Courtesy of Netflix

April 4, 2016

GUEST ROOM | An Ode to Binge-Watching

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Many thanks to the Internet, the television world and the desire for more cutting-edge content, binge-watching has become America’s pastime. For many, there is nothing more satisfying (yet also daunting) than spending hours on end watching a series, and then finally completing it. In the days before readily accessible media, it would take (literally) years to start and finish a television show. You also had to start it as soon as it was on air in order to ensure you didn’t miss a beat. Fans had to make sure their DVR was set (if they even had it) in the event they couldn’t work with a network’s agenda to get a show out. Now, there is no such thing as starting a show too late, and gluing yourself to a computer screen for TV is socially acceptable; thank god.

British psychologist Edward B. Titchener conceived the term empathy as “experience of understanding another person’s condition from [others’] perspective.” In regard to binge-watching and connecting to narratives, Titchener states that empathy “examines how humans can also adopt others’ psychological perspectives, including those of fictional characters.” This all happened very early in the twentieth century, decades before Netflix, but empathy is part of the reason we come back for more. Anti-heroes like Don Draper or Frank Underwood keep us captivated, even when there is very little we can relate to.

Furthermore, according to a study done in 2014 by Harris Interactive, 61 percent of people binge-watch Netflix. Since then, the numbers have definitely gone up since online series are becoming a stronger medium. For some, a binge here could be a couple episodes, maybe three if we feel daring enough. For others (which I am guilty of), it’s shamelessly cruising through two entire seasons of How I Met Your Mother.  

So, why do we binge-watch? TV is more accessible now than it ever has been, which is why one more episode turns into one more season so easily. Producers and screenwriters are also finding ways to make their material more appealing. Cliff-hangers at each episode obligate viewers to keep watching, along with compelling storylines that make you want more. Shows that are now being written for Netflix, such as House of Cards, develop their plot lines with the intention of users clicking “continue watching” after each episode. Online series make writers and producers work harder to perfect the story arc, and then some.

The convenience that Netflix, along with other platforms such as Amazon Prime and Hulu, offer are too good to say no to. Users can watch television at their own pace, whether it is during the next insane snowstorm with a high-volume binge, or a little at a time everyday to chip down the series all your friends have been begging you to start. And if a friend mentioned a casual spoiler during your coffee break, there was no point in even starting. Shows are now being made more into the mega-movie genre. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are made so meticulously that picking up details can sometimes captivate audiences more than the show itself. There are also many layers to characters that a nuance spoiled by Joe during your coffee break at work probably won’t make a difference in the long run.


Courtesy of AMC

The mutually-exclusive season series is also growing in popularity, but it is too soon to determine whether or not this type of storytelling will be successful longitudinally. Stories like those told in Fargo or True Detective are still new to this format, meanwhile American Horror Story has been rather successful. These shorter shows make binge-watching seem most logical, as you take care of a series, season by season.

Anyone who has binge-watched can definitely vouch for the benefits. What cable shows would have you do over months at a time, binge-watching a series can help you accomplish the goal of watching a season or series in a matter of days, if you are committed enough. It is also easier to absorb a storyline as a whole, since multiple episodes (or seasons) have a longitudinal storyline explained much easier.

Some shows that are better off binge-watched include Mad Men, due to its slower pace and build-up. When watching the final season once a week, it never felt like anything happened. However, when watching the show five episodes at a time, so much content would be thrown at you at once. The post-play feature doesn’t make it much easier to say no, either. “Yes, Netflix, I’m still here and watching. Why would I ever leave you?”


Courtesy of NBC

Series just have an addictive nature to them, making them very binge-worthy. Parks and Recreation, The Office and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have narratives that are shorter per episode, some with cliff-hangers and rich plot development, and some that simply encourage the deadly words “just one more.” Shorter episodes make this easier, and even though nothing may happen in one episode, an entire season that can be conquered in a day can make a difference to a story’s development.

House of Cards also lends itself to binge watching, naturally, as it is a Netflix series. This writing is particularly tailored to binge-watching. As each episode progresses, the twists increase in intensity and you’re on the edge of your seat, literally begging for more.
I would highly recommend against binge-watching the first season of True Detective. Due to the amount of content being thrown at you per episode, there is a lot to take in all at once. I would also recommend against watching the second season of True Detective overall. But that’s a rant for another day.

Marina Caitlin Watts is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].