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The subtle joy of no longer indulging in watching TV shows


I’m not here to tell you to stop watching. We are in our third year of a global pandemicthe United States is experiencing high inflation and each day begins to feel like a survival test. If watching an entire TV series in a week is what keeps you going, don’t let me stop you. However…I have some opinions on the slow watch.

When House of Cards debuted on Netflix in 2013, it changed the television industry in two ways. It was the first big-budget television series with famous actors available to anyone with an Internet connection and access to the streaming service — no cable contract needed. And viewers could watch the entire season, all 13 episodes, at once.

It wasn’t the birth of binge-watching, not quite. Anyone with access to an entire season of television on home video could wade through entire seasons, one VHS or DVD at a time, long before Netflix. But it was the first time a new show dropped an entire season at a time, leaving the beat for viewers, rather than the weekly TV schedule. And ever since, the world has been binge-watching TV shows.

And that’s fine, if it works for you. But I’d like to suggest an alternative: if you pace your TV viewing, you might like it better than binge-watching. Here’s why.

The time between episodes is significant

Some of my favorite TV memories don’t happen on screen. It’s not big action sequences or plot twists, or powerful performances from the show’s actors. Instead, it’s the moments following the episode, talking to friends and family about what just happened, connecting it to threads earlier in the series, and speculating what will happen next. then.

When Wanda Vision created last year, the release of new episodes was an event for me. My girlfriend and I would grab takeout, watch new episodes, and then spend up to an hour talking about whatever we had just watched. These conversations challenged our memories, attention to detail and creativity, and the experience surrounding the show is what I remember most fondly.

The subtle joy of no longer indulging in watching TV shows

WandaVision’s twists were all the more interesting on a weekly schedule.


Binge-watching replaces those moments with the immediate dopamine hit of the start of a new episode. For some types of shows, like reality and competition series, this might be a perfect compromise. But for anything that has dramatic stakes, I want the tension created by time between one episode and the next. The cliffhangers should pinch – that’s what makes the payoff worthwhile. The fun of seeing someone appear unexpectedly at the end of an episode is thinking about what it might mean for the next one. Which theories does it confirm and which does it refute? There is no time for this kind of playful speculation in a binge-watch.

If the magic of poetry happens in the line breaks between words, where your imagination has to fill in the gaps, the magic of television, for me, happens between episodes. It is the connection we create with other people when we share observations, questions and theories. “What do these enigmatic advertisements mean in WandaVision?” And, sure, you can do that with shows you’ve binged, but it’s a near impossible task to condense an entire season’s thoughts into a single conversation. Watching a show week after week gives you more time to think about what’s going on, to speculate on what’s to come, and to share those thoughts with other people. This kind of talk has only grown in value since the pandemic began, and one of the really great things about entertainment is how it unites people and provides a way to connect.

When you watch slowly, the show stays with you

Binge-watching can be exciting because it involves a lot of information at once. Meeting new characters and sometimes new worlds is invigorating, and binge-watching gives you that action in a concentrated dose. But he also crams that joy into a tiny little box.

Watching an entire season of television in one weekend is a fundamentally different experience than watching a week-to-week show while it airs. Binging a show minimizes the time you spend exploring that show — the time it spends interacting with the rest of your life.

The subtle joy of no longer indulging in watching TV shows

You might find yourself connecting more with characters if you slow down your viewing.


For me, there’s a bit more magic in slow-watch, and a lot of that magic has to do with the passage of time. Watching a show as it airs, especially something on network TV, means the characters grow old alongside you. For shows that last longer than a few seasons, you might experience significant personal growth over the course of the show, and you might find parallels in some of the characters you’ve watched all along.

This is one of the reasons The Legend of Korra made a bigger impression on me than Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both are amazing shows and some of the best anime series ever made. But I watched Avatar over a period of about two months, while Korra was an active part of my life for two and a half years. And the passage of time – real-world time – has added layers to Korra’s journey that I don’t think I’ve felt in an abbreviated amount of time. Between the premiere and the final, I moved around the country, made new friends, tried things I had never done before, and learned to deal with failure. I wouldn’t have had time for all of those things while binge-watching, and I wouldn’t have felt as connected to Korra doing those things over the course of the show.

Binge-watching doesn’t negate character growth or your ability to connect to it, but I think it offers a more limited version of those things compared to weekly viewing.

To binge or not to binge

There are plenty of good reasons to binge watch. Maybe you’re trying to get through a slow start or a bad season that would be nerve-wracking for you to watch at a slower pace. Maybe your friends are afraid of messing things up for you. Maybe you have limited free time, or maybe you just want to maximize your subscription to minimize the amount you spend on streaming each month.

But, for me, binge-watching is the TV equivalent of an adventure. It’s a sudden burst of excitement that ends quickly and doesn’t stay with you. Watching a series slowly feels more like a long-term relationship – a commitment, and sometimes a test of patience, but also something more touching and precious. And streaming services seem to agree: Although Netflix always releases entire seasons at once, Disney+, HBO, Hulu and First video all release new episodes every week.

So the next time you find a show you’re really excited to watch, consider slowing things down and basking in it.


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