The Pleasures and Perils of Showbinging

In the days before DVD, Netflix and endless online episodes – back when we had a little sanity left – TV binge watching was mostly confined to weekend basic cable marathons. Only the most dedicated fans braved those 24- and 48-hour endurance trials.

I tried it once, years ago, with David Lynch’s serial freakout Twin Peaks. Like an idiot I went in without a game plan or any training regimen at all. Amateur move. By Episode 15, “Drive with a Dead Girl”, I’d lost feeling below the waist and hadn’t blinked in eight hours.

Thanks to DVRs, DVD series collections and Netflix’s roster of on-demand back episodes (Arrested Development, Breaking Bad), we have a lot more control over when and what we watch. “Time shifting” is what the media pros call it. For many busy adults, the strategy and neologism of showbinging has become the preferred method of assimilating all the great TV out there.

In fact, I haven’t regularly watched a TV series during original broadcast since ABC’s Lost wrapped up in 2010. That show left a bad taste when, after four seasons of twisty intrigue, the writers ran out of ideas and started resolving everything with gunfights. Remember when there was exactly one gun on that island, and it was a commodity, and Sawyer used it to shoot that polar bear? Three years later and I’m still mad about that show.

But I digress. I’m here to recommend two exciting showbinging opportunities.

NBC’s impossibly reliable comedy 30 Rock wrapped up with its series finalé in January. It was a rather underwhelming end to the series, but it stayed true to creator Tina Fey’s singular comic vision. The Season 7 DVD collection won’t arrive until May, but meanwhile you can see all previous episodes from seasons one through six by way of Netflix online video streaming.

If you have a Netflix subscription plan, you can access these Instant titles online across multiple platforms. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve watched 30 Rock back episodes by way of laptop, PlayStation 3, iPad and iPhone. I’m obsessed by the comedy writing on that show – 30 Rock has become more curriculum than entertainment for me.

If you never got around to watching this show during its broadcast run, I actually sort of envy you – you’ve got seven seasons of weapons-grade situation comedy ahead of you. 30 Rock centers on harried TV writer Liz Lemon (Fey) as she tries to manage the cast and crew of “TGS”, an SNL-like late-night comedy show.

Co-starring Alec Baldwin as Lemon’s NBC executive boss, Jack Donaghy, and Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski as the show’s prima donna stars, 30 Rock is unparalleled in terms of sheer comedy density. Watching the episodes the first time around, via Netflix or DVR, I would often have to literally pause and rewind certain scenes – while processing the first gag, three more would scoot past.

For another showbinging option, consider the planet’s most potentially dangerous time-sink: HBO’s blockbuster sex-swords-and-sorcery epic, Game of Thrones.

Pound-for-pound, Game of Thrones is probably the best and most ambitious show on television right now. Based on the ginormous high fantasy novels of George R. R. Martin, the show is epic in every sense of the word and just hopelessly addictive. Not only did I devour the first season DVD set in a single weekend last year, I impulsively bought the first novel in the series as an e-book, and have been slogging through the series, on and off, for 11 months now. (Total pages in the series so far: 4,197).

Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season was released in February, and I managed to spread out my binge watching with that over a total of five days. I haven’t dug into the extras yet.

Too much good TV, that’s the problem. It’s impossible to keep up with all the quality series on TV these days. Well, not impossible, but certainly tricky, and you have to give up things, like family and daylight.

The trick to managing all this showbinging? You have to stop watching TV. Outside of baseball games, I rarely see television programs when they’re actually, you know, broadcast. I haven’t watched a TV commercial in months. This plays havoc with network revenue models, I suspect, but hey – not my problem.


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