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.
Yes, you read it right. It seems repetitive to say that Netflix shows make for better binge-watching, but as Todd Vanderwerff over at Vox recently pointed out, Netflix is creating a new narrative format — a mix between episodic and cinematic storytelling.
Creators are allowed to write for seasons versus episodes, which means that plots are developed more over time while still being more condensed than their network television counterparts.
What might have been a shallow single week arc for a character becomes a season’s worth of exploration. And even though twists can be set up in both formats, with binging there is potentially no delay in when you are offered the next pertinent clue, making it is easier (and more enjoyable) for viewers to see how it plays out.
Netflix’s Sense8, for example, was written to function as binge-watched fair. The story unfolds so each episode only feels like a small, unwrapped piece to a larger (and longer) puzzle. In the words of Wayward Pines star Matt Dillon, it’s film plus.
In several of the reviews for Sense8, critics have noted that the series would never make it on traditional television, despite how good it is.
The slow build to the series main shifting action — found towards the back end of the season — would have prevented most viewers from returning if the series was released on a week by week basis.
It flows like the first act to an elongated film, and thus should be released and watched in a way that benefits that storytelling style.