Are you ruining your favourite shows by binge-watching them?

·4-min read
Photo credit: HBO / Channel 4 / BBC - Hearst Owned
Photo credit: HBO / Channel 4 / BBC - Hearst Owned

You know those Sundays where you roll out of bed and straight onto the sofa, for ep1 s1 of something you've been waiting all week for? You're horizontal for more hours than vertical, and you only get up for snacks, Deliveroo or the loo. Well, you should stop doing that. Because whether you want to hear it or not, bingeing is ruining your favourite shows. I know what you're thinking. Can't you just have this one nice thing? But, hear me out.

Cast your mind back to May 2021. Sure, it was a bleak time in lots of ways that we definitely don't need to go into right now, but what was great about it was Line of Duty. Remember: you'd spend at least 15 minutes (minimum) of every day Googling the latest theories on who 'H' was, head to the kitchen and begin your own Yorkshire Gold-fuelled investigation into whether Tommy Hunter could still be alive. Your friend would chime in with their theories which you would then pass onto your line manager in your Zoom one-to-one, before regurgitating your learnings on Whatsapp later.

It was the sense of community we needed after more than a year locked away from each other. Arguably, and maybe this is hyperbole (it is), it was the street party of the digital age, taking place on Twitter, in entertainment sections online and in socially distanced office kitchens throughout the nation.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

You know how they say no man is an island? Well, the same goes for series too. When you settle in for a day spent letting the autoplay run riot, watching a whole entire show, you miss that. Sure you might enjoy it at the time, but these shows don't exist in abstraction from the world around them. Whatever they are: comedy, drama, thriller, whatever - they have a context, socially and emotionally, and there is a whole level you'll miss if your only experience of the show is in the void.

Once we're all on the same page, as in, we've all caught up on the same episode at the same time, suddenly the show becomes not just about the story but also the general chitchat around it, the community and of course the memes. If I, the hermit of all hermits, can get more enjoyment out of an episode of Bake Off after chatting to friends about a crème anglaise scandal than without, then why would I skip out on that?

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

If the warm and fuzzy community chat isn't for you, then bare with - there's another level to this that's purely logistical. Years ago, I spent a Sunday getting through the majority of the first two series of Peaky Blinders. I think I got through eight episodes before things started to go wrong for me. I started smoking again (I'd quit about a year before), spent an hour googling finger waves tutorials (time well spent) and if it wasn't for the fact I fell asleep in the pub later that day, I think I'd have happily joined in any scrap going.

Overall, it was not great. I realised that not only had I let it all go to my head, but I had also missed basically all of the nuance that makes the show so good. I ended up having to look up bits that I'd missed, read recaps and watch explainers on YouTube. Basically, I was oversaturated with hot, angry, Brummies. I'd missed the details, the exceptional script writing and the flawless acting because I couldn't give my show full focus for eight solid hours. Surprise surprise.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Binge aversion is something being picked up on by the streamers too. It's the reason why more and more shows are being released in chunks on a weekly basis, or in other delayed structures. Streamers are literally trying to manage how much binging we're able to do and when we're able to do it; otherwise we plough through series at different times and a different rates, in turn affecting our enjoyment of the show, and the effectiveness of the cultural moment the streamer is trying to create.

Sure, there are many shows that are best enjoyed in bulk. Thirty minute comedies like The Office, Stath Lets Flats, or Derry Girls, for example. These are the kind of shows that by nature should not demand your focus in such a way that you can't pick your phone up or drown out a bit of script with snacks. But, take shows like It's A Sin, The Great British Bake Off, And Just Like That or Normal People, what do we gain from watching them all in one go? And what do we lose by doing it?

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