When Binging Becomes Dangerous

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The day has finally come. After soldiering through 42.5 hours of Arrested Development on Netflix, I have finally reached the last episode of the series. Once this last episode, “Blockheads,” is removed from my Netflix queue, I feel like a huge weight will be lifted from my shoulders. You see, watching the show is no longer an enjoyable pastime for me—at this point, I’m so sick of the Bluth family that I can barely bear to watch the final half hour.

The first three seasons flew by in a blur of binge watching. I started the series over Spring Break while staying at my sister’s, while I attempted to catch up on rest and she nursed her emotional and physical wounds from working well past 2 a.m. the night before. We weren’t up for anything beyond sitting on the couch for hours at a time, eating pretzel nuggets and mindlessly switching our attention between our phones and the television screen in front of us—excluding the short moments after every episode in which we had to press the “continue watching” option on the side of the credits screen. We had finished the first season by the afternoon of the next day.

Even after I had left my sister’s apartment, I kept moving through the series with unparalleled speed. In around a week, I had finished the second and third seasons. I was hesitant to start the fourth season, however, as I had been cautioned against its comparatively worse quality. The Netflix reboot of the series was around five episodes shorter than the original series, filmed eight years later, featuring a new host of actors hoping to buy into the franchise’s success. All of these ingredients added up to a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, I found my fears confirmed after watching only one episode of the reboot. The series was now set five years after the original unexpectedly cut off and spent an extravagant amount of time in forced and confusing flashbacks trying to explain how the characters ended up in their current roles. Big names in comedy like Kristin Wiig, Seth Rogen, and Ed Helms joined the cast, but distracted from the series’ original quiet humor, based not in one-liners but in the irony of real-life situations. The Bluth family had also fallen apart into many separate divisions, with many of the characters barely interacting with the others—since the first few seasons were entirely focused on the family’s inner workings and collaborative struggles, this was a disappointing change.

So why did I keep watching even though I knew I would be disappointed by each following episode? To be honest, I really don’t know. One possible explanation is that I don’t like to quit things I’ve started, but that seems a little ridiculous in the context of finishing a TV series. There would be no consequence of me losing interest in the Bluth family, unlike if I stopped painting my room midway through painting a wall, for example. For other shows, I often explained this obligation to finish the series as a result of my investment in the characters’ well being—I at least needed to know where these people ended up, after spending so much time following their stories. Yet in season four, I grew so irritated by the Bluth family’s antics that I couldn’t be bothered to care whether they thrived or failed.

The best explanation that I can find for this need to complete the series is that binge watching has changed the way I view TV series on the whole. Instead of viewing the series as multiple installments, I think of it as a “super movie” of sorts, which is much less easy to justify leaving unfinished. I can’t remember the last time I failed to finish a movie, aside from the times I fell asleep while watching something. Netflix has expertly solved that problem by saving your place after periods of inactivity, leaving the story to pick back up right where you left off. The website is designed to encourage as much viewing as possible—the more seasons a subscriber is coerced into watching, the longer they’ll send monthly paychecks to Netflix’s corporate headquarters. Thinkin about binge watching as part of a conspiracy theory about Netflix’s rise to power is a bit of a stretch, but it does make sense.

I have finally made it to the last episode of Arrested Development, and I can’t wait to be done with the show. I must admit, though, that I was completely unable to stop the show once I lost interest. Somewhere along the hours I spent binge watching, I became entirely hooked, much to my disappointment. It’ll be a while before I stray from my typical movie watching to start another TV series. I’ve learned that binge watching is much too hard a drug to quit.

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