Your DVR is overflowing with recorded shows you probably could have watched when they were first aired, but you didn’t.
Upon your shelf sits a box set of DVDs you picked up at a garage sale for two bucks. You always heard it was a great show, but you didn’t watch season one and you’re coming into things in the middle.
Now it’s snowing and you’re home from work with impassable roads and all the bread and milk you could ever want. Or maybe you’re home from school with a bad cold, or you’ve decided to take that much-needed mental health day. Or maybe you don’t have an excuse for wasting hours of time. The truth is, it’s a beautiful, sunny day outside and you have a million things on your to-do list.
For the next six to ten hours, it’s just you, your remote control. and a flat screen portal to guilt-free bingeing. The world can wait. You’re watching TV.
Unlike junk food, watching TV won’t necessarily clog your arteries or spike your blood sugar level. Yes, we all pay dearly for cable, but watching TV won’t break your bank account like a shopping binge could. And you can watch eight episodes of Boardwalk Empire and then get behind the wheel of your car without risking a DWI. You can’t say the same about binge drinking.
It used to be you had to wait for national holidays to indulge in a good TV binge. For many of us baby boomers, our first non-stop viewing action was the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. New Year’s Day used to be synonymous with Twilight Zone and Honeymooners marathons. As sure as the rising sun, the USA Network could be counted on to cap every three-day weekend with back-to-back airings of Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, Law and Order Criminal Intent, Law and Order Trial by Jury, or Law and Order LA. Clunk clunk.
My first modern-day TV binge was facilitated by a box set of the first season of 24. With its ticking clock, real-time action and endless cliffhangers, the counter-terrorism thriller was the perfect show for my maiden binge.
I remember glancing at my watch, and then at my son. He stood next to the DVD player with the next, tantalizing disc in his hand.
The faces of Jack Bauer, Candidate Palmer and his evil wife Sherry called to me like sirens from the Isle of Mindless Escapism. I hemmed and hawed. Finally, I had to hear those words, “Previously on 24...”
“Okay,” I told my son, “just one more.”
Like a PMS-ing gal with a bag of Lays Potato Chips, I was stricken with the inability to stop at just one. Soon it was, “Previously on Lost…” and “Previously on Breaking Bad…” and “Previously on Homeland…” When I discovered I could watch shows on my iPhone, my binges became a counterproductive way of using of my commuting time. Between the morning and evening rides, I could squeeze in four to five episodes of Fringe or V (yes, I was one of the two people who actually watched V).
Like all things done in excess, however, binge watching TV eventually caught up with me. I had previously entertained notions of using my commuting hours for reading, expanding my literary horizons to better myself. That wasn’t going to happen as long as I had a 4G plan and HBO To Go.
If I caved into my cravings and devoted my days to watching the second seasons of Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, the laundry would never get done, and groceries would never make it into the house. I had to choose between being a grungy-clothed hungry person who could speak with knowledge of Piper and Alex’s incredible chemistry, or being a productive, well-balanced member of society.
Everything in moderation, including moderation, is a Buddhist concept I stand by. While I still spend an occasional Tuesday watching four or five episodes of Chopped, I have recently refrained from wasting entire half-days in front of the TV.
The two key factors involved in this bit of personal evolution: 1) Some of my favorite shows, like Mad Men and Downton Abbey, I watch with my spouse. It’s hard to squeeze in even a mini-binge when you have to factor in someone else’s schedule; and 2) Some shows that my spouse doesn’t watch (and are therefore not subject to the “Thou shalt not watch this series without me” edict) are simply too dark and emotionally draining for multi-episode viewing.
I had fallen back on the left-behind series, The Leftovers. One lazy Sunday I thought I would watch three or four installments and be caught up in time to watch the latest episode that evening. When the first one started out with a stoning and ended with the stoning victim’s body being rolled into an oven, I had to immediately switch over to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight just to prove to myself I could smile again. (I recently finished season one of The Leftovers and give it hearty two-thumbs-up.)
And then there’s The Walking Dead. I can barely make it through one episode at a time, let alone a second. Walking Dead marathon on AMC? You can count me out. Thank goodness there’s a Talking Dead talk show/therapy session immediately following each week’s broadcast to help me process what I’ve just seen and stave off post-traumatic stress.
Having just bid farewell to an unusually productive summer filled with cerebral and physical pursuits far from the glow of my modest 26-inch screen, I am now lured by a bevy of shows that are said to be amazing and well worth my time. True Detective, Fargo, Sherlock and Masters of Sex are just a few of the choices out there vying for my time. Do I stay the course and maintain a healthy balance of TV and real life? Or do I take advantage of the chilly fall weather and curl up with a bowl of popcorn and my Snuggie?
Maybe if I give up watching baseball and football, I can allow myself the occasional TV indulgence. As a Yankee and Giant fan, that shouldn’t be too hard. And of course, there’s always flu season to look forward to.