A pretty solid binge last week prompted some thoughts.
Like anyone else, I have a list of shows that I’d like to get around to watching. I finally got around to one of those shows, CW’s The 100, last week. The 100 is one of those shows that I’ve known about for a while and been relatively interested in watching but never really got around to. After the conclusion of the shows fourth season a couple weeks ago, I saw some buzz about the finale and I went to work. It took me six days to binge through 58 episodes and it got me thinking.
For starters, I loved the show and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. The 100 is a post-apocalyptic show where the surviving members of the human race return to Earth 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse. The strength of binge watching is the ability to jump right into the next episode without having to wait. The early episodes of The 100 aren’t great and if you just watched the first episode or two, you’d think this is some dumb teen show that’s not worth your time. But because you can mow right through episodes, you can get right out of weaker portions of the show and give it a chance to gain traction. If you’re watching week to week, these duller portions of shows can be an absolute killer to get through. And if you really like the show, then you don’t have to wait after an agonizing cliffhanger or a huge moment. But as much as I loved the show, there are some down sides to binge watching that jump out at me every time I do it.
The most obvious drawback here, by far, is fatigue. Each episode of The 100 is roughly 40 minutes long and I watched 58 of those over six days. That comes out to almost 39 hours total and close to six and a half hours watching per day. Now the obvious response here is that you don’t have to watch it that much but then what’s the point of binge watching? I couldn’t stop myself from watching and for the most part, I breezed right through the show without any issues. But even if you love the show, binge watching eventually takes its toll. If there’s a weak stretch of the show (I wasn’t crazy about The 100’s third season), exhaustion eventually starts to settle in. So it goes without saying that it’s important to not only pace yourself but also take little breaks in between episodes if you have to.
My biggest issue with binge-watching is, ironically, the lack of separation between episodes. The whole point of binge-watching is cutting out the time between episodes but I’m not really sure that it’s all we hype it up to be. One of my favorite things to do while watching a show is to review what I watched, maybe watch the episode again and discuss it with other people who are watching the show. What worked out great for me while watching The 100 is that I was sort of able to compensate for this with the show’s subreddit. When I finished an episode, I would pop up that particular episode’s post-airing discussion thread and read through what people said and compared it with my own thoughts. It didn’t totally fill this void, but it certainly helped.
In comparison, when I binge watched Breaking Bad, I didn’t do anything like this and the whole show really ran together. There was no real separation or distinction between episodes. Great episodes like “Ozymandias” didn’t really stand out to me while I binge watched because it just felt like the next 40 minutes in the show and not its own separate episode. While the waiting sucks, I really feel there’s a hugely valuable piece to watching a show that takes place between episodes and binge watching robs you of that.
This is all a long way of saying that I don’t think there’s a “best” way of watching a series. I see a lot of people say that they won’t watch a show as it’s airing and would rather just binge it all at the end which is totally fine. But I think there are elements to watching a show live that you miss out on when you do that. Yeah, it sucks when an episode ends on a cliffhanger or a huge moment and then you have to wait days or months between episodes to find out what happens next but it’s part of the experience. Ultimately, I think there’s a balance here.
For me personally, I try to limit my binge watching. If I’m behind on a show or watching a show that I’ve never seen before, I’ll obsessively binge watch it like a lunatic. But if that’s not the case, I would much rather watch a show week to week as it’s airing and keep up with it in real time. Services like Netflix and Hulu are great, I’m not arguing that. If a show like The 100 is available on those services, I’ll fire up my Netflix account and ripped right through it like anyone else. But I always feel like a series is missing something when I binge through it like that. Binge watching is great and I would never discourage it but I would definitely encourage watching a show week to week as it’s airing if that option is available to you.