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
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
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?