Netflix, streaming and the demise of the slow burn
A few days ago I was reading an article from The A.V. Club about “slow TV,” a term for watching a TV show the old fashioned way instead of marathoning the whole thing in three weeks. As a serial marathoner of shows I didn’t catch the first time around, I was surprised when I found myself identifying with the authors idea that the slow way, may be the better way.
In the last few months alone I’ve watched the entire airing history of “Dawson’s Creek,” “Dexter,” “Weeds,” “Friday Night Lights,” “My So-Called Life” and probably more that I’m forgetting. Having Netflix has helped immensely with this, making it easy for me to access (most) shows I want to watch at any time. But I never thought about the consequences that streaming sites may have for television today, or for the viewer.
There are numerous pros to sites like Netflix and Hulu. You can catch up on a series or watch individual, favorite episodes. But, as the article lamented, watching these shows all at once can oftentimes ruin the way a show was meant to be seen. Character arcs are less subtle; some plot points seem incredibly rushed. It’s hard to just stop at one episode and before you know it, you’re done with an entire series.
I remember when I watched “Lost” my freshman year in college. I watched the entire series in less than a month and just could not tear myself away from my laptop screen. I had many friends who had watched the show for years and were there for me to express my shock and awe to.
But then, after I finished the finale, I found myself sad. I was sad, obviously, because the show was over, but also sad that I didn’t get to have that six-year journey that most viewers did. I didn’t get to wait week after week, create theories, or talk about the show when it was still relevant. I missed out on an incredible phenomena because I came to the party late. The pay off was just not the same for me as it was for all my friends because I didn’t get to have the same relationship with the show as these first-run viewers did.
When “Friends” ended after ten years I cried. When I finished “Lost,” I went to sleep.
I wonder what it would have been like if I watched one episode per week, building the suspense and drawing out my viewing. I would have had time to develop theories and be anxious for the next episode.
Most importantly, I would be able to discern the episodes from each other rather than the way that they seem like a blur, all rushing together. I know I don’t have the patience for that; I never will. It’s wishful thinking that I’d be capable of that self control in the face of a show that incredible. But it’s a nice thought isn’t it?
One of the defining aspects about this type of television viewing is that we’re never only watching a show. We’re on Facebook, on our phones or writing a paper while the show plays in the background. This is obviously a commentary on society as a whole; that we can’t focus on anything for too long.
And while it’s important in other regards, when it comes to TV, it’s changing the entire viewing process. We barely look at the screen or zone out doing other things, missing important details and plot points. Most viewers aren’t in it for the subtleties, acting, or great writing anymore – they’re in it for the plot points and the music. TV viewing was once an event, now it’s something that can be done anywhere at any time.
This all makes me of think how our ability to marathon a show will affect how we all watch TV in the long run. Netflix released “House of Cards” in one fell swoop. An entire season of a TV show laid out in front of us to watch in one day, if we please. While this is a bit different, because the wait for a season two is likely to be insufferable, it’s an interesting scheme.
Is Netflix trying to perpetrate that this is the way TV is going? That someday all shows will be thrown in bundles for us to watch through on our time, and as quickly as we please?
I hope not.
As a fan of the slow burn of watching a season of TV, scoping spoilers and getting excited for a new episode I wouldn’t want that to be ruined. I’m already upset I couldn’t grow up with old shows; let me grow up with my new ones.
Alexa Hoyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.