Sunday Discussion: The Netflix binge-dump format

If you visit Doux Reviews often (and if you do, let me just pause to say I love you so very much), and you're a fan of Orange is the New Black, you might not know that I finally completed my third season reviews a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, it was long after the rest of the world had finished watching it.

OitNB is undoubtedly brilliant, but I find myself resenting the show because reviewing it makes me feel like I'm stuck in a vacuum. Which doesn't make total sense since I review a lot of old shows that our readers aren't watching right now. Maybe I just dislike the sense of urgency, the "I have to finish reviewing this quickly before people forget what they thought about it" thing. Okay, I have another point, so I'll move on to that point.

The truth is, and I'm speaking as a viewer and not a reviewer, I find the Netflix dump-the-whole-season binge format frustrating. If I watch three or four episodes in a row of anything, or 13 episodes in just a few days, it's like eating too much candy -- it just doesn't taste as good. When I love a show, I like to savor each episode when it's over, and think about it. Back when Buffy was airing and I was completely obsessed with it, I'd record it (on VHS tape, my god I'm getting old) and then I'd rewatch it during the week before the next episode came along, unless it was a really bad one like "Doublemeat Palace". Even better, the morning after a Buffy episode aired, I'd go to my real life job and talk about the latest episode with two of my workmates who were also into Buffy. (Hi, Charles and Das!)

The communal once-a-week format is the heart of Doux Reviews. We analyze our favorite shows and discuss them with our online community shortly after they air. We just can't do that with Netflix original shows. I keep hoping that what Netflix has started won't carry through to the rest of the TV world. Imagine 22 episodes of Scandal, all at once. That much sleaze and melodrama at one time could make you sick.

So today's question is: What do you think of the Netflix binge-dump format? Do you love it, or do you wish they'd release one episode a week?

And since we're talking Netflix streaming, which of their original series do you think are the best? What should we be covering here that we aren't? (Not that we have enough writers to take on more, but we like knowing what our readers think.)
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Billie Doux is the founder of Doux Reviews and has been reviewing her favorite shows for quite some time. More Billie Doux.

23 comments:

rebecca_s921 said...

I don't mind the episode dumping, because I can stream it at leisure, only watching as many as I want. I've always preferred watching shows all at once, I don't like being beholden to a particular time to enjoy a show, unless it's something I absolutely love like Buffy / Firefly / Agents of SHIELD. I do feel dumping the whole season has the effect of making mediocre episodes more tolerable and the just good enough episodes forgettable, though the truly great or awful moments will still stand out.

Jess Lynde said...

I can see both points of view on this one, but at the end of the day, I tend to dislike the binge-dump model more than I like it. Mostly because I'm also the kind of person that likes to fully engage with my shows, meaning I enjoy having the time to digest an episode, appreciate it (or not) on its own merits, and discuss it with others over the week. (I usually don't review something right after I watch it, because I like to let it roll around in my mind for a day or two before "putting pen to paper.") And while the binge-dump model still lets me take in the episodes at whatever pace I want, it makes the discussion part very difficult, because everyone is watching at a different rate. People who have already seen the whole series or season tend not to comment as much on the individual episodes because they have too much foreknowledge and don't want to spoil those watching at a slower pace. But if discussion is limited to the series/season as a whole, a lot of smaller moments and details tend to fall through the cracks, which is a bummer. Ultimately, the lack of discussion takes away from part of the overall viewing experience for me, so I prefer the week-to-week model.

But I have certainly binge-watched a series or two these last several years, and I agree with Rebecca that it actually works much better for some shows. It smooths out the impact of flaws and the frustrations associated with things feeling dragged out --- for instance, I didn't hate S2 of The Walking Dead, because I watched it over two days, not 13 weeks.

A binge can also make more complicated shows easier to follow. I enjoyed Sense 8 in a binge this summer, but there is so much going on in that one that I can imagine it becoming much harder to keep track of everything at a week-to-week pace. This past spring I also discovered that Orphan Black works much better for me in a mini-binge-viewing format. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the plot shenanigans until I starting watching at least two episodes at a time. Being able to get a better sense of the whole from multiple episodes of plot twists and turns made the series much more enjoyable for me.

Re: favorite Netflix original series --- Orange is the New Black and Daredevil have probably been my favorites so far. The hubby and I really took our time with Daredevil, too, going at least a week between episodes. Given how dark it was, we needed a break between episodes, and it slotted nicely into our weekly viewing if we just took it one episode at a time. It definitely mucked up the community discussion part though, because it was already old news for everyone else by the time we were done! :)

Das Janssen said...

I like having the freedom to watch as I have time and inclination. One of the things I loved about Buffy, after Billie turned me on to the show :) , was the longer attention span of the meta-plots. A few years later, "Lost" came along, but I stopped watching in protest because I felt manipulated by all the "review sessions" they added in so that viewers could keep up with the plot. (The producers obviously had a low opinion of viewer intelligence.) That said, I also watch way less than the average bear and typically only watch one show at a time.

(Loved "Sense8," but had to have a friend watch first and report back in broad terms, since it tapped so skillfully into some of my own anxieties.)

drnanamom said...

I'm not sure where I stand on this question. Since I review some older shows the comments tend to work the same way ie. people have already seen everything and comment at their own pace. I don't mind that but I do miss the excitement of a week to week show because you can have more comment 'conversations' with back and forth energy. On the other hand, I also loved "Sense8" and was glad I could get to the next episode without waiting. Now I just have the long wait until season 2. So as you can see I am torn. While "Sense8" is a good Netflix original my favourite is "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt". So clever and the send up of "Mad Men"'s version of masculinity through the Jon Hamm character is priceless.

sunbunny said...

I haven't yet reviewed a show that's been done in the binge-dump format but, as a viewer, I think it has pluses and minuses. On the one hand, you don't have to wait a week to see what happens but on the other it creates a lot of anxiety. I feel pressure to watch every episode immediately so I don't get spoiled and then once I've watched them there's a fear that I'm going to spoil someone else. As a result, it can be a lot harder to engage with others in real life or on social media about the shows which is a lot of the fun of watching tv for me. The "watercooler" talk is less "did you see Lost last night!?" and more "okay so where are you? have you gotten to the first thing yet? what about the thing at the train station? no? oh, well something happens at a train station let me know when you get there."

Billie Doux said...

Oh, the spoiler aspect! Good point, sunbunny. Because I vowed this time not to watch ahead while I was reviewing, I got big time spoiled just by *headlines* on TV sites on what was coming in OitNB episode 3x10. I didn't read articles, but how do I avoid headlines?

Marianna said...

I actually really like binge watching, mostly because as others have said I don't like having to set aside a certain time to watch something. (I do it for Agents of SHIELD and The Walking Dead and that's it!) I also find cable commercials have gotten really annoying so that alone makes Netflix a far better experience. Another plus is I find it easier to spot patterns when binge watching because sometimes someone will say something that seems insignificant so I probably won't remember it when it ties in to something else a week or two later, but I might if I'm watching the next episode the next day.

The drawback for me is that it's harder to be aware of how much time is passing. Most cable shows use roughly the timeline of the airing schedule for the timeline of the episodes. When binge watching, that clue isn't there so I need to actively pay attention to time markers to try to mentally track how much time is passing. Along the same lines binge watching can make character changes seem unrealistic because it seems like less time has passed during the course of the change, or it can make certain plot threads and character seem insignificant because it doesn't seem like they were around for long, especially when binge watching multiple seasons of a show. A friend of mine who would frequently binge watch before it became popular watched all of Buffy in less than a month, and he was under the impression that Oz wasn't a major character because to him Oz was only around for about a week.

By the way Billie, I haven't watched the third season of Orange is the New Black yet. It's on my list right after I finish binge watching Supernatural =) and I'm looking forward to reading your reviews as I watch it.

Katherine said...

>>...and I'm looking forward to reading your reviews as I watch it.

The reviews are the best part for me. I dislike the idea of "appointment TV", but since I don't watch much it's not a major bother. I loved binge watching Lost, but only because I had Billie Doux reviews at hand. Since I am ALWAYS behind the times, this works for me.

I actually discouraged my family from watching Heroes because I didn't at first know of the reviews available. Not that it helped in that instance, the show was too convoluted for us. I still liked the reviews though. ;-)

Gavrielle said...

I've never watched things at the time of airing as I hate commercials too much, so time-shifting's been my viewing pattern for years anyway, and living in a part of the world where in ye olde times we often saw things literally years after their first airing, I'm skilled at avoiding spoilers. And I love being able to grab another episode if they left the last one on a cliffhanger. On the other hand, there's no doubt that binge-dumping does pretty much ruin the watercooler experience. That makes a big difference when reading the reviews here is an important part of my enjoyment of a show, which it often is.

Billie Doux said...

Everybody's so nice. :)

The internet really is the watercooler these days, isn't it? The thing I like most about Doux Reviews is the community. I was looking at a lot of old reviews this summer while I was replacing ads, and I was seeing a lot of the same names in the comments posted six, seven years ago that I'm seeing today. That means so much to me.

pucklady said...

Binge fan here.

That's partly because there is so much really good stuff available right now that I'm constantly in catch-up mode. I make up for the water-cooler conversations by bingeing show podcasts. I'm a frequent commenter in fan blogs.

But you also asked what show should you review next, and no one has taken you up on that yet.

I nominate Defiance. You did review the pilot, but it has gotten much better. It is kicking serious ass right now. In fact, I considered binge-reviewing it for you - sending you a bundle of reviews of the first couple of seasons, with limericks.

I'm also looking forward to The Man in the High Castle. Only the pilot is out, and I've watched it several times already.

JRS said...

I binge often, but I like weekly formats as well, and maybe I'll be criticized for saying this - but I think both are necessary in today's world. There is no way I can keep up with a full weekly schedule of all the shows I am interested in, so I have to binge on the ones I don't strictly watch every week. The series binge is here to stay. That being said...

With Daredevil, I was overwhelmed by the pressure to keep watching and saw the entire series in a couple of days. I think this show was excellently written, choreographed and pulled together. But the hurry of the format took away from my ability to appreciate all this. The scene with Fisk and the Russian gangster in the car would have been a total replay in the past. Now I'm afraid to slow down and enjoy. And the curious thing is I'm not writing reviews on that show. So, why? Some things are part of the format themselves. Some actions and patterns are suggested by the way things are set up. Even netflix's own programming encourages the whole "next episode in ten seconds" thing.

TJ said...

I definitely prefer binge watching. It helps me keep track of minor characters that might turn up every 10 episode or so, or perhaps only once per year. I tend to forget these characters outherwise and lose interest in them.

The problem for me is, that when a 22-episode-show airs from September to May, there are LOTS of breaks here and there. And I get frustrated. I remember when I began watching Buffy, I binge watched the first 5 seasons and then came in somewhere in season 6. But all the breaks now and then made me just want to scream!. Looking at the original air dates for Buffy, they usually had some odd week in Oct/Nov off, then Dec, then threw in an episode before Christmas, then hiatus again for a month, some odd week off in Feb, then hiatus for a month i Mar/Apr, then the final episodes in May. Crazy!
I remember 24 was a show that avoided these fragmented seasons. They usually began in January and there were No breaks at all.
I truly believe that's why I am not that invested in Supernatural. I've been following that show as it airs for 10 years, but there's so many gaps here and there that I have trouble keeping my interest.

And then we have GoT - I have given up on following that show as it airs. The seasons are too short, and then to have to wait a year for the next season is impossible for me to remember all the millions of characters that pops up, sometimes seasons apart. When the show is done - I'll binge watch it from the beginning.

All that said, I love reading reviews and discuss shows with others. And there's no denying that some part of that discussion gets lost with binge watching.

Maybe a team of reviewers doing binge reviewing is the model for the future? A bit like what you guys at Billiedoux are doing with The 100?

Billie Doux said...

TJ, we have indeed discussed doing Orange is the New Black as a group so that we could finish it in two or three weeks. I'm also thinking about doing a seasonal review. I'm halfway through Sense8 and I don't want to do individual reviews for each episode, but maybe I could something for the whole season?

pucklady, you know we're always looking for writers. :)

http://www.douxreviews.com/2001/01/so-you-want-to-be-guest-writer.html

The Fearless Freak said...

I'm absolutely in the binge camp. I lose interest in things that I have to wait too long for, if every episode isn't amazing (Vampire Diaries, I'm looking at you). Some times, if my attention is caught by a solid binge, I can sustain interest in a week to week format, but more often than not, I give up shows I have to wait to watch. Unfortunately, SHIELD was on of those shows that I felt was slow to get its footing and I haven't been able to get into. To be completely honest, Buffy would have been one of those shows, if I'd been watching it at air time. The first couple of seasons were slow and had way less attention grabbing episodes. Fortunately for me, I was watching old seasons on DVD from the library and watched seasons 1-4 in a few weeks and then watched 5-7 in real time. (I know no one else likes it, but 6 was my favorite season).

Patrick said...

I can definitely see the advantages and drawbacks to the binge-dump format. On the plus side, it gives me the viewer the freedom to watch the season on my schedule, not a network's. If I only have time for one episode a night, or a week, fine. If I want to burn through the entire season in a weekend(or a day, if I'm really hardcore), I can do that too. And because the shows aren't constrained by the usual network restrictions like regular commercial breaks and haituses, the writers don't have artificial pacing constraints.

On the flip side, there are definitely drawbacks. One of the biggest is the social aspect. Shows that air once a week make it a lot easier for everyone to be caught up to the same place in the season, at least within a few days of each other. Maybe you haven't watched Sunday night's show by Monday morning, but if the watercooler talk matters to you, you'll probably have seen it by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. That's a lot harder to do when 13 epiodes come out over a weekend. Sure, some folks will get through all 13 by Monday morning, but a LOT of people just don't have the time, even if they are big fans of the show.

The other potential drawback is in the episodes themselves. My experience with shows produced in this format is admittedly limited, but I think the looser time/pacing constraints on individual episodes, combined with the lack of separation between episodes, has led some shows to do things I'm not thrilled with. First off, how often have we heard someone talk about their show and say something like "we're treating this like a 13-hour movie more than a bunch of 1-hour standalone episodes"? People eat that stuff up. Long-form storytelling! Complex plotlines! Sweet! Just one thing to keep in mind. There's a reason nobody actually MAKES a 13-hour movie. That's a LOOOOOOONG time! By all means, have an overarching plot for the 13 episodes. But there need to be places during those 13 hours where the audience can catch their breath, feel like they're getting somewhere. In a situation like that, a view can feel almost like they HAVE to watch the whole season at once, just because there's nowhere in the middle that's a decent stopping point. Plus, within each episode, because they aren't bound by the strict length & pacing requirements of broadcast television, individual episodes can feel a bit long and sometimes a bit slow, since editors don't have to be as strict.

While I did watch the first season of OitNB(and I might get to the other seasons at some point), the two recent examples for me are Sense8 and Daredevil. Sense8 was a classic example of some of the drawbacks. There were some really interesting concepts in the show, and some fun characters. But there was barely a plot to speak of, and each episode felt like it dragged, without much actually happening. In a lot of ways it reminded me of what I didn't like about the first season of Heroes. Lots of people standing around pondering their existence, while we the audience watched and waited for them to get to the g-ddamn point.

Daredevil on the other hand, I absolutely LOVED. But even in that show, I think each episode could have been about 5-10 minutes shorter. Not from any one scene necessarily, just little snips here & there to tighten up the pace. And while to the best of my recollection pretty much every episode of that show ended on some kind of cliffhanger, there were real plot developments each episode. If you only watched one episode at time, you still felt like you were making progress.

Josie Kafka said...

As a viewer, I love the binge model. I feel like I enjoy shows more when I get to immerse myself in them; watching week to week makes it too easy for me to stop caring (and not quite re-start the care cycle again).

I also like the binge approach for rewatches. That's when I feel like I really can see the themes and so on.

As a reviewer, I haven't done an episode-by-episode set of reviews for an all-at-once show. The closest I've come is a full-season recap of Kimmy Schmidt, which I kept procrastinating about writing--even though I binged the show right when it came out!

mazephoenix said...

I don't binge, but sometimes I'll watch one episode a day..is that binging? A little maybe.
I don't mind episode-dumping..I try to avoid spoilers..mostly.
House of Cards season 3 was a chore to get through, but not Orange..I may even give on House..it felt so dull and pointless..sadly.
The net is the new water cooler isn't it?
Defiance is cool now. I binged "Younger"..a Darren Star comedy..it was very fun if shallow..it even stars Hilary Duff..but not as the lead..

Juliette said...

I think there are definite advantages to the episode dump for us international viewers. Most things take months or years to get to us, and even if TV people do put some effort into getting something to us as quickly as possible - which is so rare I can only think of one show that does it - it's not perfect. After the season five finale of Game of Thrones, there were headlines all over the internet, including in links on Facebook (so there was no way to avoid them if you went online at all) on Monday morning referring directly to the Unhappy Incident, but it wasn't screened here until Monday evening. With episode dumps like Orange is the New Black, although it can happen and you have to avoid Tumblr until you've watched it, that sort of thing seems to happen less often because no one assumes everyone's watching it all at once.

I don't really know which I prefer, and I think it depends partly on the show. I've really struggled to get into Agents of Shield and have more or less abandoned it again, but the times I have watched it have been in multi-episode binges. I think that's because I'm only interested in one or two characters who get five minutes' screentime per episode, so on a binge, I'll keep going to see what happens to them, but it's not worth thinking about week after week. OTOH I wouldn't mind Daredevil (which I'm four episodes into) being weekly because it does seem to be one I want to see one episode of at a time, and I think I wouldn't have struggled so much with Battlestar Galactica if it was weekly either (it's too depressing to watch all at once!).

kimgal said...

Love your site and have been following along with your reviews as I binge watched Dexter, Justified, OITNB, and now Supernatural. I definitely prefer the binge format, especially since I am still catching up on some of the older noteworthy series. Not a Netflix original but I would love if you reviewed Sons of Anarchy at some point.

Heather said...

I concur with lots of things people have said. Reading reviews does feel less lonesome with both the Netflix model and going back and binging an old shows.
I watched a season of OitNB in one weekend but haven't watched Daredevil yet so... Not sure if a weekly format would have changed the latter but maybe?

M said...

I like to binge. I will actually "save up" multiple episodes of a currently running show before I start watching it. I just don't like switching back and forth between shows. Doux Reviews is my water cooler, so I can read reviews as I watch a show, whether it was on last week or a year ago.

Mr. Robot is really, really excellent and 12 Monkeys is also good.

Jenna said...

I absolutely adore the binge-watch. As an avid reader, I like to watch my shows the same way I read books - to crawl inside it and live in its world until the book or show is finished. One episode a week makes that impossible. The only show I watch episode by episode is Doctor Who (because I live in its world nonstop anyway :D ), but with all other shows, I like to save up at least several episodes, if not the whole season, to watch all at once. With the binge-watch format, I don't have to wait that long, which is really cool! :)