Not So Fast

Binge Watching Is So Lonely

Gorging on House of Cards all at once is solitary and over all too soon. What’s the rush to enjoy everything at once?

When my brother, Reginald, turned 16, he was filled with excitement and anticipation.

He was now legal to get a driver’s permit that would allow him to drive our family car.

When he went to my dad with the news, the joy was a one-way street.

“What do you plan to drive?” my dad asked.

“The car,” Reggie replied.

“What car?” my dad inquired.

“That car,” he said, pointing to the driveway.

“My car? Oh hell no. You’re not driving my car at 16. I’m not going to have my car insurance skyrocket. You better wait until you’re 18 before you drive anything,” dad said.

He made clear to him—and to me since I am one year and one day younger than my brother—that patience mattered, and that it’s not always necessary to be in a rush.

That has always stuck with me. Folks are so in a hurry to have sex these days that even 15 is an eternity. Others have desired that big job with the big salary even though they really weren’t ready for all that it entailed. We truly live in a “Now! Now! Now!” world that doesn’t appreciate waiting.

So forgive me if I’m not one of the folks who planned my Valentine’s weekend around the season 2 premiere of House of Cards. Fans of the show were ready to ignore everything that night and on the weekend to watch all of the episodes of the show.

Ever since Netflix debuted Cards last year, the concept of binge viewing has skyrocketed. Fed up with the old system of networks dictating to us when we could watch a show and having to wait for them to dole out episodes on their schedule, today’s consumer has made it clear that not only do we want to watch a show anytime we want, on any device that we want, but let’s see all of it right now.

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I’m a huge TV fan. Always have and always will. I despise most of reality television, preferring scripted fair. My DVR is filled with shows like Scandal, House of Lies, Californication, The Blacklist, Mad Men, Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex, and I can go on and on (sitcoms need not apply).

It’s great to see the twists and turns of these shows, and to watch the amazing acting of folks like Kerry Washington, Don Cheadle, James Spader, and Harry Lennix.

But what is also great about such shows is that viewing is a communal thing. We get to see them together, discuss them, get mad and happy together, and share our love or disdain.

Can we really do that with binge viewing? No. In fact, watching House of Cards by myself and not at the same time with my friends and social media following is a boring and lonely existence.

This may sound absolutely crazy, but binge viewing and not being able to share with others is sort of like television masturbation—you are the only one who gets to be satisfied. Sorry, I need to have the exhilaration to enjoy it with someone else (and about 450,000 on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook).

On the first night, I watched three episodes of Cards, and would have loved to tweet, Facebook. But I couldn’t. Instead, I had to stay quiet out of fear of someone saying, “Don’t be a spoiler!”

Oh, I get the same when Scandal is on, but that only comes from my friends on the West Coast. At least I can communicate with my folks on the East Coast and in the central time zone about Olivia Pope, Harrison, and Daddy Pope. Thursday nights are now our ritual. We get hyped to see the next episode and wait with anticipation from the moment one episode ends and another it so air.

But what happens when I watch Cards all in one weekend? That’s it. It’s over. No savoring. No “ooh, what’s gonna happen next week.” Nothing. Nada. You watch it, then keep your mouth shut until a lot of time pass before you can even talk about it. Now you’re forced to wait so long to discuss it that by the time enough folks see all of the episodes, you’ve forgotten what the hell happened and you’ve moved on to something else.

Binge viewing is in many ways the problem with America. It really does encourage an isolationist view that negates the shared experience.

So what did I do? I watch three episodes that night and then said, “Turn it off. I want to savor the moment.”

The next night I watched one episode and that’s it. I’ll wait until the next weekend to catch another than another.

I know this may sound strange to you but it also happens with other shows. I’m on Showtime’s media list and they send me advanced copies of the shows. A couple of times I popped them in, happy to get to do what many Americans would love to do, but then I was a bit sad. Watching Masters of Sex could wow me, but I couldn’t say a word. I would be left to enjoy in silence, only able to share with my wife. That is, until she said, “Don’t spoil it. I wasn’t there to enjoy it with you.”

I’m sorry, but excuse me if I want a little bit of old school and some new school. Roll out two shows a week until they all have been exhausted. Let fans wait and talk and share and get mad or upset. Waiting isn’t always bad. It means that we can even crave something even more.

We live in a world where we eat our food fast, drink fast, drive fast, and just go, go, go.

I prefer to watch House of Cards as if I’m having dinner with friends at The Palm: don’t rush through the appetizers to get to my entrée; let the flavor of the steak or Chilean sea bass set in’ enjoy the great dinner conversation; and then order that amazing piece of chocolate cake that will leave a reminder why I came to The Palm the next time.

That always leaves good memories and make me look forward to my next visit, which is what any good television writer wants to do at the conclusion of a season: make you hate to leave because you are just enjoying the experience so much, but it’s time to close shop and go home.