Boy howdy, is the Missus gonna be mad at me.
I’m about to tell a secret. A secret that nobody, not even my wife, knows. A secret that could tear apart the very fabric of my marriage. A secret that I’m divulging in public in order to hopefully lessen the blow. My very hands tremble as I type. Beads of sweat form on my fevered brow. This is some heavy shit.
I’m all caught up on Breaking Bad.
About a month ago, I finally came around in realizing that Breaking Bad was a show that needed to be in my life, but I knew I wasn’t going to have enough time to watch every episode prior to the September 29 series finale without some sleepless nights and/or Netflix. The Missus was initially interested in getting caught up with me, but I needed to average at least two episodes a day in order to be properly caught up in time. I knew that by watching these episodes with her on scheduled evenings in front of my television, I surely would fall short of the goal. So I kicked her out of the proverbial airplane and started binge-watching on my phone at any available opportunity. At work. On lunch breaks. During days off. Even at a bar a couple times.
I hope in time she understands why I made such a controversial decision. I couldn’t take the risk of catching up with the show post-series finale, given the critical/spoiler nature of the show (especially in an Internet/water cooler capacity). I needed to give myself the opportunity to watch the final episodes at the same time as everyone else, and now I can, but it came at a dirty price. I betrayed those who love me; mostly my wife and cats, who I’m sure would have also enjoyed watching this show with me. In an attempt to secure a future where I can share a watershed moment with the world, I also have to do so at the expense of being isolated and alone as it unfurls.
Now I know how Walter White feels. Okay, maybe not. But on the bright side, we can now talk about Breaking Bad if you want, which leads me to my next topic.
Look, I love television. There’s no question that we’re currently in a Golden Age that started over a decade ago, and I’d argue that the current state of Television is producing more creativity than any other art form today. For example, music has meant more to me overall than television, but it hasn’t been a very good few years to say the least. If the MTV Video Music Awards exist solely to let me know who the most popular artists in the world are at any given year, I’ve seen all I need to see in order to support my hypothesis. In short, TV has been good. So good, that we’ve been able to sufficiently ignore all the things about it that are so bad.
With the advent of DVD/Blu-Ray, On-Demand viewing, binge-watching and the like, we’re in a landscape where there’s next to no excuse to not watch your favorite shows, catch up on shows you may have jumped onto late, and rediscover long-dead shows that you didn’t even realize were in your wheelhouse. However, in an accelerated culture, the pressure to stay on top of watching these shows seems more stringent than ever. While it initially seemed that a multitude of viewing options would kill the concept of Appointment Television, it actually did the opposite. Nowadays, being the first to know is king, and that means ignoring DVRs, Netflix and Hulu, and just watching shows like we did in the 90’s: As they happen, while drinking Fruitopia and wearing a Hypercolor t-shirt.
(Another thing about watching TV in the 90’s and earlier: If you missed an episode, there was a very real possibility you may never see it again, so staying on top of things was paramount. The Prevue Channel was a mixed blessing.)
But back to binge-watching. This Golden Age of Television has created an embarrassment of riches when it comes to weekly entertainment. Where we used to look forward to one major Sunday night drama, for example, has now been replaced by three or four all worthy of critical praise and attention. Shows begin to stack up, and tough decisions need to be made. What takes precedence? If all my friends keep talking about Boardwalk Empire to the point of potentially ruining the ending for me, maybe I should catch up with that one first, while letting an Under The Dome coast for a few weeks, right? Or maybe I should wait to watch The Wire until the Summer, when I won’t have to stay afloat on the wall of new entertainment set to be flung at me from September to May. Now that we wholly control our television destiny, everyone has to adopt their own unique code, including myself.
Here now, The 2013 Hierarchy of Television Viewing, sorted in order from most-to-least acceptable:
1. Appointment Viewing – Watching the show live as it airs, including commercials.
(Personal examples: The Walking Dead, Monday Night Raw, Adventure Time/Regular Show for some reason, Lost, Parks and Recreation, Friday Night Lights, any worthwhile sporting event)
As I get older, my appointment viewing list keeps getting shorter and shorter due to staying busy (I am not pleased with this change). That being said, there’s usually one show a night that requires I take it in on the network’s watch, not my own.
Like I said, Appointment Television is more enticing now than ever. Between commercials, you can take to Twitter to collectively see what the rest of the world thinks about the episode you’re watching, and you’re free of spoilers. There are no websites to craftily avoid the next day, and you can let your friends freely carry on discussions without being the dick that plugs his ears and runs away. Good times.
2. Partial Appointment Viewing – Watching the show the night it airs.
(Personal examples: Under The Dome, Once Upon A Time, The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, The Middle, Modern Family, most sitcoms)
When you really like a show, but don’t have the time to sit through commercials and don’t fear spoiler repercussions, this is a decent way to go. I watch most sitcoms this way, and can usually blaze through six or more in an evening. Also, you still can join the water cooler discussion the next day.
(Note: In the 10 years I have been employed in an office environment, I have never spoken to anyone near a water cooler unless it was regarding who is allowed to change the jug once it’s empty.)
3. In-Week Viewing – Watching the show by the end of the week in which it aired.
(Personal examples: Mythbusters, Saturday Night Live, Toonami, Antiques Roadshow, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, most late-night talk shows)
I’m getting old and stringy, and during the work week I don’t feel like staying up to watch Colbert, Conan, Letterman and the rest. Fortunately, these can easily be piled up and burned off in a matter of minutes depending on who the guests are. I typically watch this stuff in the hour after I get home from work. These are shows that critics usually don’t talk about too much, and it’s not particularly important to anyone if you’re a few days behind.
4. In-Season Block Viewing – Watching a season of TV in large blocks within the season itself.
(Personal examples: Nashville, Futurama, House, Person Of Interest, most lesser dramas)
I like Nashville, but it can sometimes go weeks without anything of note happening. I like Futurama (RIP), but I tend to forget that it’s still a thing (which it isn’t). Procedural dramas can be cool, but watching just one a week seems like an exercise in pointlessness (which seems to be why they’re aired in massive chunks in syndication). This option is good when you’re watching a show just to watch it, and need to kill time on a Tuesday or some other gap where nothing else is on. Because simply not watching is unacceptable.
Here’s where things get murky.
5. Seasonal Binge-Viewing – Watching a full season in a short amount of time to catch up. Format is listed in order of personal preference:
(Personal examples: S1 of Lost, The Chicago Code, 24, Happy Endings, S4 of Arrested Development, most shows that get canceled before Season 2)
Watching a full season of television can happen over a weekend nowadays, and it comes in handy when you miss the boat on something your friends can’t shut up about. Note my hierarchy of Television/Computer/Smartphone/iPod. Watching any TV show on a TV is the most ideal situation, but a computer monitor will do if necessary. Smartphones should only be used if you’re watching a show that doesn’t require an attention to cinematography and details (so anything good, really), and nothing should ever be viewed on an iPod. I’m sort of a logical purist; no TV or film director ever created a show they thought would be ideally viewed on a phone, but again, it’s better than not watching it at all.
6. Series Binge-Viewing – Watching an entire series in a short amount of time to catch up. Format is listed in order of personal preference:
(Personal examples: The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Degrassi)
Series Binge-Viewing is usually done while in the throes of a depression, panic, breakup or bipolar downswing, and generally isn’t recommended unless you aren’t currently employed (or wish to be in the future). Could possibly lead to dementia.
We’re not done. There’s still one more subterranean level to The Hierarchy of Television Viewing. An option so lazy and disrespectful to the art that it’s literally the closest thing to just not watching the show at all. Sadly, I’ve lived through the following sadness.
7. Binge-Recap Reading – Catching up on an entire series solely by reading Wikipedia recaps.
(Personal examples: Shit you don’t care about, but stay on top of in order to stay relevant to today’s youth, anything on Showtime)
Anything to add to the Hierarchy? Want to chat Breaking Bad? Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your weekend.