Somebody Save Me

July 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.

— Reinman

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.



  1. HaHa! The Young Reini’s “No Losers TV Series” checklist has struck our house again! One word: firefly. So, don’t “bug” us tonight, we’ll be immersed in that western meets futuristic sci-fi world. (Ewww – “Revers”. They give us the chills!)

  2. I’m glad you’re liking it. For the sake of brevity, I left out an entire subset of shows that were already finished by the time we started binging, including “Firefly,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Wire,” and the ultimate, “Freaks and Geeks.” Those are a special kind of binge because there’s a sense of finality when you’re done (regardless of the actual quality of the finale episode…BSG…).

  3. Firefly is the most awesome sci-fi western ever!

  4. Ha!

    I knew a graduate student at BSU who was doing her master’s thesis on “space westerns.” I once asked her what else she was researching besides “Firefly,” and she kind of just hemmed and hawed until I walked away.

    I got the sense that she was hoping she could just watch “Firefly” episodes until someone handed her a degree. Can’t really blame her (especially since my ENGLISH master’s thesis was basically just me screwing around with my friends and a video camera).

    By the way, Beckymom, don’t think for a second that your marvelously bad pun went unnoticed or unappreciated.

  5. It’s definitely the rush of putting off everything else that is important to watch a TV show that makes the experience of binging preferable to me. Why should I get out and enjoy the sunshine when I can watch hours upon hours of “Bones”?

    P.S. Love the picture of Smiley Tom. That brings me all the way back to season 1.

  6. Also, it is so much worse when you’re watching the show with other people. At least, that is what I have found. It almost feels like a family activity. When the two mature inhabitants of this household and I used to watch that Superman show (and will continue to watch it for one final season come this fall), I’m pretty sure we made it through twice as fast as we originally thought. We would come to the end of the episode, look at one another, and decide that we might as well finish off the disc.

  7. Speaking of western sci-fi movies, Cowboys and Aliens wasn’t bad. Harrison makes a great cowboy. And I don’t mean great as in “This mocha is great”, but really a well played role.

  8. Penny —
    I agree, it’s the sense of doing something “bad” that’s part of the appeal. And you’re right — it’s weird watching part of a “binge” with someone who wasn’t in the original group.

    For example, the Jilb and I were blowing through “The Office” season 3 in Bemidji, a show, of course, we had already seen. Andrew was visiting for the day, and so we watched a few episodes with him. It shouldn’t have mattered — he knew the episodes, there was nothing we needed to explain, we all laughed at the same parts — and yet, it was almost as though we were “cheating” somehow.

    Someone, somewhere, is going to get a worthless advanced degree studying this stuff. (It should’ve been me!)

  9. Rob —
    Ironically, I don’t know if “Cowboys & Aliens” would’ve qualified for that graduate student’s “space western” thesis. The title alone would make it seem like a slam dunk, but from what I’ve seen of the trailers, it looks, basically, like an alien invasion movie set in a different era.

    A “true” space western, if there is such a thing, would be centered around exploring (and taming?) new frontiers. The good Colonel has informed me, for example, that westerns were a sizable influence on Gene Roddenberry’s vision for “Star Trek.”

    Anyway, the Jilb and I like both Craig and Ford, so I’m sure we’ll see it at one point. Ford seems to have decided to only play humorless old curmudgeons as of late — and what’s more, it seems to be working.

  10. I have 5 boxes of generic brand sugar cookies in my desk right now. Heck, I don’t even really like them that much, but they were on sale for $0.42 in the supermarket. What I really like are those coconut-type girl scout cookies, but you can only get those once a year, and they’re so expensive that I might only buy one box, if any, from someone in my Sunday school class.

    Really, I kind of just like to eat. So, I’ll probably eat like 10 of those sugar cookies today. Once I get more of those good cookies, I’ll eat those too, and enjoy them, but these cheap ones will do for now.

    On a side note, Friday Night Lights is fantastic. Listen to the Reinman and go watch it.

    • Yeah, but coconut cookies are gross — that’s like DVD binging on “According to Jim.”

      To further the analogy, Nilla Wafers are “Smallville,” and Rancourt Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookies are “Friday Night Lights.”

  11. My recommended “binge” is Sons of Anarchy. Not very family friendly, but very entertaining. Season 1 and 2 now on The Netflix.

    • Well, so far you’re one-for-one on recommending awesome shows that we quit watching for content reasons. By all accounts, “Breaking Bad” is one of the three best shows of the past decade, but it proved to be just a little too “bad” for our tastes. (The last straw for the Jilb came very early on, when what’s-his-face tried to “dispose” of a body in a tub. It ended badly. And messily.)

      By the way, a few weeks ago, Chuck Klosterman wrote an interesting analysis of “Breaking Bad” over at Grantland.com. Worth a quick read.

  12. I think when Penny says it’s “worse”, she means that we tend to binge a lot more when we’re watching it together. If she were watching solo, there’d be no one to say “it’s only 10:30pm! Let’s watch one more!” and she’d do the reasonable thing and turn off the tv and go to bed.

    We wouldn’t watch firefly without MIke, and I wouldn’t watch Ugly Betty without Jenni. And Dad and I binged a lot on Band of Brothers and I think John Adams with Andrew.

    We’ve got a problem.

  13. […] I’ve been on a bit of a memorizing binge. (I may have a disorder.) It began about a month ago at a cousin’s birthday party. After we all sang “Happy […]

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