In praise of portion control: why I don’t love to binge-watch television

I binge. I do. I've watched entire.

I binge. I do. I’ve watched entire Netflix series in the space of one night and devoured DVD boxed sets, extras and all, over a weekend. I know the pleasure of giving myself over to something that’s so good you can’t resist it letting roll over you in its entirety. 

But I also know the value of taking my time. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to parcel things out and savour each one, the better to extend the experience. You can eat an entire box of cookies in 15 minutes or you can make that box last a week. It’s all about the tempo you choose to set for yourself.

It might simply be a generational thing. I was a kid in the 70s, when “appointment television” meant “if you don’t see this when we air it, you may never see it again because the VCR has yet to be invented and World War III could break out tomorrow.” You sat in front of the box at the appointed time, you suffered through the commercials and then you got up when it was over. Everybody had the same experience at the same time, and we all hashed it out at school the next day.

Now that everyone can schedule his or her own viewing at will, that experience of communal consumption is fading away. I think that’s why bingeing is so appealing: it makes watching an eight-part Netflix series feel like a race in which you’re competing against all your friends. Who wants to be behind when the spoilers start surfacing on Twitter?

But while staying up all night to watch half of Jessica Jones as soon as it drops will let you confidently declare that Episode Four is where it all really comes together – even though you’ll be yawning as you say it – you might be trading appreciation for bragging rights.

I’m thinking about Netflix’s Love, for instance. I watched the whole thing over the course of six hours, partly because I really got into it but mostly because I had a deadline. And I liked it a lot, but I think I might have enjoyed it even more if I’d watched one or two a day and let the relationship between Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs’s characters take shape in something closer to real time.

Not that I’m mandating this for everything, of course. By all means burn through Making A Murderer to find out precisely how Steven Avery was mistreated by an apathetic and deeply broken justice system. And the breakneck pacing of Breaking Bad, matched to Bryan Cranston’s incredible performance, will have you stabbing the “Play Next” box at the end of every episode.

But other things can benefit from a little separation. Go through a season of The X-Files over a weekend and you’ll realize how flat and formulaic Chris Carter’s mythology episodes seem compared to even the lamest monster of the week. And watching all of the Fast & Furious movies in one day will turn them into white noise. 

Find your rhythm. The weather is getting nicer maybe go for a walk or meet a friend for a drink between episodes. The content will still be there tomorrow. 

Don’t miss: The 25 best shows to binge-watch now | @normwilner


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