Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

June 9, 2014

TIDBITS: Instant TV gratification

CROSSVILLE — I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open today, and it is all Netflix’s fault.

Friday, the online TV streaming service released the second season of its celebrated series “Orange is the New Black” (OITNB) about a privileged New Yorker’s experience when she is sentenced to a year in a federal women’s prison. A hectic weekend schedule and prioritizing sunshine over sitting on my living room couch kept me from diving in right away on the show, but I could only keep away for so long.

Sunday morning, I turned on the TV, found the show in my Netflix instant queue and settled in. I was only going to watch one episode and then get outside. But after the first episode, it was looking a little dark and gloomy out there, and I decided to watch another, and another.

I took a little break, did a little work around the house, walked the dog, visited the state park, and picked up some groceries for dinner.

Then it was back to my couch to continue season two of the 13-episode series.

I was officially bingeing on the show. I made it through eight episodes before I had to tear myself away and go to sleep, or I would probably be sleeping at my desk right now instead of typing this weekly column.

Netflix doesn’t seem to mind that viewers binge on OITNB, or other Netflix original series “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development.” In fact, they seem to encourage it, releasing the whole season at one time. OITNB generated more viewers and hours viewed in the first week than those other hit original shows.

I would tell you that I save my TV bingeing for special occasions, like the new season of this original Netflix programming, but I don’t. Technology has made it possible for me to watch all those TV shows I missed their first time around and to relive some old favorites.

I watched the first eight seasons of the original “Law and Order.” The series began in 1990 and it was strange to watch those first seasons which I had missed because I was just too young to find a police procedural show interesting. It wasn’t long before you could watch some sort of “Law and Order” incarnation 24 hours a day, but those first seasons were elusive. I could never find them in syndication.

Streaming services made it possible, and I binged for several weeks, watching two or three episodes a night of the show. It was interesting to see the technology changes over the past 20-some years through the lens of that show. They had pay phones the characters would use to call the station. When is the last time you even saw a pay phone, much less someone using one!

Technology allows us to immerse ourselves in a plot and with characters, without having to wait week after week for the next installment. It feeds our desire for instant gratification and gets us caught up with the latest pop culture craze.

With shows like “How I Met Your Mother,” which have running gags throughout the series, it’s easier to remember the gags over the course of a few weeks, instead of eight years.

Of course, with all good things comes a word of warning. Bingeing on TV isn’t always good for you. If you stay up for 24 hours straight watching Jack Bauer take down some terrorists, you’re likely to suffer from red eyes, sleep deprivation, lethargy and a host of other ills that could sideline you from real life for a while.

Some folks also say that binge-watching TV destroys the writer’s intent of the series and that you’ll miss those finer plot points. TV shows often have two plot lines (at least) going on. The first is the overall season plot, and things will happen in each episode to move that plot forward. Then, each episode has its own plot, with it’s own story arc. It’s a tricky balance and when you inhale a season in a matter of days, you don’t fully appreciate the subtleties or quality of writing. In fact, you may completely zone out and not really absorb what you’re watching, anyway.

There is also evidence that delaying gratification can increase happiness, helping us to savor positive experiences. If you watch your favorite show in a weekend, you aren’t exactly savoring it.

Do I plan to stop bingeing on TV? Nope. I like finding a new show, or an old favorite, and diving in. But, I’m trying to remember moderation. Moderation is needed in all things, including moderation. So, if I occasionally binge-watch “Farscape” (how did I miss this show when it was first on TV?), it’s OK. As long as I’m not vegging out, bingeing on TV and pizza every day, I think I can find a balance that works.

And, if a TV show is good enough, I’ll probably go back and watch it again, picking up on those little nuances I may have missed in my marathon viewing session the first time around.

• • •

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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