Monday, January 28, 2019

Binge Watching

Working a day job while writing novels and this blog in my free time doesn’t leave a lot of time to properly binge watch television. My idea of a binge is three in a row, once or twice a month at best, with rare exceptions. The government shutdown allowed me to get my writing and errands out of the way during the day, leaving free my evenings to watch selected television (and some movies) to my heart’s content.

The closest The Beloved Spouse™ and I came consistently to bingeing is when we watched Deadwood or The Wire or Justified once or twice a night over dinner. It was Justified that taught me the lesson, how skipping commercials not only adds to the enjoyment of individual episodes, but also how not having to wait a week helps to hold the plots together. My only complaint with Justified on FX was the plotting in some of the middle seasons, and how it had what I perceived as holes. Watching episodes back to back cleared a lot of that up and I gained a greater appreciation for the show, which was no small feat.

We’ve been bingeing two series during the shutdown: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Homicide. We caught up on Nine-Nine over the weekend and are about midway through Season Three of Homicide. (Watching Andre Braugher play Ray Holt and Frank Pembleton within minutes of each other is worth a blog post of its own.) While the two shows could hardly be more different in tone, both have story arcs that span multiple episodes and the characters grow as the series continues. Keeping things fresh in the viewer’s mind keeps the tension from dropping week to week.

Season One of Homicide has a great example in the story arc that portrays the murder of eleven-year-old Edena Watson. It’s Bayliss’s (Kyle Secor) first case as the primary and it’s a stone cold whodunit. He’s feeling a lot of pressure because it’s his first case and because the story is getting so much media attention. In true Homicide style, there are plenty of other things going on that prevent the other detectives from giving Bayliss all the help he might want or need, though having Frank Pembleton as his second is a considerable aid. Not waiting a week between episodes keeps all the threads of the Watson case in mind, and the lack of commercials makes Bayliss’s and Pembleton’s final interrogation of the prime suspect (Moses Gunn) almost unbearably intense, stretching as it does through most of the episode. (Editor’s Note: This case is lifted virtually as a piece from David Simon’s book.)

We’re still not hard-core bingers. Even with Nine-Nine and Homicide, we usually limit ourselves to three or four of each in a sitting. Our record came when I rushed home from work on a Friday several years ago and we watched all of the final season of The Shield in a sitting, turning in around 3:30 Saturday morning. We’re too old for that shit now—I’m not sure I’ve fully recovered yet—but the exercise, coupled with our current immersive experiences, shows the artistic merit of streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix releasing the entire season of a show at once. (Not that I for a second think they do it for artistic reasons. They do it because people like it and now expect it when they pay for the service.)

I started back to work today so the bingeing situation will return to more normal levels. (I have thoughts on returning to work and the shutdown but I pledged long ago to keep politics out of this blog as much as possible and I’ll hold to that.) The Beloved Spouse™ has a far better binge situation, as she can keep series she likes and only recently discovered on all day while she works in her craft room. I have to pick my spots, at least for the time being. Once I retire, though…

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