As I sat in front of the television last night, physically upset that Breaking Bad’s last six episodes are not yet available on Netflix, cursing Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph for their beautiful, torturous creation, I started to think about my own personal binge career. Of course “binge watching” has become a household term with the success of Netflix and its original series, and the future of binge looks promising, but I like to think my fixations began long before House of Cards or Orange is the New Black consumed our viewing hours.
For me, it began with Scrubs. One episode piqued my interest, and my binging has run rampant ever since. There have been TV marathons and the like for a long time, but to my adolescent self, a DVD box set and an empty couch meant 24 episodes of J.D. and Turk flying by faster than you could say “Sir, the pills go in your mouth.” Couple having entire seasons readily available with Comedy Central’s insistence on showing Sacred Heart’s goings-on hours at a time, and I was spewing out creepy J.D. daydreams, communicating with friends as Bill Lawrence’s characters rather than ourselves.
The next stage of my viewvolution (catchy, I know) came largely as a result of having to catch up to my friends and older siblings. 24 perhaps lent itself to binge watching more so than any other series before Netflix took over the world. If you are lame enough not to have seen the show, Jack Bauer saves our nation repeatedly, stepping outside the bounds of the Counter Terrorism Unit when his duties call him to do so. With each episode leaving you begging for the next hour to start ticking right away, the show was begging to be watched in marathon intervals, as your beloved GoodWill bloggers can attest to attempting. No time elapsed in the world of the characters between episodes, so why not live through the adventures in real speed? Waiting from Monday to Monday made us all ready to explode, DAMMIT.
Now, with my sophisticated palate in hand, binge has become a part of daily life, as Arrested Development, House of Cards, and Breaking Bad beg to be devoured in the smallest number of sittings possible. As I recognize my semi-addiction but make no efforts to remedy it, I wonder why do we binge? Surely there are many reasons. Do we have nothing better to do? Do we feel ashamed not being caught up with the latest TV craze or Emmy threats? Are we lazy? I would have to answer all of the above. More than of all these reasons, however, we need our instant gratification. Not just the ability to do what we want at the click of a button or opening of a laptop, but also we crave the power to gain rapid insight into the developments and devolutions of our most beloved and polarizing television characters.
At its best, television transports us into the world of its characters, thrusting us onto 1960s Madison Avenue or into the bubbling bedlam of 308 Negra Arroyo Lane. We watch to be fascinated or to relate or to witness someone acting in the ways we wish we would. Naturally, these goals become difficult to accomplish with seven days of disconnect between episodes airing, as we go about our lives outside of the worlds the screen allows us to enter. With binging, we gain access in connected, coherent stretches, augmenting the ties we forge with the people flashing across the screen.
Maybe for some this has not been the case. I posit in such a way only because for me, BINGING HAS WORKED. I am not here to hypothesize regarding the consequences for my social life or physical health, only to remark on how effective indulging in mini-marathons has been for me. With six episodes left (Did I mention they’re not on Netflix?!), Breaking Bad has left me closer to Walt and Jesse than any other characters I have encountered. Is some of this simply do to BB’s fantastic writing and story arc? Certainly. Beyond that, though, I point towards the obsessive manner in which I watched. I did not have to deal with cliffhangers haunting me for a week or — Heaven forbid! — for the months between seasons; I did not have to step back into reality only to detach from the feelings I had for each character. Walt’s rise or collapse or whatever you want to call it came gradually than exploded as he killed to be King. Jesse’s struggle to free himself from the lifestyle came hour-to-hour instead of week-to-week. Marie sucked persistently rather than for a little while each Sunday night.
As a result of this comprehensive yet condensed exposure, I now need those last six episodes badly. I’m hooked worse than Jesse himself. For me, at least, this extends beyond the undeniable excellence of Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece. Even with Scrubs, Zach Braff will forever remain Dr. John Dorian (or anything Dr. Cox calls him ). This leaves me thinking: where will binge take us?
I maintain my feeling that it fosters more profound relationships between we the viewers and the characters we stalk, but could it mean something more troubling for the players forming those figures? Watching Oz the Great and Powerful, I see Zach Braff and wonder why J.D. is in Oz (changing into monkey form helps mollify this confusion). I endure Jose Cuervo commercials and wonder “why does Jack Bauer think he has to lower himself to this?” I am not convinced this feeling will ever go away. More than being typecast, an actor who thrives in a bingable show leaves him or herself subject to being locked into that specific guise. Jason Bateman is Michael Bluth, Kiefer is Jack Bauer, and Bryan Cranston may forever be stuck as Walter White. With all due preemptive respect to his performance in Godzilla, coming in May, Cranston will never be able to separate himself from the realm of Heisenberg. With way less respect, Mr. Sutherland’s performance in February’s Pompeii will only leave me fearing for CTU while Jack Bauer fights thousands of miles away.
We need binging in our modern world. We need to know things quickly. This seems to deepen our television experiences, leaving me optimistic for the future of Netflix and its reactive competitors. Our television will continue to amaze, but where does that leave the actors?
“I’m not as think as you drunk I am.”