When I think of my favorite TV networks, the list is pretty easy: CW, HBO, NBC five years ago (Yeah I’m going to watch Parks and Rec again, don’t judge me), and Netflix. That last one I would not have predicted, you know, five years ago.
Now, though, the company that used to be a DVD rental service is making some of the best serialized narrative content around. Shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Voltron Legendary Defender have been some of my favorite shows in the last couple years.
I just wish they’d stop making their shows available as entire seasons all at once. It’s bad for the show and for the viewer.
Binge watching stuff can be fun – it’s an event. You invite people over, order pizza, make a blanket fort (or a pillow fort, I’m not taking sides in that fight). There’s nothing wrong with bingeing a television show, though you may want to think twice about Binging it.
For decades, the natural state of a television show was a seasonal format aired weekly, usually starting in the fall, going through winter, and ending just in time for everyone to run outside for three months. When Netflix started streaming shows, it was simply showing other networks’ shows, and it allowed those of us who has missed out to catch up, or those of us who didn’t enjoy the television format to consume shows with all the pizzas and forts I mentioned before.
Netflix was a second option, a new life for a show, and another way to consume things.
By creating their own shows, Netflix has flipped the script. Now bingeing is the natural state, while watching a show over time is the conscious choice. And it’s an even more conscious one considering the way Netflix railroads you into the next episode and the next. There’s no structure here.
A show airing weekly is a much better viewing experience for everyone involved.
For the network, it’s simple – people have been talking about about Game of Thrones daily for the last two months. Shows like The Walking Dead and even CW’s superhero shows like The Flash, we talked about for six months.
Daredevil we talk about for a week and then it’s onto the next thing, bye Felicia. The advantage for Netflix there seems clear.
So let’s talk about us, the viewers.
If you miss a week of Game of Thrones and someone spoils it, it sucks. But they spoiled a tenth of the show. It’s not fun that you had to find out from your co-worker that Cersei was just Tyrion Lannister in a complex wood-and-cloth mech all along, but at least next week you can get back on the train.
When you find out the wrong way that Daredevil was really just Red Batman all along, you can’t take that back. Sure, the show is still fabulous and worth watching, but that joy of watching without knowing what’s coming next is gone for the whole show all at once.
The social experience of a weekly serial show is very different, as well.
The week after a Netflix show comes out, you talk about the show as a whole. Rather than talking about it as a series of standalone episodes, we talk about it more like a 13-hour movie with a few intermissions. In essence, we talk about it once. It’s one or two social interactions.
With a weekly show, each new episode is a new conversation, and it’s a conversation people can jump into midway if they caught up via Hulu or Video On Demand. You hear people talking about a show for a couple weeks, you catch up, and suddenly you have this thing to talk about that you didn’t before.
It’s also just plain easier to consume. I can set aside half an hour or an hour to watch a show. Even the parents I know can fit in an episode when kids are in bed. With services like HBO GO, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Video on Demand, the exact time the show airs is pretty meaningless. We’re not locked down to an exact time anymore, but we still get that spaced-out consumption.
It’s also easier and, in my opinion, more fun to digest when spaced out and, more importantly, easier to remember. After I watch an episode of a show, I end up thinking about it for a full week until the next episode airs. The Flash‘s Runaway Dinosaur episode was especially good, and throughout the week I thought about that single episode from a variety of angles. The writing, the acting, the directing, how it tied into the greater season, and more all had time to percolate in my brain.
With a binged show, things tend to mash together. We watch a 13-hour movie and remember maybe a quarter of it, a bit more if we paid attention the whole time. Instead of thinking about and remembering each episode, we remember standout scenes. That’s not to say I could sit and list off every episode of a given weekly show – just that we get to spend more time enjoying and chewing on that hour of television.
I’d love to see Netflix start doing this. Instead of dumping a whole show all at once, announce a premiere time for the show. People can tune in when they feel like, but you get that weekly format. The weekly serial format is better for the show, better for the network, and better for the viewer.
What do you think? Do you prefer to binge shows, or do you like the weekly rhythm? Why? Jump into the comments and discuss it.