On binge viewing and NovellaVision

Recently, we've been watching Lost. All of it. From the beginning. For me, this has been interesting since I never watched the whow during it's original run and even tried to watch it a couple of times over the years but got, at most, 3 episodes in before I gave up. My general reaction was along the lines of “meh.”

But over the last year and a half or so, I've suggested a few series to Rasa (Leverage, Face Off, Coupling) which we've watched in their entirety and so it was only fair she suggest a show for us to watch. She'd seen most of Lost herself (but not all) and thought we should put this into our viewing queue. Okay, third time's the charm, right?

So we started watching. But here's the thing: We didn't watch it like it was meant to be watched. We watched it quickly. We binged it. This is an interesting, somewhat recent development in TV viewing. The idea is to watch a bunch of episodes of something in quick succession. I assume the initial concept came along with the advent of TV shows being released on VHS or, as is more likely, DVD (DVD seasons taking up far less space and being much more cost effective). For a lot of the early shows, my guess is there was a nostalgia quality involved. What's that? I can watch EVERY episode of Gilligan's Island or The Brady Bunch all at once? Now that is exciting!

Then things changed. We began to anticipate the seasonal releases. My folks used to say “why watch it on TV when we can wait and get the season at Costco?” (In fact, it was their DVDs with which I initially tried to watch Lost. Where the problem comes in, is you don't get a break to let the stories digest. You don't have that built in pause between episodes (or even seasons) to speculate, to ruminate and mst important, to forget. Watching several hours all at once means you get to watch the characters NOT develop. You get to see them make the same mistakes and remain uncomfortably consistent. This is especially true of SIt-Coms (I binged on Community and by season three just hated everyone and wasn't laughing at all).

And so with Lost, what's happening is I remember the plot lines too well. Forgotten threads and logical inconsistencies didn't happen three or four years ago, back in Season One, but two weeks when I started my binge. The anticpation of big story reveals don't carry nearly the same weight, when you realize we could have gotten to them much sooner if the writer's had actually felt like they knew what was going to happen ahead of time, rather than making it up as they went along.

Watching Lost in quick order, I wonder that it was lauded as it was. To my eyes, most of the seasons could have been reduced by multiple episodes if characters actually talked to each other rather than withholding information. Now, on a weekly basis, this might make more sense in order to build up dramatic tension. But in a viewing frenzy, it's just frustrating and disrespectful to the viewers AND the characters.

This is not to say binge viewing is a bad thing. Recently, Netflix has been creating TV season of 10-12 episodes or so and releasing them all at once, or networks have been contracting shows for that same limited run. This idea is similar to teh system the British have been usuing for a while, where x number of episodes are contracted, written, shot and aired. Then if the show gets picked up, the same process happens again. The result is that the creators are allowed the freedom of foresight to be able to tell a complete, complex and multi-layered story over the course of several hours. We used to call this a “mini-series” and it was a special event. Now it's not as special, but these new, multi-episode NovellaVision programs work as a cohesive whole.

As a viewer and storyteller, I'm looking forward to seeing how this new method is explored. And I can't wait to binge whatever comes next.



3 thoughts on “On binge viewing and NovellaVision

  1. For American broadcast TV, Lost actually pioneered both shorter seasons and dividing a season into two halves. It doesn’t sound revolutionary now but when the producers negotiated a 17 episode season (versus 22-23 episodes), I held it as a real advance, especially as the show was insanely popular. (Breaking, if I recall correctly, season 3 into two parts, on the other hand was noble but failed experiment, at least with me.)

    I want to say more (both positively and negatively) but I know you are still watchin’ the thing! I think I can say that I personally liked seasons 4-5 perhaps the best. But, as you intimate, you have to ignore some long-form storytelling problems.

  2. Oh, one other thought. I’m watching old Ally McBeal episodes (because Molly Dodd isn’t streaming). Continuity is pretty good, in part because Kelley writes most every episode. But Vonda Shepard, who I always found a little too omnipresent, becomes absolutely grating when watching multiple episodes.

    (The Suzanne Vega thing also put me off Shepard.)

    1. What Suzanne Vega thing? I like Suzanne Vega.

      But yeah, things like catch phrases and repeated behaviors, when they happen week after week they become familiar and looked forward to, but when they happen hour after hour, they can grate considerably.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.