In the age of instant access, the concept of binge watching TV is still relatively new. But with Netflix’s go at episodic programming and full seasons of shows on demand at Hulu and Amazon, the way audiences like and even expect to watch media is shifting.
More and more we see viewers, and some network executives, praising “the binge.” Online distributors have even jumped on the binge-wagon when it comes to their own original programming, which includes Emmy winners Transparent (Amazon) and House of Cards (Netflix).
Meanwhile, this summer NBC became the first broadcast network to attempt a version of the online binge model with its dark Charles Manson drama, Aquarius. It’s a big step for networks that rely on the week-to-week model, not just in terms of narrative, but for business.
Binge watching does, in its own way, offer a more immersive and personal viewing experience. You can watch as much or as little as you want, when you want, over whatever period of time you want to do so, with the added bonus of no commercials (in most cases). It’s media-on-demand, and a level of control most TV watchers have dreamed about for years.
But despite its silent, creeping takeover, there has been some push-back against the consumption model as of late. Even Netflix, a pioneer in the arena, is stepping out of form with the introduction of Between, a Canadian co-production set to be released in weekly installments. So far there hasn’t been any negative response the distribution shift, with viewers still flocking week after week to catch a new episode.
It raises an interesting question though about whether binge-watching is a new format or a new fad. While it’s clear that watching this way has its merits, both Netflix’s foray into the weekly release as well as some negative opinions about the binge platform itself suggests that the format doesn’t necessarily reign supreme for all series or watchers.
Is it better to binge or not to binge? What kinds (and qualities) of series are better binged, as opposed to those rolled out over time? To answer that question, we’ve put together a list of things that can help make for a good (or bad) binge series.
Considering the way that comedies and dramas are written, the latter make better binge-worthy fair. With the storytelling style typical of comedies, coming in and out of a season is pretty easy.
The comedy favors shorter, multi-episode and even single episode arcs. Each new half-hour can function as a self-contained story that has no bearing whatsoever on what happened the previous week, or what will happen the next. You may come across season long arcs — especially in dramedies, but their development doesn’t function on a week-to-week basis.
Often, an arc is started and then touched on periodically as a season unfolds. As a result, storylines are less complex and dense in terms of subject matter and development.
If you miss one you can pick up the very next episode and not have to worry about skipping important plot developments.
Dramas are almost exactly the opposite, offering longer, more complex plots that require significantly more attention and commitment to fully appreciate and understand the story.