TV Shows Pop Culture

Here’s why you can’t stop binge watching

Although it may not seem like an important question, it’s one that is on the mind of many millennials nowadays as we grapple with the decision of whether to start a new show while it’s live, or wait until it comes out on Netflix a year, or maybe more, later.

I’m just as excited (if not more) as the next person about the new Gilmore Girls revival coming to Netflix on November 25th. However, part of me can’t help but wonder if my tendency to binge-watch may ruin the charm of the show I love so much. Will I be less than enthralled by Rory’s latest boy troubles if I get through the episodes too quickly and it’s over before I’ve had a chance to really feel her emotions? What I’m getting at is, are we really aware of the pros and cons of bingeing versus waiting for next week’s episode?

On the one hand, there’s the idea of an insatiable anticipation period as opposed to immediate satisfaction. Here’s the thought process: “If I start a new show when it airs on television, I’ll have to wait a week between each episode, wait through winter hiatus, and sit through commercials. If I just forget about it for a while, it’ll be a pleasant surprise when I see it on Netflix, and I can watch it all over the course of a few days, with little to no interruption.” Sure, that may be true, and perhaps we’d all rather avoid commercials and winter hiatus, but how effectively are we watching when it only takes us a few hours or days to finish an entire season of a show?

Watching it all at once may feel great in the moment, my addictive watching of Orange is the New Black is testament to that as I quickly click Play Next over and over again, but by the time the next season is available, how many of us have forgotten the major plot points from the previous episodes? Watching shows as they air allows for consistent investment in the seasons, and helps you keep things fresh in your mind week to week.

Now, let’s revisit the idea of commercials. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of most of these TV ads. I get the idea after the first viewing, but after 3 commercial breaks I’ve seen the same ads each time, and can basically quote them start to finish. I’m sure we’d all be happier to bypass commercials altogether, which is just a further appeal of binge-watching instead.

However, commercials do allow time for bathroom breaks, snack grabbing, phone checking, and conversation with friends around you that won’t interrupt the intricate plot of your favorite show, so they do have some redeeming qualities. The question just comes down to if you want to waste effort pausing a show at an awkward location, or have those breaks built right in for you?

Finally, let’s talk about ‘water cooler talk.’

A term that’s probably died down a lot over the years, water cooler talk is essentially just the ability to say at work or school the day after a new episode airs “Hey did you watch ________ last night?!” and then proceed to discuss the amazing and terrible things that happened to your favorite characters, and share in how excited you are to see what happens next.

Binge-watching doesn’t allow for this. You either have to talk casually about a show, trying to avoid spoilers for those who binge slower than you (because they’re actually sleeping or something), or find someone else who has finished the show so you can talk about the whole series once and be done with it… sounds fun, I guess. Water cooler talk may seem old-fashioned to some, but it could be the difference between having a great or bad day at work really.

Sometimes the differences don’t seem that significant when considering what to watch, but maybe they should. Why? Because maybe the more we lean towards one or the other, the more likely it is that the other gets completely demolished. Binge-watching can be great, especially for older shows you didn’t get a chance to watch live, and those Netflix originals everyone adores. But let’s all agree to watch at least one show while it airs live, appreciate commercial breaks, and let water cooler talk live on!

By Chelsea Ennen

Chelsea Ennen is a New York City-based writer and recovering academic with an MA in contemporary literature, theory, and culture from King's College London. Her nonfiction writing has been published on The Mary Sue, HelloGiggles and The Female Gaze, and her dissertation on postfeminism versus third wave feminism in contemporary pop culture was accepted for presentation at the 2016 Indiana University of Pennsylvania English Graduate Organization Inter-Disciplinary Conference. She is the fiction editor of the Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal and a novelist who would very much like to pet your dog, please.