Why I Need to Break my Binge-Watching Habit

grace and frankie

In recent news, Mad Men creator spoke about the now widely talked about series finale of the show. And while, sure, I was curious to hear his thoughts on the matter, what stood out to me more were his thoughts on his next project and whether it’d be one for binge-watching. According to The Hollywood Reporter:

When asked about returning to TV in the future, Weiner said that if he were to go with Netflix, for example, “I would try to convince them to let me roll them out so at least there was just some shared experience. I love the waiting; I love the marination. When you watch an entire season of a show in a day, you will definitely dream about it, but it’s not the same as walking around the whole week, saying, ‘God, Pete really pissed me off.’ And then at the end of the week, saying, ‘When he said he had nothing, that really hurt.’ I remember people saying that. You can reconsider it. And you see it pop up in your life. … I feel like you should be able to be as specific as you possibly can, and let that sit with people. I loved having the period in between the shows, and it probably is the end of it.”

This really resonated with me, especially now that I find myself falling prey to binge-watching not one but two series right now: cult-favorite Supernatural, which just finished up its 11th season on the CW, and the new series Grace and Frankie, which was just released on Netflix. And while I’m eagerly looking to watch more, particularly when I’m away from home (especially with Supernatural), I think I’m honestly suffering from the habit. Not health-wise, but entertainment-wise.

Let’s first look at Grace and Frankie. Now, I’m enjoying the series. Sure, some episodes are better than others, but as I sat around on Saturday waiting for the gas guy to come, they were a great couple of gals to keep me company. But that’s just about all the engagement I had with the series. They were just…there.

Case and point: character names. Sure, I knew Grace and I knew Frankie. And if you reminded me, I could tell you Robert and Sol. More accurately, I could tell you the actors who played them — that’s who I recognized from episode to episode. Even now, at eight episodes in, I can’t tell you any of the childrens’ names. This is a problem. I’ve watched over half the first season, and I can’t tell you recurring character names.

More so, I didn’t quite get the poignancy of the episodes. For example, after Grace and Frankie attended a funeral for the first time without their former husbands, you’d think I’d feel a little sense of sadness. And I did. I had a little sense of sadness. It didn’t stay with me, though. Why not? Because I just flipped to the next episode and ignored any of those tinges in favor of new adventures. I’m not giving myself the time to digest and, frankly, feel for the characters.

This latter point is one that I’ve felt in Supernatural. I’m now in the middle of the third season (and given that this was many years ago, I figure spoilers are fair game here). There have certainly been some episodes that carry sentimentality and, well, feelings. And yet, I can skip all those feelings in favor of finding out what happens next. Let’s look at the episode “Heart,” in season 2. Here we have Sam finally falling for someone, only to be force to kill her. She explicitly asks him to do it. Sam is literally breaking down in tears — even stone-faced Dean let’s a tear fall out down his face. No one wants to have to do it, but it has to be done. It’s the kind of episode that stays with you for that week between episodes. Only, it stayed with me for somewhere between 30 seconds and a day (I can’t recall how fast I moved on to the next episode) before I hopped in for another ride in the Winchesters’ car.

Or, let’s consider an episode from the next season, “Mystery Spot.” This was actually a really humorous episode, but the last scene has Sam looking deeply at the hotel bed. I didn’t think much of it, until fellow Raked writer JC pointed out how that basically was his home for almost a year. Between over 100 “Groundhog Days” and the six months after Dean’s death, this is where he lived and conducted his business. A year doesn’t seem that long to me and you, but since he’s basically a nomad, that’s a significant period of time. He was leaving somewhere important.

The only problem was, I didn’t actually spend 100 days there. I didn’t even spend one hour, which was the original airtime including commercials. I spent 42 minutes and then moved on. I didn’t give it the time it deserved to really hit me with its poignancy.

The worst one? How about “What Is and What Should Never Be”? I watched, enjoyed. But then the next day I remembered a scene with Dean crying. That was one of the last minutes of the episode — Dean was crying. Dean never cries. This is important. But what was he crying about? For the life of me, I can’t remember. And when something important and emotional isn’t connecting with me (and I’m a self-proclaimed sap), something’s wrong with this picture.

So Weiner has a point. You need that time. You need that time to shape an initial impression into something else, or at the very least engage with it. To him, it means that time between Pete’s a jerk to Pete’s actually a sympathetic and complex character. To me, it means the difference between feeling and caring for characters, and just glossing by just so I can find out how it all ends.

All that said, I can’t seem to stop binge-watching. And I’m sure my long weekend coming up will be filled with nights of back-to-back Supernatural episodes (after all, I have to catch up by the fall).

If you have any advice, help me out. And for the sake of the characters we’re spending hours with, let’s take a little time to think and digest. And maybe just connect with TV again.

*Photo by Melissa Moseley/Netflix

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2 thoughts on “Why I Need to Break my Binge-Watching Habit

  1. You make a good case to spreading out the episodes to allow you to digest the content, but what if the content isnt that good? Or the content is SO good that no time in between would heal the wounds? Case in point, i am going through the Torchwood series and its mediocre at best. There are some points where i should feel the weight of the drama happening and in a better series i might, but in a sub-par series should i really have to wait? On the other hand, i binged the entire Breaking Bad series, 3-4 episodes a day. I feel like i felt every bit of each show (and still do to this day), despite going from one episode to the next. Should the caliber of the series be taken into account when you decide to string them together? What would be the proper time to digest an episode be before you are allowed to keep going. Days? Hours? Ive talked about dramas, what about comedys? I feel this would make a good psychology study.

  2. You make a really good point here, and I think the word that Weiner used (marinate) is absolutely the right one. A little time between episodes lets things sink in more, lets you feel more sympathy or disgust for the characters, and adds a sense of additional time to their story arcs. I loved binging Breaking Bad a few years ago, but I do have to say that at some points, Walt’s descent into evil felt slightly “rushed” and maybe that’s because I didn’t put a week of time in between the last episode. It’s kind of like watching a bunch of Friends episodes in a row and then realizing that one girlfriend/boyfriend was only in three episodes; you think to yourself, “Really? I thought they were in this show for much longer?” But really it was just the time in between the episodes original air dates that made it seem longer. I do love binging shows, but there’s something missing when you do.

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