Wednesday, July 30, 2014

In Praise of the Binge

Not booze, silly. Television! I remember taking a television  programming class in college some 30 years ago. The professor told us "If you think television hasn't changed - just remember Gilligan's Island was once on prime time." True words, even today. I believe we are in a Golden Age of television. We're seeing creative people flexing their muscles and stretching the medium to its fullest potential.

Which brings me to binge watching, taking entire seasons of a series and watching as much or as little as you want at a time. I know our family's viewing habits have changed greatly since the days of our first VCR in the 80s. Now, armed with a Chromecast and a Netflix subscription, binge watching is quickly replacing sitting down at 8 p.m. to watch our favorite shows.

 I was first introduced to this phenomenon a few years back when a friend recommended I watch Prime Suspect, the British TV series, starring Helen Mirren. At the time streaming only pertained to something liquid, so I put the discs in my queue at Netflix and eagerly awaited the arrival of those red envelopes, three at a time. It was fascinating to watch a character that had taken seven years to develop quickly unfold before my eyes. I was hooked.

Now it has become our habit to choose a binge-worthy show and watch, especially in the summer months. Our latest is Game of Thrones. I watched it "live" over the past four seasons, but my husband hadn't. He decided it was time to dip his toes into the Narrow Sea of Westeros. We just finished Season four. We now talk about the characters as if we know them personally ("That Littlefinger is so underhanded!") and make glib comments ("Is Ramsay Snow reading Fifty Shades of Greyjoy?"). My husband knew there was something called The Red Wedding, but he didn't know what happened or why. Yes, he is still in shock. And if you want to see how funny people can be on the internet, google "If Game of Thrones was on Facebook."

Netflix is certainly fueling this change, both with content and a really good app. HBO Go has access to a lot of content, but the app can be dodgy. Below are some other shows I've watched, binge-style. I've tried to edit out spoilers, but if you're watching/plan to watch any of them, proceed with caution.

  • Downton Abbey. My birthday gift was a Blu-Ray and Season 1. How was I not in on the first broadcast season? This show is right up my alley. I knew there was some kind of kerfuffle over the exit of a character, but I was unprepared for what unfolded in Season 3. Please pass the tissues.
  • House of Cards. Meh. I wanted to like this one, and I just don't. It's less the West Wing and more Melrose Place. People are being sneaky just to be sneaky. How does anyone have time to govern? The show lost me with its improbable situations and murky plots. I was really done when my favorite character had an Anna Karenina-ish moment. And the three-way with the Secret Service agent made me feel icky.I finished season two, but I don't think I'll be back.
  • Orange is the New Black. Another Netflix program, made for the binge. This show is remarkable in the depth, complexity, and diversity of its mostly female cast of characters. It also probably wouldn't have gotten the green light on a "regular" channel. The characters are finely drawn and interesting. I'm looking forward to the next season.
  • Breaking Bad. I never watched this when it was broadcast on AMC. I kept wondering why Bryan Cranston, the daffy dad on Malcolm in the Middle, kept winning the Emmy over other actors I really liked. Oh. That's why. The entire family liked this one. It fueled many a dinner table conversation about the moral relativism that is Walter White and whether meth-cooking was a viable income stream (it isn't).
  • The Wire. Some have argued Breaking Bad is the finest show ever to appear on TV. After careful consideration, my vote goes to this one. The Wire is like a big, thick, finely-crafted novel that, once completed, you return to read again, either in its entirety or a few chapters at a time. In the season about schools, I saw characters that reflected children I know. In the final season, they did a fine job portraying an industry near and dear to my heart, newspapers. Excuse me, I need to go re-watch Season four.

So, anyone have any other shows that are binge-worthy?