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A 25-year-old American recently set the Guinness World Record for most hours spent binge-watching television. He managed to make it to 94 hours before sleep deprivation inevitably caught up with him.
I recently pulled off my own major TV binge-watch. While it wasn’t as impressive as going for almost four days straight, I watched all seven seasons of Californication in just five days. That’s 84 episodes — almost 42 hours of TV. I basically spent more than a third of each day watching Netflix.
I might not have set any records, but I did learn a lot about the pros and cons of binge-watching television.
PRO: Get it Over With Quickly
One of the big advantages of binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, is that you get it over and done with quickly.
If you’re working your way slowly through one of the many great original shows on Netflix it becomes all too easy to procrastinate. Try sitting down to write an article when the next episode of Daredevil is a single click away. It’s next to impossible.
Seven seasons in five days. That’s healthy, right? #BingingHard
— Harry Guinness (@HarryGuinness) April 14, 2016
By going all in you can, weirdly, be more productive. While I didn’t get a whole lot of work done while I was binge-watching Californication, I’m now back to my usual productive self. Rather than being mildly distracted for a few weeks, I was completely distracted for just a few days.
My binge was pretty extreme by any measure that doesn’t set world records, but even if you don’t have the same level of flexibility with your time, the point still remains. TV shows can take over your life, so getting through one as quickly as possible minimizes the damage to your hygiene, social life, and productivity.
CON: Less Emotional Highs
One of the big problems with binge-watching is that you don’t really get the chance to think about what has happened. As soon as one episode is over you’re on to the next.
Just over a week until Game of Thrones. Been avoiding watching trailers. #winning
— Harry Guinness (@HarryGuinness) April 14, 2016
A big part of the anticipation everyone was feeling for the latest season of Game of Thrones was that the last series ended on a massive cliffhanger — if you don’t know what happened, here’s how to avoid spoilers. As the show has now outpaced the books, even people like me who have been reading A Song of Ice and Fire for years don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next. For the last nine months there have been countless articles, online discussions, and water cooler arguments theorizing about what’s going to happen in the next season.
When you binge-watch a show these highs and lows just don’t hit you as hard. You’re onto the next episode before you can really process that “SPOILER has died” or “CHARACTER A and CHARACTER B finally got together.” There’s no anticipation.
PRO: See the Small Things
When you’re watching dozens of episodes of a show back-to-back, you notice the small things. Minor characters that show up two seasons later, call backs to earlier episodes, running gags, and all the little changes that show a character is developing as a person.
The writers, directors, and actors spend years immersed in the shows they create. By the end, they have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of their work. In most shows, this means there are constant minor details that, if you’re only watching an episode a week, you’ll never catch. Being able to see the little things makes for a much more satisfying viewing experience.
CON: Easy to Second-Screen
As cool as it is to see all the minor details that repeat between episodes and seasons, seeing the major ones can get irritating. Almost every TV show rehashes plot lines, overuses catchphrases, or just has a character who has an insufferably slow arc. You don’t notice these issues anywhere near as much when you’re watching a show on a weekly basis.
When you start to get annoyed by all the repetition, it’s all too easy to browse Twitter or Facebook on your smartphone. Even when you’re watching a brand new episode of your favorite show, second-screening is a real issue; when you’re a little fed up with Barney saying, “Legen — wait for it — dary”, you can spend more time on Reddit than actually watching the episode.
PRO: It’s Great Fun
Let’s be honest, the main reason people binge-watch shows is that it’s awesome.
— Harry Guinness (@HarryGuinness) August 25, 2015
Curling up on the couch with a great series and some junk food is a killer way to spend a Saturday. You wouldn’t want to do it all the time but, for a couple of days, locking your door, eating takeaway and staring at a screen is great fun — although it might drive you slightly crazy.
CON: It Makes You Less Social
Binge-watching is an inherently anti-social activity. While you CAN do it with someone else, that involves coordinating schedules and all sorts of other hassle. One person normally caves and watches an episode without the other person, and a full-blown domestic dispute happens. It’s best to just go it alone.
If, like me, you get really caught up in a show, you’ll probably just avoid all social occasions until you’re done. If you live by yourself, it’s easy to go a few days where the only people you interact with drive a moped and have a Dominoes Pizza logo on their clothing.
Finally, you don’t get to talk about each new episode with your friends throughout the week. When Game of Thrones is on, my friends and I will dissect each new episode. And this makes the show more fun.
All of this combines to make binge-watching far less social than watching an episode a week as it’s broadcast.
On balance, binge-watching TV shows is worth doing from time-to-time. If you find that you’re never leaving the house, you should consider cancelling your Netflix subscription to remedy that problem, but if you go into full hermit mode every couple of months, locking yourself away with a bag of sweets and a fast Internet connection, you’re not hurting anyone, least of all yourself. And you’re going to have a blast.
I don’t plan on trying to beat 94 hours, or even just binge-watching every season of another TV show for at least a little while. That last (and lost) weekend was awesome, but I won’t do it again too quickly. Binge-watching is great — but it does have its downsides.
Do you binge-watch television? What pros and cons have you discovered? Do you agree with my list of pros and cons? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Image Credit: watching TV by g-stockstudio via Shutterstock