Chat Room: Is Binge-Watching Making TV Less Fun?

Binge-watching is killing us and/or making us smarter and/or making us depressed and/or is totally normal and nothing to worry about, depending on which group of scientists and researchers you choose to believe. It is also changing the way we consume television. After decades of being faced with watching a show live or praying for a rerun months later, and another decade where you had the option of buying shows on DVD season-by-season for like $30-40 a pop, we now have thousands of episodes of hundreds of shows available every minute of every day. It’s not just old shows, either. Streaming outlets like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are now in the original content business, and making those shows all available at once, too. It’s really quite a lot.

And so, with all that in mind, two of our resident television experts, Josh Kurp and Danger Guerrero, attempted to wrap their heads around all things binge-watching in another edition of the Uproxx Chat Room.

Josh Kurp: It’s been a banner year for original Netflix programming. Season two of BoJack Horseman. Season one of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and Master of None and, most recently, W/ Bob & David. And those are just the comedies. But outside of the weekends they premiered, it seems like the only time they came up in conversation was in reference to silly controversies. Think about that: We essentially have four new episodes of Mr. Show in our lives, but because of the Netflix model, every discussion about the show begins with, “How far along are you?” This is both the best and worst.

Danger Guerrero: Agreed. There’s two things going on here. The first thing is awesome, because Netflix is just like “Here you go! Go nuts!” and then you get to decide when and how much of the show you want to watch. It’s freeing and liberating because you can just mainline a show you like over a slow weekend, without having to wait the seven days between episodes that developed as the standard one million years ago before technology made mass gluttony possible. It’s maybe not great if you have zero self control and spend 10 hours on a beautiful Saturday in May watching Bloodline in your dark bedroom, but hey, your life!

The second thing, however, is less awesome. One of the things that makes shows like Game of Thrones so much fun is the conversation that develops in that week between episodes, and over the course of the season. The theories, the lunatic ideas, the recaps, the precaps, etc. With everyone watching on their own schedule, that goes away. The end result is that the Netflix original series become more of an individual experience than a community one.

JK: It’s disappointing how few quotes have caught on. That’s part of the fun of watching comedies, guessing which lines you’ll be repeating for the next month until some guy in marketing starts saying it, too, then you’ll never mention it again. The Borat Effect, as it were. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, in particular, should be the year’s most GIF’d sitcom, but outside of “Peeno Noir,” nothing really caught on. What would you say is your favorite moment from any Netflix series to come out this year that failed to become the next “tread lightly?”

DG: I was really sad about how little of the Wet Hot “prequel” caught on, because some of the things that happened there were… really something.


Which brings me to three questions.

1) Do you think the bigger issue is a) people rushing through the Netflix original series to feel current culturally, to the point they’re missing/forgetting things, like how you retain nothing for a test you crammed for; or b) the lack of that community around the show discussing each episode in-depth one at a time?

2) Do you think, for this reason, Netflix is a better tool for catching up with old stuff rather than consuming new stuff?

3) Do you think these problems are not actually problems at all, and are just whiny TV critics like us complaining because our old model of covering shows — next-day recap, discussion, theories about what could happen next — is being blown to hell by a new system that lets the audience watch at any dang pace they want?

JK: Answers:

1) It’s people rushing. That’s what I do, at least. There’s no time to process what happened in one episode, because you’ve already moved onto the next one. I don’t want to fall behind. It’s fun talking about House of Cards or Bloodline, or whatever, but also, the longer you wait, the greater the chances that something huge will be spoiled for you. I knew about The Big Scene in House of Cards season two days before I actually saw it. Never again.

2) Yes, if only because I’ve heard from dozens of people who missed Friday Night Lights when it was originally on. But they’ve since binged the entire series on Netflix; the more people who have seen FNL, the better. Though I would like more seasons of Roseanne on Instant, just saying.

3) Too real, DG. There’s a reason we rarely review Netflix series: No one reads them. Too many people are watching the show at too many different times, including us. (I still haven’t watched BoJack season two… oops.) But let’s say we published two Jessica Jones recaps a week. We wouldn’t be finished until sometime in January, at which point, everyone will have moved on to a different Netflix series. Like you said, whiny TV critic world problems.

All that being said, what’s the ideal solution? Do you like the network model? The Netflix/Hulu/Amazon model? Or is having both ideal?

DG: Okay, I think this would be my preference, although I am perfectly happy to take on counterpoints. I like the weekly network model for new shows, especially the kind of deep, thoughtful ones that pop up 10 at a time in the #PeakTV era. Maybe I’m just too used to consuming TV that way, but I like having that seven-day period to digest, and I like being on the same page as everyone else who is watching. It makes the experience more fun and communal, which I prefer.

But: With 7,000 new shows premiering every season, it’s impossible to keep up. I try to hit the ones that look interesting to me, but it never fails that I miss something that ends up being great. That’s where I love the binge-watch model. It’s how I got caught up on lots of shows I like/liked — Breaking Bad, You’re the Worst, Empire, Scandal, etc. — to join back up with the group who watches week by week.

And yet, with all that said, when Yahoo tried to give it to me both ways with new episodes of Community every week, I totally forgot to go watch until two or three days after they premiered. I am impossible to please.

What about you? Are you a dinosaur like me? And whatever happened to Simpsons World? Wasn’t that supposed to kill us all?

JK: Joke’s on Simpsons World. I already watch The Simpsons every day, anyway. I love watching five episodes of Master of None in a row, and knowing that I have an entire season of Jessica Jones to look forward to this holiday weekend. But it took me five months to finally get around to Transparent, and I still haven’t started this season of The Mindy Project. I am also impossible to please, especially when it comes to shows not on Netflix. Hey, speaking of The Simpsons: Remember the scene in “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” where the focus group tester asks the kids, “So, you want a realistic, down-to-Earth show… that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots?” That’s me with streaming. I want it both ways. I love knowing that I can down eight episodes of Grace and Frankie, but that doesn’t mean I will.

Okay. We’ve been avoiding the elephant in the room this entire time: If you could add one show that’s not currently on Netflix Instant or Amazon, what would it be? Dibs on Space Ghost Coast to Coast.

DG: Oh man. I guess, gun to my head, I’d say the full Late Night catalog, going back all the way through Conan and Letterman’s respective runs. I already have so many things I’m behind on that adding a new thing to watch might be the thing that finally breaks my brain. Just give me some goofy-ass pet tricks and vomiting Muppets to watch when I’m stuck awake at 3 a.m.

The funny thing here is that my answer for the longest time was The O.C., but even that’s available on CW Seed now. And here’s where it gets weird: Since our breathless geek-out over the pilot episode a few weeks ago, prior to and during which I assumed I would consume the entire first season in a matter of days, I have watched exactly one more episode, mostly due to me pinballing from my regular fall shows to W/ Bob & David to Master of None to my continuous, cyclical re-watching of 30 Rock and Parks and Rec. There are entirely too many things these days. What we need is fewer things. I think that’s the solution here.