You finish a great episode of a great show. You want to watch the next one, but you’ve already seen three of these and it’s getting late.
Do you press play?
If so, you’ve developed the tech-enabled entertainment habit known as binge viewing.
And some people think you’re doing it wrong.
“Slow down,” wrote Jim Pagels of Slate. “Marathon viewing destroys much of what is best about TV.”
I’ve binge watched shows from “Battlestar Galactica” in 2009 to “Breaking Bad” this summer and I just can’t agree. TV has never been better. Technology changes and behaviors shift but the story, as Time TV critic James Poniewozic wrote, is resilient. If I regret anything, it’s the whiplash from speeding through five seasons of wild Walter White only to crash into a yearlong wait for more episodes. But no biggie; Netflix said it plans to release every episode of a new season of Arrested Development at once next spring. The rest of the industry can’t be far behind.
Until “binge” viewing sheds its rap as a reckless vice, here are seven ways to rationalize the habit.
1. Everybody’s doing it
“Everyone, it seems, has the TV show they’re working on,” wrote John Lichman of IndieWire. It’s true. Ask someone about yours and they’ll probably tell you about theirs, whether it’s “Friday Night Lights,” “Mad Men” or the almighty “The Wire.” It doesn’t matter if we watch four episodes per week or per day. We watch on our schedule, and that’s awesome. “Why bother keeping track of when a show is on and plan my life around that, when I can just DVR it?” Seattle’s Rasmus Rasmussen asked on a Facebook thread on the topic. As for nonstop marathon watching, “Everything in moderation,” noted Oscar Wilde, “including moderation.”
2. Immersion = awesome
Some drinks you sip. Others you shoot. Is the intensity of the show you’re watching building with every episode? Are your smiles, your laughs, your cries, feeling bigger as you go? Then why stop? Open up and throw it back. But some episodes take time to absorb, I’ve heard friends say. Not, I think, if your brain is steeped in the plot, clutching what happened last episode much more tightly than someone who saw it last week. Maybe excess is possible — “Too much TV makes my brain throw up,” Peter Comley wrote on the Facebook thread — but not, I think, while you’re enjoying yourself.
3. It’s good to know what’s up
The last thing I ask my parents every time we talk is where they are on “Battlestar Galactica.” We got them into it over Christmas, they watched some nights until 2 a.m., and every time they’ve seen an episode of what I believe is the greatest work of science fiction ever produced for the screen, there’s something new to talk about. Catching up with current shows has a broader payoff. Watching “Downton Abbey” opened up more than a few conversations with friends this year. Next, I’ve got to know what’s so great about “Homeland.”
4. We already “binge” read
… Except that when a book sucks us in, it’s because it’s really good, not because we’re out of control. Ah, the high art/low art double standard. “It sounds like I’ve been ‘binge reading’ almost my entire life,” asked Lane Hatfield. “Is binge watching really so different?” I can’t see why it should be. The best TV shows rival the best books in elegance and complexity. Yet an incessant reader is a bookworm and an incessant TV viewer is an addict. Hm.
5. TV will catch up
“Binge-watching a show like Breaking Bad is probably the purest way to watch a great series, but if everyone watched this way, no great series would make it past the first season,” Emily Nussbaum wrote in New York Magazine. Really? Just wait. If the music industry could adapt to our consumer habit of buying songs instead albums, the TV industry can adapt to the habit of watching seasons instead of episodes. With more demand for tight, cinematic storylines, it might even get better.
An episode ends with a cliffhanger and you can’t wait to find out what happens. Lo and behold, you’ve got Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus or a DVD and you don’t have to. But waiting pays off, claims Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara. “No resolution will ever be as powerful as the growing desire for it,” she wrote. Sure, anticipation has its perks, but don’t think too hard. This is entertainment. Discipline is very, very optional. Want satisfaction? You know where it is. Go and get it.