When Did Binge-Watching Become Such A Big Deal?

Seriously, when?

I’m sure most people have noticed the large number of articles that have been written about binge-watching ever since Netflix became this generation’s broadcast television. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s basically a fancier way of saying “marathoning”, which you should know as consuming multiple episodes at once. The gist of most of those articles is that binge-watching is doing shows an injustice due to the difference between soaking up the atmosphere of a cliffhanger for a few days and just getting that cliffhanger resolved right away. And I have to be honest, I don’t get it. I see no positive to soaking up the tension of a cliffhanger for a week, nor do I see the downside of going through multiple episodes of a show if you like it.

Yeah if the show is awful, I can see why you’d want to watch it in weekly chunks. The newest season of Sherlock would have probably put viewers in a coma if they digested all four-and-a-half hours of what was ultimately considered a big “what the hell was that?” in one go. But if a show is good, why wouldn’t you want to watch it all at once? I understand that there’s only so much drama a human heart can take or how many laughs the body can produce in one sitting. Plus, you have to take a break from TV at some point because too much of it is not good for your health. However, I think most people can sit through at least a few episodes per sitting instead of just one. Even if you take into account player interaction, most video gamers can sit through a lot of story-based games for hours whilst ignoring the warning to take a break.

I mean you kind of have to get into binge-watching if you’re new to a scene and you need to catch up on all the big shows. Most kids don’t exactly grow up watching HBO’s or Showtime’s output due to moral reasons, so what exactly do you expect them to do when you finally allow them to watch Shameless or Game of Thrones? Before I started writing about anime, I only watched maybe 1-2 shows a season, or sometimes none at all with Trigun, Gurren Lagann, and such being glaring absences in my resume. You can’t expect me to not go through all the episodes of any of those at once, especially not by the standards of anime now. Actually, a lot of Japanese cartoons seems to encourage binge-watching due to how slow-paced a lot of the shows are, so maybe it’s my experience with a medium that most people dismiss as silly nerd stuff that makes me unable to appreciate the finer points of taking Fargo slow.

Where the whole binge-watching debacle really gets silly though is when people say they don’t want to go back to a show because in addition to no longer being fresh, they’ll never be able to digest it the same way. This is an attitude I do not get at all. If a show can only be enjoyed at a particular moment, then chances are it’s not a good show. It’s not like enjoying Star Wars because you watched it as a kid, as anyone can have that childhood at any time past those movies’ release, whereas no one can do that with Breaking Bad anymore. Last I checked, the pre-requisite for liking something is that you want to see it again sometime in the future, and if you don’t want to revisit something because you’re worried that it won’t have the same impact the initial weekly tension each episode provided whilst it aired, then that doesn’t speak well for said show. Besides, most people wouldn’t say the same thing about The Wire, and that show is more than a decade old.

The only real downside to the whole binge-watching trend I can think of is how Netflix tends to structure a lot of its shows to encourage marathoning rather than try to make every episode good as a standalone piece. A lot has already been said on how those Marvel shows are basically 13-hour long movies, and House of Cards has really worn out its welcome at this point in time. But that’s not exactly a new phenomenon either. Discounting anime for a moment because said problem is rampant there, serialized television in the past has had that exact same problem before (Twin Peaks anyone? And don’t try to defend that show by today’s standards. It’s pretty slow) and there’s still serialized TV running into the same issues now that I don’t think were influenced much by the latest trend from Westworld to Taboo. In other words, if a show runs into that problem, we usually call them “not good”.

It’s not like the whole “episodic” trend is any better. There’s more to using that format then just building the world or introducing new concepts each week. You have to make sure that each episode exists as its own stand-alone story whilst tying it in to a larger narrative, and most shows that try to go for that either screw it up or don’t push hard enough to make each episodes its own mini-movie. Don’t just hit every single plot beat of a standard “cop/detective goes after murderer” template and call it a day, as that’s not interesting to anyone who’s ever watched those kinds of shows before, and better to boot. Also, I can tell you right now that episodic stories that diverge from the main plot very rarely work out well.

Seriously, marathoning or binge-watching or whatever we call it these days has always existed. It may be a bit more forced on us as of now or unfamiliar to those who don’t watch Asian TV, but if a show is good, then I don’t see why most people wouldn’t want the whole thing right now. How you tell the story is a different matter altogether and there are limits to how much one person can handle in a day, but I see no real negatives to binge-watching itself. If you can only live in the present or you’re writing episodic posts for a TV review website, that’s your own problem. Binge-watching itself is here to stay, and I for one am glad it is.

I mean do you really expect me to not take in Mad Men all at once at this point in time? It’s 92 episodes long, and not much happens in each episodes besides “life”. No way am I spending more than a year watching that show, let alone the seven it took to finish as of now.

Minor Quips

  • Also, if you’re trying to get into the current superhero fad without binge-watching, I feel sorry for you.
  • Sure look forward to grinding through Chaos;Child once I’m in the mood.

3 responses to “When Did Binge-Watching Become Such A Big Deal?

  1. At least marathoning is easier now than having to book out the max number of VHS from the local shop, watch them over two or three days, return them, and hope the next videos in the series were available.
    Okay, showing my age.

      • Or worse, you’d borrow something and the tape was worn in places so you’d get about five minutes of show, some static, and then a bit more show.
        Okay, I was responsible for wearing out a lot of tapes at my local video shop so I probably shouldn’t complain about this.

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