(This was originally published in the California Aggie)
Should we watch another? I find myself asking this question often. Like many, I watch TV shows online. It seems obvious. All the shows I always felt out of the loop of are at my wireless fingertips, for either free or semi-free access. This may very well be the definition of the “on demand” generation.
But while I love not having to wait a week to see Stringer Bell’s next move or if Carrie B. will actually dump Big, I often wonder whether watching these shows in marathon form is taking away from the meaning. That is, do we, as an audience need that week to mull over and fully understand last episodes’ events? How important is distance when it comes to television?
In regular conversation I and many others talk about these high-end HBO, SHOWTIME, AMC, etc. dramas with language that was previously saved for books. This is a result of higher-quality television, a smarter audience base and the internet’s propensity to analyze, overanalyze and .giffify. Even in premium escapist anti-reality shows such as “Game of Thrones” or “True Blood,” common discourse is centered around character development, motives and real-world motifs. If we put extra meaning and significance on something like Walter White’s calculated rage, there are higher stakes when it comes to how us viewers, consume such content.
I’ve watched “Mad Men” both ways. First, when it originally aired I watched it every week as each episode came out. The anticipation was both rewarding and annoying, yet I felt a connection with the characters that slipped to some extent when watching at will, at my own fast pace.
With the slow-way, the episodes did not mesh together the way they often can, and I learned to appreciate every scene equally, not losing focus during those that did not contribute to the advancement of the plot. Most importantly I found myself with a real stake in the lives of the characters.
This is the part where you disagree and argue that “Mad Men” is good enough to still bring this feeling to all its viewers, never mind the rate at which you watch. While true, the added distance allowed each episode to sink in. That week, I talked about the episode, focusing on one of Pete Campbell’s grievances instead of making sweeping statements about the character as he relates to the series as a whole. This ability to separate each episode, into what it is – an episode – provided a view that was overlooked when cranking out an entire season during spring break.
“Dexter” is a show that I watched in all-at-once marathon form, once during a winter break, and once during a procrastination binge in the infamous Winter of ‘09. I found the show to be absolutely terrible mostly for the acting, but also because I gave under one fuck about any of the characters. Somehow the show made a psychopathic vigilante murderer with dream visions of his father boring, and also featured his sister Deb, the most unrealistic character in television history (with all due respect to Hank Moody — nothing but love, bro).
Trusted friends, however, loved the show because they watched the episodes as they originally aired, spacing a week in between their relationships with the characters and the plot. This time interval allowed them to focus less on the glaring character flaws that ruined the show for me, and more on the overall plot development and story-arch of each season. In this instance, my close proximity to the show for sporadic periods of time made me hyper-aware of such brooding characters instead of plot, the most compelling part of the show.
Of course, our busy lives make it hard to adhere to a television schedule, and with thousands of legal and extra-legal sites, it’s almost silly to think about not being able to watch any episode at any given time. Many of the “best watched” people I know don’t even own a television.
Although the medium is becoming more and more suited for your computer, it still airs in its original form on the TV once a week, and this is the way the writers and directors originally meant for their art to be consumed.
Who knows,maybe you’ll learn something new, have a fonder appreciation for your favorite characters or realize that we need an Andy Botwin spin-off show.