Last night, my wife and I watched the fifth episode of True Detective, which means that we’re officially caught up with the show, if only for a few days. This is something of an accomplishment for me, as it’s the first time I’ve been caught up on a scripted TV show since I stopped watching 24, midway through the fourth season.
That’s right. Since then, I’ve been “behind” on pretty much every show I’ve dedicated myself to watching. Now, the modern answer to that “problem” is binge watching. Binge watching, the act of consuming entire seasons of television shows in days or weeks instead of months or years, is the fast and trendy way to catch up on serialized dramas that make up most of the best TV shows today.
I don’t like binge watching TV. By condensing the post-viewing refractory period of a TV show from seven days down to the time it takes to make a snack, I diminish my ability to absorb each episode. In The Talking Room, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan said the best thing TV has going for it is that you have a hundred hours to develop characters, learn their nuances, and tell their stories. I say if you blast through those episodes too quickly, you won’t have time to appreciate that effort.
In the days after I watched the fourth episode of True Detective, I re-watched the final six minutes at least four or five times. The first time I watched to ensure I hadn’t missed any plot points or dialog. The second time I watched the actors, to see how they handled such a long, elaborate scene. The third time I watched the camera movements and the location, to figure out the mechanics of the shoot. The fourth time I just watched the scene again, marveling at all the pieces that had to come together perfectly during what had to be a challenging location shoot. And for the fifth viewing? I watched it one more time after I’d read a couple of articles explaining how they accomplished the whole thing and why it worked. That step over the fence still blows my mind.
For a handful of days, I spent considerable time thinking about one incredible moment of television. I watched that episode the day after the next episode aired. I could have literally rolled straight into it, traveling back into Louisiana and letting the plot wash over me. But if I had, I likely would have been too obsessed trying to figure out the secret of the Yellow King to consider the accomplishment that was the previous episode.
When I encounter something that is as carefully constructed as True Detective is, whether it's a TV show, a book, a videogame, or a movie, I like to take my time with it. The way I see it, you only get to experience that work for the first time once. To me, each episode of a show like True Detective is something to be cherished. Each episode deserves time to live in my head. To do less is not only a disservice to myself, it feels disrespectful to the show's creators--they put thousands of man hours into making one hour of television. Blasting through the episodes simply to see what happens at the end just feels wrong to me.
If I was going to make a bad analogy now, I'd say that binge watching is like putting a drive-through window in an art museum. Sure the window would allow more patrons to appreciate the art in a quick, convenient context, without the opportunity to internalize the experience. Lucky for you, I'm going to skip the analogy and just tell you about the time I ruined Lost by binge watching it instead.