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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Marathon TV Sessions on the Rise

Written by Kirk Baird

TV is continuing its comeback to relevancy, with cable channels leading the charge with movie-level quality shows that often break new ground or, at the very least, buck decades-long network programming trends. The Wire. The Sopranos. Breaking Bad. The Walking Dead. Dexter. Battlestar Galactica.

These are just a few examples of appointment TV, critically praised fare that have entered our cultural zeitgeist. And if you missed or are missing these popular shows, you often are left out in the all-important water cooler chat the next day at the office, or on Facebook with friends and family.

But an increasing trend is changing that — thanks to DVD/Blu-ray box sets and even DVRs: binge viewing, a marathon session of a season or seasons of a TV show consumed in hours, days, and sometimes a week or more.

Binge viewing, aka binge watching or simply bingeing, is a new term coined for a trend that has been happening for a while. A few years ago, for instance, I spent a weekend holed up watching back-to-back seasons of an obscure Japanese animated series, Star Blazers, while my wife was out of town. It was just me on the couch for hours and hours and hours staring at the TV and desperately reliving a part of my childhood.

Binge watching doesn’t have to be personal, either. I knew a TV critic who opted to review the first season of Fox’s action-thriller series 24 — conceived as a “real-time” show with every hour-long episode an hour in the plot’s 24-hour timeframe — by gorging on a single 19-hour-plus marathon of the show. If memory serves, he had snacks at the ready and only took the occasional break for the call of nature.
Neither of us knew it at the time, of course, but we were bingeing.

For the purposes of this blog I opted to binge watch the first season of AMC’s acclaimed zombie series The Walking Dead. Of course, there are only six hour-long episodes in that initial season, which made for an easier-to-manage marathon than a 20-season binge. But the concept was the same: get caught up on a popular TV show without taking a week off or more between episodes.

Comparing The Walking Dead mini-binge to the all-weekend gorge fest of Star Blazers, I found that bingeing, whether in small bundles of hours or in wholesale bulk of days, offers the same rewards. There’s no interruption in continuity. There’s quick payoff to plot twists. There’s almost no chance of losing your place and forgetting characters and major or minor story twists. And, perhaps best of all, there’s a profound since of self-satisfaction when you’re finished, a strange sense of accomplishment.

Binge watching is not for the faint of heart — or those with calendars filled with activities. It’s a major commitment (and investment) of your time, but the reward is cramming an acclaimed TV series you’ve heard about and watching it on you’re time. Consider it speed reading through a semester of Brit Lit.

If you’ve never tried bingeing, perhaps consider some of these shorter TV series to get started.

The Walking Dead, Season One. Again, only six episodes in this eerie drama about a world overrun by zombies.

The Office (the British version). This 10th Anniversary Edition features all 12 episodes and a two-part Christmas Special.

Breaking Bad, Season One. The new season is about to kick-off, and this six-hour first season, which chronicles the origins of a high school chemistry teacher-turned meth dealer, is a great way to test the waters of whether or not you’re ready to make the commitment for seasons two through four.

Dexter, Season One. Try this 12-episode season and see if you don’t get hooked on the hour-long drama about a serial killer who preys on other killers, and binge on seasons two through six.

And then move up to these shows.

The Wire, Complete Seasons One-Five: This tense drama about the Baltimore drug scene is arguably the finest TV show ever.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Complete TV series. Nearly 30 hours of classic sketch comedy, from the Dead Parrot and The Lumberjack to The Cheese Shop and The Argument Clinic. Try watching all the shows in a single weekend.

The West Wing, Seasons One through Seven. If you haven’t already, check out Aaron Sorkin’s masterpiece of drama, political commentary, and sensational dialogue set in the White House.

Battlestar Galactica (the 2005 series). I was skeptical of the reboot of the TV series from the late 1970s. The two-part miniseries pilot didn’t win me over, either. Then the series began in earnest and the show’s writers used a science-fiction series about humans fleeing through space from their robotic oppressors as a platform for social and political commentary on our world now, and I changed my mind. Battlestar Galatica only got better through its remaining three seasons.

Lost. I have a friend who missed the show and recently decided to binge through the entire twisty (and sometimes painfully illogical) six-season series about survivors of a plane crash trapped on a strange island through the summer.

Binge watching doesn’t just have to be for TV shows. Also consider watching these movies series back-to-back-to-back.

The Star Wars saga: Episodes I through 6. I did just that with the Blu-ray release in September. The good news with this strategy is you get The Phantom Menace out of the way first.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Peter Jackson’s extended cut version of the movies, which piles on a hefty two hours of additional footage between the three films, was just released on Blu-ray. Watching the films alone is a nearly 12-hour commitment, and there’s several DVDs of bonus material to comb through as well.

The Harry Potter films. Watch the series get better and better – along with the acting – through the eight films, including the two-part finale.

For more seasons of the series listed, please see our website.

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