New Television Distribution Models Make Catching Up A Blast
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
I love movies, but I am obsessed with television. Example: eight days ago, the mid-season finale of Breaking Bad’s last season aired. As soon as that AMC logo flashed across the screen, the television had my complete attention. I don’t remember blinking. At one point, someone knocked on the door that I was clearly closest to, but I just yelled “Door. Door! DOOR!” until one of my roommates opened it. A friend walked in and tried to strike up a conversation, to which I replied, still watching the TV, “Stop talking or I WILL END YOU!” At 11:00 p.m., everyone in the apartment could here an “Oh my God. No way! OH MY GOD!” meaning that the episode had ended. Cue my happy dance.
Since that Bryan Cranston-filled Sunday night, I have read analyses of the episode online. I have spent time talking with friends about what it all meant. Question I would ask and be asked: Did you see that coming? Do you think the season set up that finale well? What was your favorite part of the episode? Least favorite part? Where will the show go from here for its final eight episodes? In the past week, I have learned all I can about the episode and can now leave it alone for a while.
The point of this story, besides proving that I can be a jerk while watching something, is that being among the first to watch a television show still means something. Having to wait a week for a new episode or several months for a new season allows for time to reflect on the last batch of episodes, to predict the show’s future, and to remember why you love your show so much in the first place. Watching a show during its initial run, especially a show seen by fewer people, like Breaking Bad, can lead to a significant personal attachment to the series, and to the people you see it with. When I watched last week’s Breaking Bad finale, I was reminded of saying goodbye to my high school friends last month. We partied together one last time and then had to part ways, feeling a bit sad but knowing we would all see each other again in time.
Of course, Breaking Bad is now on Netflix Instant, so I never have to part with it completely. If I wanted to, I could shut myself in my room, watch all 54 hours of it, and wait for my grades to drop. I won’t do that, but I could. Anyone could. For a television lover, Netflix is like a gift from God. They have so many classic shows that you might have missed, with every episode available. This mode of distribution has proven so popular that the much-anticipated season four of Arrested Development will be released via Netflix.
But this relatively new distribution model raises a problematic question. Should you speed right through a great TV show, watching one episode after another because you can and because cliffhangers are often tantalizing? After waiting almost a decade for new episodes, will you run through AD’s new season in five hours?
Because I love examples so much, here’s another one: I’ve been on a huge Joss Whedon kick this year. Loved Cabin in the Woods (a must-see for any fan of horror movies). Appreciated the gargantuan juggling act that was The Avengers. In January, Netflix told me “because you liked (this), (that), and (the other thing), you’ll love Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Since Netflix seems to know my tastes better than I do myself, I was all like “Hell yeah Netflix! Let’s do this! (happy dance)” And I did. In the past eight months, I watched all seven seasons of Buffy. Got home from work this summer? Watch an episode of Buffy. Caught the flu? Watch a season and a half of Buffy. Had a bad day? Eat some Chunky Monkey ice cream, then watch a Buffy. Good day? Happy dance, then Buffy. Watched a Buffy? Watch another Buffy, fool!
It continued that way until I finished in August. I was satisfied with the series, but had not discussed it much with anyone besides the occasional friend or sister I would watch it with. So I went online. I started talking to more people. That’s when the satisfaction started to wane. “The musical is considered one of the best episodes of television ever”? I had sped through it without much thought. “Dawn is one of the most hated TV characters in the history of ever”? I thought she was a bit annoying, but I can’t believe people hated her that much! Stuff like that.
I started to feel like my speed run caused me to miss out on the essential Buffy experience. Comparing the two ways of watching TV, I feel that show marathons, while fun, never create the lasting impressions that once-a-week episode releases do. While it does require more discipline, watching episodes in spaced intervals allows for reflection, discussion, and recognition of truly great series.
Keep this in mind next time Netflix recommends that you watch all of The Vampire Diaries, right now. Sexy horror is better in small doses.