It may have taken me a while, but I finally get it. I get what the hype was all about. I get what all the awards were about. I get why it was completely unexpected and so universally engaging for fans and critics alike. And thanks to the not-so-modern-anymore technology of DVDs (and a bit of a lull in my usual go-to programming) I am finally watching Downton Abbey… and I am most definitely hooked.
Say what you will (“what took you so long?”) but, in my defense, we are in a time when shows are being consumed in a whole different way. Gone are the days of appointment television, save for maybe the occasional live must-see event such as our very own People’s Choice Awards. But when it comes to scripted programming, it’s becoming the new norm to consume them all at once, often times long after they’ve originally aired. It’s a combination of factors: our hectic schedules, the abundance of quality programming, the lack of access to certain premium channels, etc., but at times it’s none of the above. Sometimes it’s arguably better to watch the shows in one fell swoop and get every bit of goodness out of them. The old week-to-week model left much room for lapses in memory resulting in missing links in the chain of events leaving you wondering why certain things were transpiring. But watching episodes back to back, sometimes over a single weekend, ensures that not a single morsel falls through the cracks and the content is consumed exactly as it was meant to be. People work hard to produce these gems, the least we can do is make sure we don’t miss anything!
OK, OK, that might be a bit over the top (and believe me, I am certainly not holding out for the DVDs of all my favorite shows to come out) but, in certain cases, it definitely does apply. Especially when it comes to the sleepers… the shows that people didn’t realize were going to be such runaway hits until well into their first or second seasons. And at that point, no matter how tempting, it’s way too late to hop on board without first catching up. Enter the DVDs (or iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and the other countless sources for on demand viewing). With the surge of incredible original series being churned out by HBO, Showtime, AMC, and now even Netflix, it takes a while for things to catch on. And even when they do, the numbers are still not nearly as high as one might imagine (as compared to major network shows). But they are definitely growing, and if you factor in all the aforementioned sources, I’d bet they’d be pretty impressive in total.
My first experience with this sort of “binge” viewing was with AMC’s critically acclaimed and multiple Emmy Award winning series, Mad Men. For those of you who watch it, there’s really no point in explaining what hooked me. Y’all know exactly how it happened because the very same thing happened to you. And for those of you who don’t, well, you obviously are intentionally depriving yourself for some strange reason. Anyway, point being that there’s something almost dangerous about having all that content so readily available because, as soon as one episode ends, all it takes is the push of a button to jump into the next, and the next, and the next, and before you know it, you’ve spent an entire Saturday in front of your TV and the only reason you stop is because you’ve reached the end of the season and have to wait until the next DVD comes out! (And your day feels as long and shameful as that last sentence was). And if you happen to be so late to the game that you already have every season on hand? God help you!
Since Mad Men, I’ve had similar experiences with HBO’s The Wire and AMC’s Breaking Bad, and most recently with Showtime’s Homeland. The Wire and Breaking Bad (both genius and fantastic in their own right) I took some time with – a few back to backs, but nothing crazy. There were several seasons to digest, which my husband and I did in a slightly more leisurely fashion than we had with Mad Men. I’m typically the one pleading, “One more episode, honey!” and he’s the much needed voice of reason to slow us down. Except with Homeland. Sadly, in that case there was only one season to be consumed, but boy did we have at it.
And now I’m in two deep with Downton and I cannot wait to pop in every last DVD that my colleague so graciously lent me (a. because he’s a kind and generous person and b. because I think he was genuinely embarrassed for me that I’d yet to watch!) Whatever his reason, I’m grateful he was willing to part with what are obviously highly valued possessions to allow me to catch up and start prompting conversations that most people were having over a year ago. Hopefully it’s not as annoying as it sounds.
That’s my take on how we’re all watching great TV these days. Feel free to share your binge watching stories below, and then tell us which of these critically acclaimed award winning series you plan to watch on DVD?