To Binge or Not to Binge?

The way of watching television has changed a lot, what with networks' audiences on a never-ending decline and other platforms like Netflix and Hulu becoming more popular and prominent. Because of those, one of the biggest changes is the possibility to watch a full season or series at once, the famously known binge watch.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the binge. Joss Whedon is not either. Victoria, on the other hand, is a full fledged binger, as is pretty much everyone over at Netflix. So we are here to make our cases (Victoria and I, not Joss and the Netflix folks), but the decision of which way of watching TV suits you better is, of course, yours to make.

One part of the story at a time

Lamounier

One friend of mine sent me a message after finishing Buffy season five. He thanked me for introducing him to the series and said he was going to start season six right away. I was like "what? No! You have to let season five sink in first". He responded he was too sad and needed to watch season six (side note, I evilly thought, "that ought to help"). I understand the need to go to the next chapter as quickly as possible, but I believe you lose something there. You barely register what just happened because you fly to see what happens next. Surely it's not the same for everybody, however, I think most viewers don't process the story's impact when they watch it nonstop, much like a person doesn't appreciate the taste of a meal they eat too fast.

When TV is good, each episode has meaning, whether it's a standalone or a part of a larger story. It begs to be analyzed, to be thought about. Recently, I fell in love with The OA. After I finished watching a certain episode, I so wanted to watch the following one, but I stopped myself. I knew that if I started to binge I would go all the way. Here is the thing, even when there is a cliffhanger or the story is mesmerising, I believe the end of every episode is a stopping point, a place for you to pause and contemplate the story told thus far. By the end of the next chapter, the tale is not the same; the characters are not the same; their world is not the same, and how you perceive all those elements has changed as well. The experience of seeing an episodic story unfold is enriched when you allow yourself to take breaks and absorb what has been presented to you.

Remember the break between seasons five and six of Buffy? Speculations ran high, we had no idea what was coming next, how the story would continue after the fifth season finale. UPN did those "Buffy [spoiler]" promos that got us even more excited. It was such a great time to be a fan. Think about any other good cliffhanger that lasted either a week or several months. It was a killer and it left you begging for more. All that wait and anticipation, all the theorizing and conjecturing are part of being a fan of a TV series. Yes, I know you lose some of it if you don't watch the series during its original run, and you cannot control that, but you lose nearly all of it when you binge.

Now, things are not set in stone when it comes to enjoying art and entertainment. There have been times I binge watched and the experience was for the better of it. I gave up of How I Met Your Mother on its final season, but once I heard what happened on the finale I had to come back and see how it happened. The season was much better on binge (and some fast forward here and there), and I'm one of those who did like the finale, so it was worth it. I give the same treatment to most series I used to love that are just not as good as they once were: wait for the season to end and binge it all. But if it's a series I still love and enjoy, I prefer to watch it on a weekly basis.

Another friend of mine absolutely adores Orange is the New Black, which is why she watches an entire new season as soon as Netflix releases it. Next thing you know, she is sad that she has to wait a year or more for the next season because she burned everything at once. That is another reason why I like to wait and appreciate a season slowly. You can extend the pleasure of watching new episodes for weeks or months, which means your waiting time between seasons won't be so long. You stay with the developing story you love so much for a little longer, and what better gift than that there is to a fan?

Binge watching pros

Victoria Grossack

I binge watch. The alternative is to watch regularly on network TV. My lifestyle, which involves part of my time on one continent, and part of my time on another, makes regular network TV very difficult. The two markets offer different selections. I could watch Supergirl in the US only to discover that it's not yet showing in Europe.

Even Netflix's offerings are not the same from market to market. The last time I bounced to Europe, I had to stop watching The Flash because it wasn't part of Netflix's selection. In Europe I had to speed through all the episodes of The Mentalist because it was not available in the US.

But the Europe/US problem – though real – is only an excuse. Once I start a story, I often have difficulty letting go. During one summer vacation in my high school years, I picked up Gone with the Wind and read its 1000+ pages in three straight days (practically no food or drink or sleep – I only took breaks to go to the bathroom). I'm older now and don't have that sort of time (or stamina) but that compulsion to continue is still a part of who I am. If a series engages me, I hate waiting for the next episode.

My other problem is that I can't mentally juggle many stories simultaneously. When I'm watching one show, if I'm enjoying it, I don't want to leave it to enter another story-verse. It's like dating – I never wanted to date around, even when I was between serious relationships. Emotionally both situations are too much bother. Besides, I think you are with a single story for an intense period, you tend to understand it better. You remember the emotions and details from the last few episodes. You can see the arcs developing; you thrill to the twists and turns.

Of course there are exceptions. I like The Big Bang Theory, so I watch it when it comes my way. The show is enjoyable but not so emotionally intense; I can wait for the next episode. But for the shows that engage me, I prefer to watch only one at a time, and then watch it straight through. Because of this (and the two continent issue, which is real) I won't be reviewing many shiny and new shows for Doux Reviews. I can't. But I kind of want to wait until I can indulge in these shows in their completeness anyway.

To binge or not to binge, that is the question. Which do you prefer, and why?

12 comments:

Billie Doux said...

What a great piece, guys. Honestly, I like both. It sort of depends on the show.

Like recently, I discovered Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Hulu and discovered that the second half of the fourth season would start in a month or two, so I binged it. And you're right, Lamounier -- because of that, I don't remember that much and it didn't have as strong an impact. But it's not a show that is tremendously important to me. I also remember my lengthy obsession with Buffy while it was airing, how I watched and rewatched each episode the week that it aired (and wrote about it, too).

Victoria, this is an interesting coincidence. When I was a teenager, I picked up Gone With the Wind for the first time, and read the entire thing in -- you guessed it -- three days. That was some weekend.

An Honest Fangirl said...

I've found that whether or not I binge a show really depends on where I am. I don't really have access to a traditional TV while I'm away at college, so I watch everything online. It can be difficult to stay caught up on shows that air weekly when I don't have them recorded somewhere. And while I can get the episodes online, I've had so many technical difficulties that it almost makes it too much of a hassle to bother. At least when I'm binge watching, I know that I have all the episodes in one, easily accessible place. But when I'm home on break, I'm much more likely to watch TV in the traditional way.

I think that I might prefer binge watching, though. While I can appreciate the idea of letting big moments and cliffhangers sink in, it's easier for me to see the overarching themes and parallels and whatnot if I watching everything in a short timespan. And I find that I end up binge watching shows that I'm watching on a week by week basis anyways. During the recent Lucifer hiatus, I've been rewatching the entire series. Partly because I want to review it, but also because I simply miss the characters and the show.

But then again, I'm also the kind of person to pick up a 300+ page book and devour it in an afternoon.

Patryk said...

I think I'm somewhere in the middle of both types of watching. I never watch more then 2 episodes of single show per day and If I can I try to watch only one. So that each episode is special in it's own way and I have time to think about it. But waiting a week for the next one is too long.

I would prefer to watch one ep per day. That way I don't burn it all away and I still get to watch it fairly fast. But hey a 22 episode season will last 3 weeks this way.

A recent example for me is the 100 where I watched 2 episodes per day (because it was xmas hiatus and nothing else competed) from seasons 1-3. You can really see how the story is connected and appreciate callbacks. With the 4th season I don't even feel the urgency of the season arc that much thanks to the 1 ep per week thing and now they have a hiatus after episode 8 for some reason...

There is also the case where a show gets a really wretched epsiode (say like Beer Bad in season 4 Buffy) You just need to watch another one to clean the palette so to speak.

magritte said...

I'm with Patryk here. I binge watch in the sense that I typically only watch one TV show at a time until I finish it or get bored of it--currently I'm working my way through the 100. But I work my way through it at the rate of 1-2 episodes per day; I would never watch a whole season in weekend. I just don't like sitting down and watching a screen passively that much...an hour or two is enough.

This style of watching works well with a lot of modern shows that have long story arcs. If full enjoyment of the show requires you to remember things that happened five or six episodes back, watching at the rate that they come out doesn't work for me.

Remco said...

I try to maintain the intended breaks that were introduced by the creators' splitting the story up into episodes and seasons. But I compress the time frame a little: I'll typically watch two shows at the same time, one episode of each every day, until the season finale. Then I switch to two other shows and watch a season of those with the same method. And then I switch back and forth between those four shows. This does require some bookkeeping, because it doesn't always neatly match up of course, so I keep track of what I watched in a spreadsheet.

It's a bit involved, but the result is that I go through a show fast enough to remember what happened four seasons ago, yet not so fast that everything becomes a blur. And it maintains the cliffhangers between episodes and seasons, while not making me wait all summer for the resolution.

Of course this rigid schedule doesn't account for when you catch up to the show, so I generally prefer to delay picking up a new show until it has ended.

Mallena said...

I don't have the strength to not binge watch when that is available, but on the other hand, I do appreciate the merits of one week at a time. Just because I can binge, it doesn't mean it is good for me. I used to binge on DVDs. When season 4 of Farscape finally arrived from Canada by mule train, apparently, (long story) I loved it so much I spent a whole weekend doing nothing than watching the season over and over. I binged Supernatural because I hadn't watched it until we got Netflix a few years ago, and that was great...no Hellatus' for me, but it was also great to watch the next season live with my new online friends. It was really hard to wait through a whole summer that first time, though. I tend to watch too many shows too fast, and then feel bereft when there is nothing new that I can watch. I need to learn to pace myself, so a world of binge and week to week is what I would like.

Chris said...

I'm not a binger. I usually have a couple of shows that I alternate between, watching a couple of episodes of this show, then watching a few of that show. When I'm done with a season, I usually take a little break from that show to build up anticipation for the next season. This break can last from a month to half a year. So yeah, I definitely like to take my time with a show ;)

The downside is that I often find myself being a couple of seasons behind and rarely up to date. Thus, I'm also in constant danger of being spoiled, which I hate. Also, a lot of my friends do binge watch shows, so it becomes harder to discuss episodes with them since I'm rarely at the same point as them.

The upside however is that you appreciate the show much more and build a much stronger connection to the characters. I fell in love with the characters on Buffy and Lost, obviously because of the great writing and acting, but also because I literally spent years with these guys and watched them grow, experience pain and sorrow, and bond with each other, slowly, over time. Now of course I would not suggest taking seven years to finish Buffy, but a year or even half a year would be long enough to have the same effect, I think. But nobody can convince me that watching all episodes in a week or two can have that same impact on you, no way.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

A drawback to shows that release all their episodes at once is that it doesn't lead to a lot of discourse within the fandom. Basically you just watch all over a few days, then you talk about it for a week, and then it's pretty much dead for a year.

Shows releasing episodes week by week develop stronger fandoms and more intelligent discussions.

magritte said...

Just thinking of the views of Joss Whedon vs Netflix, I think there's a difference between the shows that may influence their preferences. While Joss Whedon's shows typically have season-long story arcs, they also generally feature clear and discrete plotlines for each individual episode. Whereas with a lot of Netflix shows (think of Sense8 or the 3%), individual episodes don't really have clear beginnings and endings.

Marianna said...

I see the points behind the weekly format, particularly if I'm watching a show right when (or very shortly after like the same week) it airs. That way I can react to the show as it's intended. I wonder if the Netflix shows might benefit in the same way if they were watched in the same kind of trajectory.

However, I find watching shows in the weekly format to be somewhat burdensome and binging to be more relaxing, so I reserve the weekly viewings for a few select shows, currently The Walking Dead, Agents of SHIELD, and Gotham. I do also enjoy that I pick up on patterns and remember details more when binging, so there is that! Then again in cases where I binge a season and then have to wait for the next season I end up waiting almost a year so sometimes by the time it comes out I don't remember what happened last season.

Patryk said...

Speaking of Netflix shows, I also applied my method of watching so it took me 13 days to go through Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Daredevil each. OF course it was really hard to read anything online about the shows before I ended the seasons because well spoilers.

The fact that Doux Reviews were usually for each episode made it easier on me, but I was tempted many times. The Netflix episodes are also longer then normal so one episode satisfies the need to watch for longer.

Mallena said...

12 Monkeys is showing all 10 episodes of season 3 in May on a 3 day schedule. The showrunner says that is because his show is so bingeable. I agree, it is, but I wonder about the reason. Usually when a show is released that way, it is just dumping the episodes because no one thinks that anyone is watching anyway. Maybe the producers think that if people know that all episodes are available so quickly, that more people might watch the show, get hooked, and want more? 12 Monkeys only gets a half a million eyeballs, usually, so it does need help. I love the show, I'm already buying the seasons on Blu Ray because the show is just streaming on Hulu, and the commercials drive me a little crazy.