In the era of DVDs, DVR devices, and streaming services, binge-viewing (or binge-watching) is a guilty and comparatively affordable pleasure. The term is usually applied to marathon viewings of television shows, but movies, mini-series, and documentaries also count.
For this post I’ll stick with TV series. Here are some of my favorite binge-viewed series from over the years:
- “The Wire” — David Simon’s compelling depiction of gritty Baltimore is a cop show on the surface, but in reality much more. This places high on a lot of binge-view lists.
- “Homicide” — If “The Wire” wasn’t David Simon’s masterpiece, then “Homicide” — a more conventional cop show set in Baltimore — would be in the running for that honor.
- “Prime Suspect” — Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison. This intense series excels on so many levels.
- “The West Wing” — The final season and a half, featuring the home stretch of the Bartlett Administration and the campaign to elect his successor, is terrific political drama, not to mention a sad reminder of our current real-life civic discourse.
- “Downton Abbey” — I didn’t know what all the hoopla was about until I sat down with season 1 and quickly got hooked. I am going to massively miss the upstairs and downstairs folks alike.
- “Horatio Hornblower” — Great, great seafaring tales, with superb cinematography and entertaining historical story arcs.
- “Foyle’s War” — Michael Kitchen’s Christopher Foyle is like a Sherlock Holmes with a stiff upper lip masking a soft heart, unraveling crime mysteries in the south coast of England during WWII and the Cold War.
- “Adventures of Young Indiana Jones” — Superb early 20th century history lessons wrapped into colorful tales of Young Indy, with lots of documentary extras on the historical figures and events depicted in the episodes.
- “Hill Street Blues” — A cop show from the 80s that elevated the genre and network television in general. Still compulsively watchable.
- “The Dick Van Dyke Show” — The only sitcom on this list! A classic in television history, also a depiction of a much more innocent world.
I’ve never watched an episode of “Breaking Bad,” but I will someday. Friends have raved about it.
“China Beach,” set in the Vietnam War and starring the most excellent Dana Delany as nurse Colleen McMurphy, is one of my favorite shows ever, but I’ve never binge-viewed it. I will. I’m very curious to see whether it holds up.
Strange, but I’ve never watched “The Sopranos” and have no desire to give it a try.
For years I was part of a wonderful, episode-by-episode e-mail exchange with college chums about “24,” featuring Kiefer Sutherland as the seemingly indestructible Jack Bauer. Thus, I never got a chance to binge-view any portion of the series. I’ve wondered what it’s like to binge-view a season in close to real time: Does watching “24” in something resembling its 24-hour cycle changes the experience of the series?
Okay, to be honest, this is an experiment for the day when I’ve got a lot more free time on my hands…but still, I’d like to try it.
Binge-viewing does have its costs, not the least of which is that a given season or series must come to an end.
Matthew Schneier, writing for the New York Times, shared his feelings about approaching the end of a binge view of Netflix’s “Master of None” season 1:
I felt anxious, wistful, bereft in advance; I’d eaten up nine episodes in only a few days, liking them more than I’d expected to. Once finished, there’d be no more until the next season — if there was a next season, which has still not been officially announced. Unlike on network TV, where my fix would be parceled out week by week over the course a season, I had binged.
After concluding that he is not alone in lamenting the end of a binge view of an engaging television show, he put a label on it: Post-binge malaise.
In TV world, as in many instances of real life, all good things must end. And so we must deal with the final credits of a favorite series passing before our bleary, binge-viewed eyes.