Chris Neary is a producer for On the Media.
I'll Have Another
Friday, July 13, 2012 - 03:25 PM
On the show this week Bob talks with Slate contributor Jim Pagels about the good and bad of binge-watching TV. As you'll hear in the show, Bob just ripped off 33 episodes of Breaking Bad in three days. Just some back-of-the-envelope math here – that’s 1551 minutes of watching Breaking Bad and away from his family and professional responsibilities.
At the time of writing this post, he’s got in the neighborhood of 48 hours to finish season 4 before season 5 begins Sunday night.
I’ve binged through most of my favorite shows. Watching episode after episode after episode of something like Homeland provides me with what feels like dopamine aided hours of elation.
Some of the shows I’ve binged on:
The Larry Sanders Show
I asked OTM producers and public radio luminaries Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt about their TV-binging experiences.
I am firmly of the opinion that a show isn't worth watching until it's cancelled or the series creators have decided to end it. That way there's no cliffhangers that take six months to resolve, and no unsatisfying episode endings that can't almost immediately be rectified by firing up the next episode. I am fully aware of the cognitive dissonance required to hold this opinion - that by not watching a show while it's on the air, me and people like me might actually be hastening the end of a show that I love. I get it. But I find the prospect of waiting months or even years (*ahem*, Mad Men) for resolution is just so unsatisfying, I'd rather wait until a show is available in its entirety. It doesn't hurt that I am of the rare breed that doesn't care a lick about spoilers, so I don't mind being a party to conversations about a show while it's still on the air.
As far as binging goes, my crowning achievement was to watch 75 episodes of the 2003 reboot of Battlestar Galactica (including the two TV movies) over the course of about 3 weeks. Granted I was laid up after a car accident, so I had plenty of free time. Luckily, the entire show was available on Netflix.
My best binge TV watching experience, by far, was with The Sopranos. I watched all six and a half seasons over the course of one July. I was a student, it was summer. It was compulsive and deeply enjoyable. The only other thing I had was a part-time job at a clothing store, so every day was the same: watch 3-6 episodes, fall into a fitful, sweaty sleep next to my laptop, go to work, come home, watch more episodes, sweaty sleep, etc, ad infinitum.
The nice thing about binge TV watching is it immerses your imagination in the world of the story in this way that normal, responsible TV watching just can’t. You find that the characters and the world exist for you even in the moments you spend away from them. The Wire was like that too – while watching it, I felt like I’d walk around my city and see it in an entirely different way.
Anyway. The Sopranos. I’ve almost never committed an act of violence against a stranger, but I did that summer, and it was basically because I allowed Tony Soprano to posses me.
The stranger was this fellow student at my college who’d stolen my sneakers at a party the previous winter. I’d had to walk home without them on a snowy February night in Montreal. Montreal in February ranges between 20 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit below freezing. Two feet of snow is not considered remarkable. It was a long walk home, and I stayed mad about it for months afterward. I kept my eyes peeled for whoever had stolen my very distinct shoes (yellow Adidas’ with paint splotches on them) but I thought the most likely thing was that they were sitting in the back of a closet somewhere. Who would have the chutzpah to wear a stolen pair of bright yellow sneakers on campus?
I got a call one morning that July from my then girlfriend. She was at the college bookstore and had seen a guy wearing my shoes. I took a cab across town to the bookstore. He was still inside when I got there, and so I paced around outside, realizing belatedly that I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I am not a tough person, and I don’t look like one. I’ve lost basically all of the few confrontations I’d had with strangers, unless you count stammering an apology while backing away as winning. But I realized that unless I wanted to watch this guy stride away in my shoes, I was going to have to channel Tony.
He came outside and almost walked into me. He was a little shorter than me and dressed in a billowy white oxford, with skinny dark pants and my yellow shoes as a kind of playful highlight. I barked at him. “Nice shoes, where’d you get them?” “Uh, my brother gave them to me.” “They’re mine. Take them off.”
He pretended to not know what I was talking about, which is where, I think, if I were functioning like a normal person, I would have been embarrassed and gone into my stammering apology mode. Instead, I summoned Tony. I grabbed him by his stupid white shirt and shoved him against a glass door. I held him there. I insisted that he return my shoes.
I remember holding him there as normal, sane students awkwardly sidled past us. I remember thinking that I was no longer myself, and how strange it felt to have a stranger be afraid of me. There’s a longer version of this story, but the short one is that he confessed, in a roundabout way, and returned my shoes. They’re still in my closet, but I never wear them because they smell awful.