Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now of time of writing I’ve just purchased the second season of Arrow on DVD and raced through it to catch back up with season 3 playing on NZ TV. It was a good series, and a good season opener. But as I was binging on Arrow a thought struck me: Now I have to wait a week to watch each episode. Can I do that? Do I want too? Or has the very nature of TV watching been changed forever?
So before we start, lets work out what Binge Watching actually is. Well, in no uncertain terms, binge watching is watching all the episodes in a season as quickly as possible. Whether in one sitting, or across multiple days, the point is to consume the media as fast as possible. Now in the olden days this use to be achieved by buying the entire series on DVD but, with the invention of Netflix, it’s now easier than ever to consume a TV series in one go. Lord knows I did it when it came to things like Breaking Bad (thank goodness we can finally get Netflix over in my country). But binge watching is pretty common nowadays. Hell it’s almost accepted. But what does this mean for TV writing?
Well for the first time the individual episodes don’t really matter, the overall story does. Now a show having an on-going story arc is nothing new. I mean soap operas were the first to really take this to its logical conclusion, with their on-going story arcs. When it comes to regular TV however, correct me if I’m wrong (and I most certainly am), it first started in a recognizable way when we got to the 90s. Now this coincided with the popularization of the video recorder. Since people could now record episodes rather than miss them, the viewing public could keep a record of what had played in the past in order to keep up with what was happening. It became easier to have more story-based TV shows. But even then, most shows were happy to have a teaser at the end of their story to hint at the big finale. You’d have a bunch of stand-alone episodes that had hints at the end, which only made sense when you got to the end. It’s a standard practice that still goes on today in shows like Doctor Who. You get drip fed little scenes and moments to illustrate that something was going to happen in the finale, some sort of grand pay-off. But this trend is slowly starting to slip away and replaced with something that, in some ways, is even worse than before.
The greatest thing about Breaking Bad is that it feels like an on-going story. Each episode was created to further the plot, or develop the characters. Throughout the course of the episode there was only really one filler episode, which was still alright in my opinion. But Breaking Bad really is closer to a large story told in multiple parts, rather than a bunch of individual episodes. Now you’ll remember a few weeks (or months) ago I wrote a blog Six Olden Time Things I Miss (and Six Things We Have Instead, where I talked about how stuff has disappeared and been replaced. Now I mentioned that the serialized novel has been replaced with fan fiction (and that TV episodes had replaced film serials), but in this instance there is actually a much closer link. A serialized novel is a novel that is released in separate chapters for the public to consume. Is that not what a TV show is nowadays? For an experiment, go pick out a book you’ve either enjoyed or heard good recommendations about. Each week read a chapter and only a chapter. See how long it takes before you start to realise how unusual it is to read a book in that style. We’ve come to accept our fiction, at least in literary form, being consumable in one go. We’d rather have the entire story in front of us, rather than in bits and pieces. Well, TV is doing the same. Look at Game of Thrones. Literally a transfer from page to screen, the first two seasons (aka how much I’ve been forced to watch) being a ten hour story broken up into little parts. It’s just one large, on-going tale. So why is this ultimately a bad thing?
Well since we judge a TV show nowadays by its overall structure, rather than the individual episodes, those individual episodes tend to suffer horribly. Since you’re watching the middle of a story, it requires that you’ve seen the beginning. You can’t just ‘jump in’ to a TV series any more, you have to start from the beginning and watch all the way through. With such tight connectively, the TV shows often become a lot better when you’re watching them all in one go. When you can see the narrative unfold in real time. Where the weak episodes don’t really matter since they get swept up by the rest. Where the strong episodes don’t stand on their own, just on how the events are defined. I can honestly say I can’t tell you what happened in each individual episode of Arrow at this point. I can tell you the major events, I can tell you the cliffhangers (another remnant of the serialized novels day), I can tell you what happens… just not in which episode it happens. Episodes have become somewhat meaningless. Meaning we now have a TV show that is terrible when watched live because it requires you to track the story as it goes along. You need to watch back over stuff to see what happened. Now in a thirteen episode show this isn’t too hard, especially if it has no breaks… but a twenty-two episode show? Yeah that’s when it gets difficult. So while I wouldn’t say that binge watching is destroying television, it’s certainly changing it to such a point where watching stuff as it airs may be counter-intuitive.
So there you have it. My views on binge watching and how it affects the world. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.