As our namesake implies I’ve been known to dabble in binge watching. Joss Whedon and Damon Lindelof, two of my favourite creators have recently come out against said binge watching.
This stirred something inside me. I respect their work, and as creators they know more than I when it comes to creating a TV show. But I’m a viewer, and doesn’t that give me some say in how I consume art? Consume is such a gross word, how about appreciate? Yeah, that sounds good.
Before I dive in, here are their critiques:
Creator of such shows as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly.
“The more we make things granular and less complete, the more it becomes lifestyle instead of experience. It becomes ambient. It loses its power, and we lose something with it. We lose our understanding of narrative. Which is what we come to television for. We come to see the resolve.
I’m fond of referencing it, but it’s “Angela Lansbury finds the murderer.” It’s becoming a little harder to hold on to that. Binge-watching, god knows I’ve done it, it’s exhausting — but it can be delightful. It’s not the devil. But I worry about it. It’s part of a greater whole.
Anything we can grab on to that makes something specific, a specific episode, it’s useful for the audience. And it’s useful for the writers, too. “This is what we’re talking about this week!” For you to have six, 10, 13 hours and not have a moment for people to breath and take away what we’ve done … to just go, “Oh, this is just part seven of 10,” it makes it amorphous emotionally. And I worry about that in our culture — the all-access all the time.”
– Joss Whedon (March 10th, THR)
Creator of such shows as Lost and The Leftovers.
“Bingeing is bad.
I am old school. And not just because I agree with Joss Whedon about everything. Never before in the history of the English language has “binge” been associated with something healthy or productive. Just because there is an entire can of Pringles in front of you does not mean you should eat them all in one sitting. Every time I have done this, I feel sad and guilty, and then mad at The Pringles Corporation. Which is probably not even a thing.
But I also must acknowledge times have changed. I must acknowledge there is not just too much television, but too much good television (“Fleek TV?”) and in order to make any kind of dent, we folks who produce it have to get out of our rocking chairs and get hip to the times. Which probably includes not ever saying “hip” again.”
– Damon Lindelof (March 23rd)
I can understand where they’re coming from. Both Lindelof and Whedon (and their teams) worked their asses off to create distinct episodes only for people to binge through them in an entire sitting. I do agree with a lot of what they’re saying.
You miss out on “event television” and those water cooler moments where you can discuss theories about what might happen next week. You can ruminate on episodes and let them process until the show rolls over.
I am a defender of the episode. Having a self-contained story while still continuing the greater narrative, unlike the 13 hour-long Marvel Netflix offerings that have padding in the middle and stretch out one big boring story.
Okay, so when are you getting to the defence of binge watching I hear you cry. All you’ve said so far is why it’s bad! Why, thank you dear reader, I’m getting there. Why, right about now.
Get it while it’s hot
When you move from one episode to the next without a break, the events of the previous episode are still fresh in your mind. You don’t have to look up Wikipedia for a recap. You know what just happened last time and can jump straight into an episode unprepped. This is especially useful when bingeing on a streaming service which don’t often have those ‘Previously On’, a staple of network television. Though I have noticed Netflix has started doing a previously on last season, just as recent as Master of None, which goes well with their binge watching model.
So. Much. Television.
If you’re an avid TV watcher and why wouldn’t you be? You’re reading this article, you’re probably watching more than one show at any given time. With the traditional model you’ll be watching one episode of a number of shows and that can be hard to keep track of. I know on occasion I’ve cross-pollinated shows in my own head, why haven’t they gone back to this character? Oh cos they’re in a completely different show! That might just be my early dementia setting in, but I still rest my case. Watching a few episodes at a time can solve that issue.
Okay, so while some showrunners are set in their ways, some networks/platforms are toying with delivery methods. Rather than doing a Netflix and landing every episode at once, Hulu put out the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale to consume at your leisure, to get you hooked. And then they reel you in week to week with a new episode.
Whatever your method. We’re all adults. We can moderate (most of the time). Take your pick, whether it’s binge watching, watching week to week, or a mixture of the two.
Joss and Damon, you can make all the fuss you like, but in the end it’s the viewer who gets to choose how they watch your shows. Sorry, not sorry. And would you mind signing this poster for me? Thanks, appreciate it.