Been bingeing on ‘Bad’
With the new (and final) season of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” starting in August, I wanted to get in on the hubbub. I’d recently started watching “The Walking Dead” and got so hooked, I consider it one of my top favorite three series of all time.
I wasn’t that impressed with “Breaking Bad” after the first two episodes. The show, about an overqualified high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston), who is diagnosed with cancer and decides to start cooking methamphetamine to leave his family a nest egg, seemed too “out there” for me. I didn’t know whether it was a thriller, a drama, comedy or black comedy. As I continued to watch, the answer came: all of the above.
I got hooked. In less than three weeks, I caught up through 4 1/2 seasons to the latest episode. Now, “Breaking Bad” occupies a spot in my top three series of all time with “The Sopranos” and “The Walking Dead.”
Binge viewing is one of the 21st centuries greatest achievements for couch and mouse potatoes like me. Being able to continually watch a television series without commercial interruption anywhere is the ultimate in viewing freedom. Using my Netflix-enabled blu-ray player, I’d watch “Breaking Bad” in my living room and then continue watching in the bathroom on my iPad Mini. I’d watch late at night in bed on my regular iPad. I once watched in my car on my smartphone outside a Starbucks using their free WiFi.
The beauty of watching season after season in a compressed amount of time is I understand everything that’s going on. My friend, who has been watching “Breaking Bad” for years, doesn’t easily recollect earlier plot points that took place three seasons ago. Watching the seasons back to back, the storytelling is clear and easily connected. Plus, I remember the excruciatingly long waits for the next season of “The Sopranos.” It’s great not having to experience that by watching it all at once.
Binge-viewing popular shows that you may have missed allows you to get in on the conversation and understand pop culture references. There are not enough hours in a week to watch all of the quality television available, so everyone is going to miss out on good shows. Binge viewing affords a way to catch up.
The problem with gorging on commercial-free continual television is that it makes it so hard to go back to watching commercial TV. I had to watch two “Breaking Bad” episodes streamed through my Uverse app straight from AMC. It was painful putting up with the advertisements of other AMC series, as well as ads for “Breaking Bad.” Why am I watching ads for “Breaking Bad” while watching “Breaking Bad?”
Sure, one can binge on DVDs and I’ve done that with old TV series that I loved like “Good Times” and “What’s Happening.” Watching those old nostalgia-packed shows brings me back to my childhood when my whole family used to sit in the living room and watch TV together. Back then, television viewing was a communal thing. My dad would be sprawled on the floor, buffing our shoes for the next morning’s church service. My mom would be serving us pigs in a blanket or Vienna sausages and sardines while we watched “The Jeffersons,” “The Carol Burnett Show” or “Flip Wilson.”
Today’s tablet and smartphone era makes viewing often a more solitary experience.
At $7.99 a month, Netflix is a steal. My only worry is that it may become unsustainable. A generation of new viewers used to bypassing advertising will grow more and more hostile to commercial interruption. I grew up with commercials and I find myself pulling my hair out. What about those younger than me?
Eventually, with ad revenue falling, viewing is going to become more expensive. Netflix won’t stay eight bucks a month forever. Cable companies already raise their rates frequently. And the fact is, if we expect quality writing, acting, cinematography, direction and decent production values in shows such as “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” then we have to pay for it. People deserve to be compensated.
But regardless what I have to pay, binge viewing is the way to go. Now I’m trying to figure out what to feast upon next. Mad Men? Lost? Dexter? I may never get any sleep again.