Somebody Save MeJuly 27, 2011
A couple of nights ago, when the Twins were losing something like 50 – 2 to the Texas Rangers, the Jilb and I decided to start watching that Superman show again. We don’t need much motivation to start blasting through TV seasons. It’s kind of like how we keep finding excuses to celebrate with McDonald’s. (“It’s the first day of summer — let’s celebrate with McDonald’s.” “We split our softball doubleheader — let’s celebrate with McDonald’s.” “It’s Wednesday — let’s celebrate with McDonald’s.”)
This wasn’t our first go-around with Smiley Tom. About four years ago, we banged out the first six seasons of that Superman show (often while eating McDonald’s), just in time to “catch up” to the season seven premiere. We watched the episode, waited a week, watched the next one, and then didn’t watch one again for the next four years. We got bored. When we were watching the show on DVD, we couldn’t get enough of it. When we were watching the show air week-by-week, we completely lost interest.
This has become one of our litmus tests for the quality of a TV show. If we’re late to the game, “catch up” on DVD, and then continue to watch the show week-by-week (Friday Night Lights, Lost, The Office, Community, Parks and Rec), the show must be good on its own merits. If, on the other hand, we “catch up” to a show and then get bored with the weekly installments (Smallville, Scrubs, House, Gilmore Girls), the show, while perhaps solid, probably got an artificial boost from our DVD binges.
(Though, in the case of both Smallville and Gilmore Girls, it could also be argued that we “caught up” at the worst possible time. We started watching both shows “live” at the start of season seven — critically-speaking, the worst season for both series. And you male readers — all three of you — can save your sniggering about Gilmore Girls. Lorelia is an all-time great TV character. Deal.)
But what is it about DVD binges that makes us crave (what are oftentimes mediocre) TV shows?
In a recent Grantland article about the greatness of Friday Night Lights, Carles argues that DVD binges are effective because they break down the barriers between the “real” world and the “reality” of the TV show:
Binging on an entire season of a television show without commercial interruption allows you to completely ‘immerse’ yourself in the world of your new favorite show. You aren’t waiting thru commercials or watching the same annoying network promos over and over again. If you were forced to watch the same show week by week, it wouldn’t be as meaningful because you allow the show’s portrayal of ‘real time’ to override your personal version of real time. Cliffhangers would be obnoxious. By binge-watching, you are spending quality time with the characters, forming a deep emotional connection with them.
First of all, I don’t care how big of a hipster Carles is — it’s spelled “through.” Second, I’m not sure I completely buy the argument. While it’s true that DVD binges free the viewer from commercials, there are no shortages of other outside distractions: snacks, and bathroom breaks, and cell phones, and Twins-score checking, or, more directly, Netflix instant watch “buffering” or even the physical act of popping in the DVDs themselves.
Likewise, it could be argued that DVD binges actually hurt the “reality” of a TV show. When a show airs week-to-week, individual moments carry more “life.” We think about those “cliffhangers” throughout the week. We re-run scenes in our heads and quote lines with friends.
Conversely, when we DVD binge on a show, the details, the nuances, even entire characters (Santiago from FNL anyone?) tend to blur or become lost entirely. It’s kind of like wolfing down a McDouble so fast that you don’t even remember eating it.
Nevertheless, there must be something about DVD binging that makes a show seem better than it actually is. Or maybe it has little to do with the actual show. Maybe it’s the binging itself that’s the hook — you should be doing your homework, you should be going to bed, you should be doing anything, really, besides watching hours and hours of a show you won’t care about a year from now, but it’s only one more episode…
Which brings me back to our current binge. I’m still not sure whether that Superman show is “good” or not, but I must admit I’m looking forward to watching two or three more episodes tonight.
Somebody save me.
P.S. And for goodness sake, stop what you’re doing and DVD binge on Friday Night Lights. I won’t stop bugging you till you do.