… or: How I learned to stop bingeing and love the wait

Let’s say I was given a choice: either I give up all the movies in my collection or I say goodbye to all the box sets I’ve got. Which do I let go of? The Criterion disks I’ve amassed since I first discovered the Collection would make this a difficult choice, but in the end I think I would want to hang on to the series I’ve got. The thought of not having constant and (nearly) instant access to Six Feet Under, Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos, as well as some of the later additions such as Treme or Hannibal is arguably worse than suddenly being bereft of the many, many films filling the shelves of the many, many Billy bookcases that we have accrued.

How do you measure, measure a reactionary fantasy?

While I am very much a series junkie, though, I am not much of a binge watcher. I faintly remember watching most of Spaced one weekend when I was ill, and I think I saw the first season of 24 pretty much in real time – well, as real as the series’ use of real time, though with more actual bathroom breaks. I have definitely watched episodes of Breaking Bad and wanted to know immediately what happens next, but all in all I find that bingeing on fiction is oddly similar to that time when I was 10 years old and ate all my Easter bunnies within two hours or so. (It was years before I’d touch another chocolate bunny.) While it’s going on, mainlining good TV is moreish, there’s a feverish excitement to it – but afterwards my brain always feels bloated, empty and faintly nauseous.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I never really watched much more 24  – well, I did see the second season, but Kim Bauer’s “Walking with Mountain Lions” episodes finished off any interest I had in Who I Tortured on my Hols. Mainly, however, I feel that binge watching makes it much more likely that I get tired of the things I dislike about a series. Take Daredevil, of which we’re currently watching the second season: it’s exciting, well produced, enjoyable Marvel fare, but it is also repetitive. We’ve only just seen the second episode of the season, but I already catch myself glancing at my watch when everyone’s favourite Catholic ninja beats up another bunch of ne’er-do-wells. The series reminds me of Buffy spin-off Angel in a number of ways, and the limited appeal of fighting scenes is perhaps the foremost of these: the less a fight is about characterisation, the less it holds my interest. I want to know what happens next with Matt, Foggy and Karen – but, please, give me a few days off before another bout of fisticuffs!

Neverwhere (BBC radio adapation)

It’s not just TV, by the way: on a seven-hour train trip home after a work event, I spent much of that time listening to the BBC radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, not one of Gaiman’s best and possibly the one that sticks closest to the Gaiman tropes, but a fun urban fantasy nevertheless. The adaptation’s enjoyable, but at least for me it didn’t hold up all that well to bingeing. Listening to all of it pretty much in one go highlighted for me how important a factor time is when it comes to my enjoyment of longform fiction: I quickly become engaged in a well-told story, but this engagement is relatively shallow, unless you add time. In between instalments, I think about the characters, what they’ve done, what they’ve said, how it all fits together. I come up with theories on what happens next or why the protagonist acted the way she did. I find that my mind’s occupied with the world of the story even when I’m not conscious of it; I might sit in a meeting, and suddenly my brain goes, “Oh, so that‘s why he gave her that look…!”

Of course this kind of engagement doesn’t happen with every story, and chances are I would’ve tired of the Jack Baueriad even if I hadn’t binged on season 1. Some stories pull me in, some don’t. The best, though, don’t need to stimulate me with frequent helpings of What Happens Next – because there’s so much else there that is interesting. Ironically, it’s when I don’t binge  that I’m more likely not just to visit these fictional words – but for part of my imagination to live there more permanently.

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2 thoughts on “… or: How I learned to stop bingeing and love the wait

  1. comforn May 1, 2016 / 6:38 pm

    I think 24 has to be seen as the grandaddy of a lot of later series (Breaking Bad, Hannibal) – it feels like the series that really kicked off the box set craze, but the plot dynamics definitely feel a bit creaky by modern standards (5 minutes left – let’s put Jack in peril! We can always sort it out in the first 2 minutes next week). And despite owning the first five series on DVD (and watching all but one), I was never quite tempted enough to rewatch a single episode. I see it as more of a guilty pleasure now, but even then I still really enjoyed the last London-set 12 episode series, and I’m see I’ll watch the next one too!

    On balance, I’d say that the only reason I would pick series over films would be the hassle of getting them back again (eg. downloading a single film is far easier than finding 10 consecutive episodes in English). But having said that, I’ve only seen one series of Hannibal (loved every horrifically gruesone minute), a few episodes of The Wire and The Sopranos (one day…) and absolutely none of Six Feet Under, Deadwood or Treme – so I’ll bow to your superior knowledge!

    • thirithch May 2, 2016 / 4:33 am

      For me, The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood and Six Feet Under are the Big Four: the HBO series that in so many ways stand above everything else. Neither is perfect: The Sopranos meanders a bit too much, but when it’s good it’s amazing; The Wire requires quite an investment from the viewer, with its sheer number of plots and characters, and the last season is decidedly weaker; Deadwood had an overarching plot that required four seasons, but it was cancelled after three; and Six Feet Under’s characters are neurotic and their own worst enemies, which can annoy some viewers. Still, if I had to whittle my collection down to just four, those would be the four I keep. (Sorry, Heisenberg and Hannibal…)

      One other one I can absolutely recommend: Generation Kill, a miniseries about the Iraq war by the makers of The Wire. It feels less like work at the beginning, because there aren’t as many plots to keep track of, and it’s not a five-season commitment, but it’s probably my favourite piece of TV/film to come out of the Iraq mess.

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