HBO series like “Deadwood” — which jettisoned the ad breaks and content restrictions of network TV — have been compared to Dickens’s serial novels. Watching a streaming series is even more like reading a book — you receive it as a seamless whole, you set your own schedule — but it’s also like video gaming. Binge-watching is immersive. It’s user-directed. It creates a dynamic that I call “The Suck”: that narcotic, tidal feeling of getting drawn into a show and letting it wash over you for hours. “Play next episode” is the default, and it’s so easy. It can be competitive, even. Your friends are posting their progress, hour by hour, on social media. (“OMG #JessicaJones episode 10!! Woke up at 3 a.m. to watch!”) Each episode becomes a level to unlock.
Of course, no one’s stopping you from watching a series more slowly, but that changes the experience. Declaring whether it’s better or worse to binge fast or slow is like arguing whether it’s better to see the Grand Canyon from a helicopter or by foot. It’s beautiful either way, but it’s different. You see the fine grain, or you see the vast sweep.James Poniewozik
Interesting perspective on streaming; after a couple of months as Netflix subscriber I can certainly agree that having entire series available immediately instead of scheduled at fixed times on a weekly basis changes your habits. Before Netflix I regularly watched HBO for the ad-free experience; now searching for a movie in their schedule feels like going back to last century (for some reason you have to pay extra for HBO Go and it doesn’t have an app for my smart TV, so not really on option). I considered doing some short reviews of the shows I watched, but since I am so behind on blogging I decided against it. But I guess I can share a couple one-line impressions below:
- Ascension: enjoyable sci-fi, even though I guessed the main premise during the first episode (a small clue: there’s no gravity in space).
- Sense8: visually gorgeous, but massively boring, lacking direction – stopped watching after four episodes I think.
- How to get away with murder: absolutely incredible, the only show that kept me glued to the screen watching the last three episodes in one session because I couldn’t wait for the conclusion.
- Arrow: dark soap-opera with super-heroes, repetitive but enjoyable.
- Marco Polo: exotic and surprisingly emotional and deep. I hope it gets a second season.
- House of Cards: thrilling, addictive and very deep, can’t wait for more!
- Daredevil and Bloodline: gave up during the first episode, nothing to see here!
On a related note, Netflix recently released some stats about how fast viewers watch series on Netflix, based on global data. Interesting on first glance, but you have to wonder if the conclusions they draw about ‘savor’ vs. ‘devour’ are valid or artifacts of more complex factors; for example I rarely watch more than two episodes a day regardless of the show, because that’s normally how much time I have available in the evening for relaxing in front of the TV.