to join a social context that they simply didn’t have before.

    I’m at a loss for how this is worse?Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Patrick says:

      The downsides to putting off aren’t what they used to be. It used to be that if you didn’t watch shows as they came out, watching them later would either involve a shelf full of VHS tapes or buying DVDs if they were available (and often they weren’t). Now it involves finite hard drive space or a subscription to Netflix or Amazon.Report

  13. zic says:

    I’m a binge watcher; and I don’t particularly care about the social benefits; I already have many things in common with my social circle (music, knitting, cooking, food), and don’t need the entertainment industry to form bonds with others.

    I binge because I have some weird form of ADD; I want an intense immersion in a topic. Slow drips, like the weekly broadcast, risk my attention shifting to something else, and don’t provide an intense-enough experience. This was a problem for me throughout my hears in school.

    I read thick books like that, too; total immersion until the stories told out. I’ve binge-read Wheel Of Time three times now, as the series progressed; every five or so volumes, re-reading all the previous volumes before I read the new. In a few more years, I’ll get the pleasure of doing the whole series at once. I can easily read through the Lord of the Rings in a week; during which I’ll be incapable of doing much else.

    Right now, I’m binging Lost. Before that, I binged Fringe, Grimm, and Once Upon A Time, and Revolution — the last three right up to the current season, which I bought with an Amazon season pass. And I sort of regret doing that; the individual episodes don’t hold the power and grip that the binge holds.

    (And I’d welcome recommendations on other binging potential with those as a guide. X Files, next? I went through most of the last 25 years not watching television at all, and only really enjoy it with the advent of the potential to binge without having to go to the video store; they usually give me migraine, and here, they’re mostly pizza-video convenience stores.)

    It’s probably a good thing that I don’t drink alcohol, too. I’d probably binge at that, as well.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to zic says:

      Quantum Leap.Report

      • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

        Much obliged, JB.Report

      • Rod in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t quite get the appeal of that show. The premise is too strange, even making allowances for TV sci-fi. I mean… jumping around through time and space is fine. That’s what Doctor Who does. But inhabiting other people’s bodies? So it’s really just his soul jumping? What happens to the people he inhabits? Do they wait it out in Scott’s body back in some lab? And then having to fix something before you randomly leap again. And the holographic dude, was he an AI?

        It’s this weird mix of bone-headedly botched sciency stuff with feely-good quasi-spiritism. Or was it spiritism badly disguised as sciency stuff? Whatever. I suspect you fondly remember it from your youth seeing as how it aired during a TV era with a dearth of sci-fi offerings.

        A much better, IMO, and coherent show along those lines was Sliders.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        I love Quantum Leap, and almost had a fit when I realized that Netflix skipped episodes (including the pilot). It is far-fetched, but I’m not sure it’s meant to be taken seriously as science. It’s meant to be taken as, “Hey look at all these historical events and people and cars,” with some cool stories thrown in.

        Sliders I like. It was one of the first shows I watched on Hulu years ago when Hulu was all free and had a lot more stuff (like Forever Knight… because a vampire detective is awesome), but it’s pretty damn cheesy, and not particularly well acted. Fun though.Report

      • Rod in reply to Jaybird says:

        It’s meant to be taken as, “Hey look at all these historical events and people and cars,” with some cool stories thrown in.

        Well, sure. And at the time I enjoyed it (when it first aired) because of the aforementioned sci-fi drought. It just hasn’t aged well for me and there’s a lot better SF available now. Subjectivity and relativism and YMMV.Report

    • Chris in reply to zic says:

      Try Heroes. The first two seasons are pretty good, and definitely bingeable. I never made it through season 3. Maybe I should try.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        I’m told Heroes falls really, really, fast and really, really hard in the last couple of seasons.Report

      • Rod in reply to Chris says:

        What Will said. My impression is that they had lined out a really good, cohesive story mega-arc, along the lines of B5 or BSG reboot, that lasted two seasons. And I don’t think they knew where the hell to go with it once that was done. And then it just sort of quits in the middle of trying to go somewhere with the story.

        I don’t think the writer’s strike did them any favors either.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        I watched the first season and loved it. Watched the first couple episodes of the next season and didn’t dislike it but wasn’t drawn to it.Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to zic says:

      Babylon 5.

      Game of Thrones.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

      @zic Do you like crime shows at all? I don’t mean like Law & Order, but larger-weaved stories around crime, criminals, cops, etc? Some people hate them, but if you like them, I have a few recommendations.Report

      • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        I dunno, when I was kid, I liked Perry Mason, and I’ve enjoyed a few episodes of CSI. I used to like Miami Vice. I’ve seen a few episodes over the years; I’ll check it out again, though it might not be binge material for me; too real-world.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        The Wire
        The Shield
        Homicide was *great* back in the day, but I attempted a rewatch post-Wire, and it was just…too “television-y”. So if you think you want to watch it, I’d do it before Wire.

        And the best one currently going? It’s too early to say for True Detective, but Justified continues to kick ass. They really captured the essence of Elmore Leonard’s shaggy-dog plotting and dialogue/voices that you could listen to, endlessly circling and probing each other, all day long.Report

    • Kim in reply to zic says:

      Torchwood is pretty funny. As a writer yourself, you’ll find it hilarious.Report

  14. ScarletNumbers says:

    As someone who doesn’t work outside the home, you don’t have the social obligation to watch on anyone else’s schedule.

    The only show now that I make a point of watching when it is broadcast is Curb Your Enthusiasm. But I generally try to watch the others when they are broadcast as well when possible.

    This trend though shows why sports are an ever increasing valuable broadcast enterprise. It is one of the few things that are nonDVRable.Report

    • As someone who doesn’t work outside the home, you don’t have the social obligation to watch on anyone else’s schedule.

      Nobody has an obligation. I still talk to people, though. (Online counts!). When I’m current, I could actually talk to them about TV.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Will Truman says:

        Au contraire, mon ami.

        When Seinfeld was hot, you were seen as a social misfit if you didn’t watch and couldn’t discuss it on Friday.

        During the first three seasons of Beverly Hills 90210 (i.e. the West Beverly High School years), watching the show was mandatory in order to be included in any sort of viable social circle.

        After all, “Must See TV” wasn’t just a slogan.

        I still talk to people, though. (Online counts!)

        LOL Good one.Report

      • I agree that the Must See TV was a bigger deal then than it is now. That was a part of the point of the post. The primary difference between now and then, though, isn’t that I don’t work outside the house (or go to school)… it’s that half of the people who would be talking about it are waiting to binge-watch.Report