• Charlie King

Binge-watching: The True Test of a TV Show

I thought I’d delve into something that I have experience of having grown up with television, waiting week after week for a new episode of a comedy or drama or simply watching re-runs and now relying mostly on streaming old and new shows.

Even with streaming shows, if they are ongoing, you might have to wait weekly and you’ll certainly have to wait one season after another.

Where streaming differs is really when it comes to watching series that ended years ago, with all the episodes in one place and the chance to watch multiple episodes in a row with no advert breaks. Being able to watch multiple episodes quickly can help you to form a better opinion of a TV show.

I remember when Brooklyn Nine-Nine started on television and after the first episode, I wasn’t completely sold but was intrigued enough to wait for the second one the following week. I’m glad I did as the second episode confirmed that it was definitely going somewhere- this doesn’t always happen with shows. If you watch a show and have a so-so opinion on the first episode, you might not pay particular attention to it the following week.

I have experienced the effect of change in viewing recently when I began watching Seinfeld, which along with Frasier and classic episodes of The Simpsons, makes up the shows which are universally loved (although this wasn’t advert free). The first season is only five episodes long and I didn’t find there to be much funny or engaging about it. Even 10 episodes into the second season and though I wasn’t feeling it, I could tell the characters were starting to take shape. If it was on TV and I had to watch week after week, I’d have probably giving up a long time ago.

Of course, knowing that the whole world loves Seinfeld suggested to me it had to be better than the first 15 episodes too. From then on, it really clicks into gear and delivers a consistent level of comedy. The only downside to binge watching, particularly in a sitcom, is that it can be the same setup and style of jokes that occur from one episode to another making less of an impact.

There is something that is missed by streaming and binge-watching shows and that is the suspense and anticipation to find out what happens next. Think about how many drams have dramatic ‘what will happen next’ endings between episodes and between the series finale and the beginning of the new season. The only thing stopping you finding out what’s next if you really are on the edge of your seat is whether you can stay awake for the next one.

Streaming also simply helps you to watch a series from start to finish all the way through. There are plenty of shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother to name a few that are on TV all the time. If you were late to the party on a show like this but wanted to start watching it, you’d start watching it at random times when it was on, possibly starting at season 5 before suddenly jumping to season 2. While the timeline isn’t always so important for comedies, it is nice to see their stories told from start to finish all the same.

If you really love these shows and others and watch them every time you see them on TV, it is nice that you will get a random episode pop-up which I feel is what is lacking from streaming services. Sure, you can manually select an episode that always makes you laugh but wouldn’t a random pick option help to recreate the feeling of finding your favourite show on TV. There is a case to be made though that watching re-runs on TV is mainly a decision based on there being ‘nothing else on’ which doesn’t apply if you watch most of your TV on a streaming service. This goes back to the problem before that maybe there is something new you want to watch on TV but you’ve already missed out on the first few seasons.

Needless to say, despite the huge amount of television channels, the range of what you can watch on TV is limited. Two shows you like might always be on at the same time so you have to watch one and record the other or watch on a catch-up service while certain timeslots on TV are always seemingly filled with reruns.

Having less shows to watch does make you consider your choice of what to watch more carefully though. While you can record loads on a planner and watch plenty on catch-up, when the pile builds up, there will often be certain shows you give priority too and the others might fall by the wayside. This means that you can fully invest in these stories rather than being partly interested in multiple stories at a time while binge watching and streaming.

This does however give you the problem like before that if you watch an episode of one show and aren’t hooked but two or three other shows did hook you straight away, you might not watch the second episode of that first show and leave it behind only to find the whole world kept on following it and loved it.

Ultimately, I think we are still a way off to everything being streamed as television and ‘seeing what’s on’ still has its charm. Streaming makes it easier to persist with a new show and speed through the early episodes where characters learn their roles and the show decides what it wants to be in order for you to make a fully formed decision as to whether the show could grow on you.

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