There's a meme of sorts spreading around the interwebs based on a Slate piece by Jim Pagels called "Stop Binge-Watching TV" as well as Mary McNamara's "The side effects of binge television" in the LA Times. While it's tempting to pig out, so to speak, and run through a huge stack of episodes or seasons for a popular or buzz-worthy that you may have missed, Pagels advises us: "Slow down. Even if you aren’t taking crystal meth to fuel your rapid consumption of the best series of the last 10 years (yes, I have seen The Wire), you’re still ruining much of what makes the show—and all TV shows—great."
This is an interesting topic, and one that I've been mulling for a few days. The thing, I realized, is that my desire to "binge" on a given show is almost always inextricably tied to my desire to watch it at all. In other words, the more I enjoy a series, the more I desire to watch every available episode as quickly as possible. The opposite is also true: the less I like a show, the more willing I am to "voluntarily" wait an increment of time between viewing sessions.
But I do think we need to parse through some of Pagels' reasoning here as well. He argues, for instance, that "episode recaps and online communities provide key analysis and insight." Of course, as publisher of TV Geek Army, I absolutely agree with this. However, in cases where we have the ability to "binge," it's nearly always a scenario where we've missed the boat for some reason during the whole or part of a series' run. Therefore it's going to be nearly impossible to watch incremental pieces of what we've missed, dive into the web to catch up on analysis and commentary for just that specific bit, and then get back to the next episode, and so forth.
Overall I realized that the relative "solution" to a binge – reserved for the very best shows – is, wait for it… a second viewing. Great example of this for me is Downton Abbey. I latched onto this gem of a show during its second season and rattled through all I had missed with every spare minute and breath. Now, during the long wait for Season Three, I've been watching it once again – a little bit more slowly this go round – with my wife, who is just now embracing it herself for the first time. So she and I get to do some of the "in between" analysis and speculating that I'd normally head to the webs to find during a new season of a show I greatly enjoy.
Andrew Sullivan argues that binge watching is fine as long as the series is of a high quality – he lists Battlestar Gallactica, Game of Thrones, and The Wire as examples. He then shifts focus to rain a hellstorm of scorn against shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey and their ilk, deploying a passion that reminds me of Ricky Gervais' melancholy and somehow transcendent monologue in the Extras series finale.
Before we get there though, here's Sullivan on Real Housewives:
That show's emptiness, hollowness, vacuousness, its transformation of children into products for a self-sustaining celebrity industry, its revelling in human manipulation in the midst of wanton greed, its venomous vulgarity and moral cesspit: it's truly the most appalling, cynical and morally disgusting display of doucherie on the box, which is saying something.
And here's the Gervais speech, well worth another watch:
So I suppose the "camps" boil down to:
And so I suppose, in conclusion, that I come down with the binge revelers.
Fight for your right to binge watch!