Binge TV

I’m Done With Binge Watching. Bring Back Weekly Television!

Dept. of Television Throwbacks


Imagine being able to watch an entire season of a TV show in one sitting. To have every episode drop at the exact same time, and then just remain there, forever, to be consumed at your convenience. What would that be like? Not having to wait a week to find out what happens to your favourite characters. What would you do with the newfound freedom of not having to be in front of your television, on a specific day, at a prescheduled time?

Sure there were already some of you who would patiently wait every year for the DVD boxed set of 24 in order to watch it uninterrupted and all at once, but the idea of a network choosing to release their shows in such a way was a revolutionary one. It would change the way we consume content. It would come to redefine television, create binge culture, and prioritise immediacy over longevity.

Now, I was also once like you. I too got caught up in the excitement of this new wave. I revelled in the power to watch what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. I took pleasure in having complete control over my pop culture life. At least for a little while.

The idea that this is what we wanted all along was always an illusion. One that was cleverly packaged and sold to us by Netflix. Given that they were the ones who invented the notion of releasing a television show by the season as opposed to by the episode, it’s hard to believe that they were doing it to cater to a previously unfulfilled demand in the market. We believed it was how we wanted to watch television because Ted Sarandos told us that it was how we wanted to watch television. The only reason we were binging was because Netflix gave us something to binge.

What this new approach to television did was create a disruption that we’re all still struggling to come to terms with. When are we allowed to talk about that episode of The Crown? What is considered a spoiler? When is it considered a spoiler? Does watching the latest season of Stranger Things a month after it premieres mean that we’re too late to be a part of the cultural conversation? What is the proper etiquette when all of us are watching these things at different times?

I don’t know about you, but I’m over it. In fact, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to find any virtue in having a show release all of its episodes at once. If you had asked me even a year ago, I would probably have echoed that canned Netflix response of how it was just a matter of giving consumers greater freedom of choice. But given how it’s transformed our collective cultural experience, and not necessarily for the better, I’m making a plea for a return to the way things used to be.

Television used to be more of a communal pastime. Remember when all of us used to share in the anticipation, and anxiety, and joy of talking about the latest episode of The X-Files, or The Sopranos, or Lost, or Battlestar Galactica. I’m not saying these conversations don’t still happen. They just feel a lot more siloed than they used to be. These days, I am constantly worried about accidentally saying too much and spoiling the experience for someone else. I am always on guard, unsure as to who I’m allowed to laugh with or cry with.

Binge TV

The problem with the binge is also that it is fleeting. Yes, there is that momentary high from having gorged on that tub of rocky road, but it is so short-lived that you’re immediately looking for the next fix. Watching episode after episode in quick succession greatly reduces the impact of these stories. We’re less likely to remember what happens in them. We don’t connect as deeply with characters. And we move on quicker.

I remember grieving for Jin and Sun for weeks after they drowned. I still shudder at the thought of the Red Wedding. I know the wait to find out who got shot in the first season finale of The West Wing was interminable, but boy it sure was worth it. 

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This year, Disney, Amazon, and Apple have all adopted a throwback strategy to their streaming services. Not just because it makes business sense when trying to build a subscriber base (rolling out episodes of The Mandalorian one week at a time is a good strategy to keep fans paying for your service for at least eight weeks) but also because they don’t necessarily have a steady stream of shows to service a binge-hungry audience. And while both are very practical reasons, they’ve also served as a potent reminder of just how fulfilling it is having to wait, and watch, and experience these things together. More so during this goddamned pandemic, when all of us, the world over, have suddenly found ourselves desperately seeking a shared experience that isn’t about the end of the world.

For me, however, the appeal of appointment television is even more basic. I’ve just missed having something to look forward to every day of the week. Tuesdays were when I got my bake on with The Great British Bake Off. Thursdays were for exploring the galaxy on Star Trek: Discovery. On Fridays, I’d hang out with my buddy Ted Lasso and his team at AFC Richmond. In our current moment, when time seems meaningless, when every day seems to blend seamlessly into the next, it’s these weekly engagements that have given my life some semblance of structure. (God knows, I’ve also always hated the pressure of that jeering five second countdown and having to decide whether or not to watch just one more episode.)

So let’s move forward by looking back. This binge watching thing was a fun experiment while it lasted, but it’s time we give ourselves the the time and space to properly appreciate these stories. To get lost in a mystery. To solve a whodunnit. To speculate with friends about what might happen next. Netflix has spent the last seven years trying to convince us that patience is no longer a virtue. To them, I say nay. To them, I say that the best things are always the ones worth waiting for.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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