Robert Burke investigates whether binge-watching is ruining the spectacle of television.
Short attention spans. One of the traits that our generation is branded with, and endlessly condemned for. Truthfully, we cannot disagree with the fact that we are all guilty of easily losing attention to some extent or another. We see it poking its intrusive head in everyday life; we zone out or become distracted during conversations, forget why we walked into rooms, and almost always forget to actually listen when we ask someone their name. However, one of the less-talked-about side-effects of short attention spans is the disastrous effect it has on our appreciation of a TV series when we binge-watch.
“That passive-aggressive message that pops up from Netflix to remind us that we probably haven’t seen daylight or had human contact in several hours.”
With the exception of Game of Thrones, no series has managed to engage me fully, from opening-scene all of the way through to the credits. After three or four episodes in a row of anything else, the series becomes a soundtrack as I enter a dazed state or background noise as I dive thumb-first into whatever rubbish is filling my phone screen. I assume I am not the only one to experience this almost trance-like state, otherwise, the rest of this article is pretty pointless. However, the question must be asked whether this is a reflection of our own faults, or if the quality of TV series out there is dwindling? When you consider the calibre of series being released nowadays, the former seems far more likely.
Oddly, some of us view binge-watching as one of our most valued, and in fact, bragged about skills. After all, how often have you boasted to your friend about how many seasons of Breaking Bad you managed to squeeze into your weekend off? Like it or not, many of us are guilty of having a lack of patience and are driven crazy by a sense of suspense and waiting, always expecting everything on demand.
Enter online streaming. Unless you have caught up to a show in real-time, which is without a doubt a feeling that leaves us deflated and lacking a sense of purpose in life, then we have seemingly endless hours of our newest series-crush to watch. What could be better than that care-free, honeymoon period of not knowing what time of the day it is, getting a dead leg from sitting down for too long, and enjoying the emotional rollercoaster of the series? Well, potentially watching the series like a ‘normal’, or ‘functioning’ human being.
“Cliffhangers are designed to leave you in suspense, uneasy at the lack of closure and mulling over the depth of possibilities of the next season.”
Are we ruining the spectacle of TV series today by having the facility to binge our way through an entire series in less than a week? If we are incapable of focusing on most tasks for hours on end, how would it make sense that we could remain attentive for a TV show for hours on end? The simple answer is, we can’t. That passive-aggressive message that pops up from Netflix to remind us that we probably haven’t seen daylight or had human contact in several hours.
The concept of a cliff-hanger does not seem to have as much effect nowadays than before. Cliffhangers, season climaxes and even the expository stage of a series are slowly losing the impact that they once had. The latter is designed to build an emotional connection to the protagonists over several episodes, allowing you time to understand their points of view. The climactic stage of a season is meant to draw out the sense of building tension and create a sense of momentum. Finally, cliffhangers are designed to leave you in suspense, uneasy at the lack of closure and mulling over the depth of possibilities of the next season. In that sense, have we killed these concepts by immediately satisfying our impatient needs instead of having to wait a week before seeing the next episode, and months on end before the next season?
In my opinion, binge watching turns TV series into outrageously long films, therefore diminishing the wonder and entertainment that they are written to create. After all, they are two entirely different forms of entertainment. The prime example of TV shows adapting to this new development is the aforementioned GoT, which is releasing film-length episodes for season 8. Prior to the success of this HBO adaptation was BBC’s modern adaptation of Sherlock, giving the audience 80 minutes installments each week.
I have found that any series I have watched in real time, I have enjoyed more than one which I have binged. It allows me to sit in wonder (and torture) between episodes. I can experience that sense of excitement and anticipation coming up to the next episode. I know that this sounds like the “I read the book before the movie” guy, but I feel that I have sound reasoning. So, for the survival of the TV series industry, try to refrain from binge-watching the entire series, and actually take the time to mull over each episode before diving into the next one. After all, that twenty second pause that Netflix gives us in between episodes is far from sufficient.