Rowland: Having thus partaken, glory and sadness for the binge viewer

06/12/2014 12:00 AM

06/11/2014 4:06 PM

To binge or not to binge, that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slow torture of waiting for your favorite show to return, week after week and sometimes for outrageously long hiatuses, or to take up the remote against a sea of repeats and binge-watch your troubles away, and by opposing the traditional industry structure, end it.

Welcome to the modern TV watcher’s dilemma. It has long been possible to catch up on your favorite programs by the season, thanks to box set DVDs and on-demand services from media companies. But as streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have begun offering original programming, the question now becomes how to watch all this content.

The new model is clear: all at once, right away, immediately – don’t even think of changing out of those pajama pants. Never before has it been easier, or more fun, to be a shut-in.

Netflix has pioneered the binge-watch concept by releasing its original series all at once by season. So fans of “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards” can sit at home, uninterrupted – save for the occasional bathroom break – and watch each episode back-to-back-to-back ... . You get the picture.

For those interested in stepping back and seeing the big picture of a TV season, binge-watching allows story lines and themes to pop without being plagued by the “Wait, what happened again?” memory loss of consecutive-week watching. Also, it’s really good if you’re impatient.

Ever the dutiful journalist, I took a vacation day last Friday to binge-watch the entire second season of “Orange Is the New Black.” The hit comedy (drama? dramedy? darkly funny?) about the diverse women forced to spend time together at Litchfield federal penitentiary has been Netflix’s biggest hit to date, and its second-season release was highly anticipated by everyone in my household and many, many others.

So what’s it like to binge-watch all 13 episodes of a series in less than 24 hours? Surprisingly easy, unquestionably enjoyable, really lazy. Instant gratification is a real thing and has left a me-shaped dent in my couch.

The thrill of knowing there will be another and another and another at the click of a mouse makes for feverish viewing. For a show as rich and complex as “Orange Is the New Black,” binge-watching actually benefits its dense narratives and highlights its seamless storytelling. If you’re wondering, Season 2 is not only as good as, but even better than, Season 1. So get on that, slow-poke non-binge-watchers.

Of course, there are downfalls to binge-watching. The lack of movement for 13 near-consecutive hours is one of them. The loss of the communal sharing of “Did you see what happened last night?” around the water cooler is another. (You’ll more likely be met with a firm, “Shhh, I’ve only made it to Episode 6 so far.”)

And then there is the fact that it’s simply over sooner. I have another 360-plus days left until I can watch another new “Orange Is the New Black” episode. Which, to be honest, bums me out. Certainly, I could have sipped instead of gulping down the season as I did last Friday. But moderation is just not my bag when it comes to high-quality television programming. I want it all. I want it now.

For many of us, television has supplanted cinema as the major driver of our pop culture narratives. Shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men” and “Scandal” chime with the zeitgeist because we spend more time with them – whether all at once or week after week. The ability to binge-watch a show brings heightened frenzy to this appeal. It’s like sitting in a really, really, really long movie where you get to make your own popcorn.

(Though, let the record show, the butt-numbing “Lord of the Rings” trilogy ran 558 minutes, while a season of “Orange Is the New Black” will set you back 780 minutes of your life.)

So, then, to binge-watch or not to binge-watch? Well, that’s up to you and your ability to sit still as the wires and lights in a box entertain you. Just make sure to stock up on snacks beforehand.

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