I realise that TV is bad for you and will keep you poor and is just all-around garbage with no redeeming value whatsoever. I realise this because that’s what people keep saying, in that way that people say things to make other people feel bad about how they live their own, grown, adult, free-person lives.
I grew up watching TV–all those horrible shows like Sesame Street and the Electric Company and the Waltons and Little House on the Prairie–and I still enjoy it.
The way I prefer to watch TV has caught on big time and I’m thrilled. I learned to love binge-watching in the mid-90s when I worked second shift. These were the days before TiVo, when you had to videotape the shows you wanted to see. The VCR wasn’t always that reliable, especially when we lived halfway up a steep hill that was some sort of curse to the power lines. When I came home from work at 1:30am and wanted to unwind before bed I started to turn to watching videos. I was happily married but I think it’s safe to say I was seeing Blockbuster on the side. When I found the Prime Suspect videos my TV viewing habits were permanently altered. I was a confirmed binge watcher. For years I would return to the same few shows–From The Earth To The Moon; all three Prime Suspects; Crime Story. I started saving shows on video to watch in chunks, because it was more fun to watch multiple episodes of one thing than one episode of multiple things.
My theory is that binge-watching is popular now because people crave family and need a place to belong. Previous generations had church, synagogue , bowling leagues, clubs like Rotary and Junior League. Those sorts of groups are not as popular now for a variety of reasons. They require a commitment of time and money that most people don’t have. They aren’t flexible and they take away from quality time with your human family. But the “family” onboard Serenity or the TARDIS is there whenever you have the time to hang out with them. They don’t have a dress code and don’t care if you eat or knit or play Tetris while they’re talking. When we binge-watched our way through Stargate: Atlantis a couple of years ago my husband and I began feeling like Sheridan’s team were our buddies. We had a real sense of loss once we finished all the episodes, and went through the same thing with Stargate: SG1.
So what are the best binge-watches? I think it’s time for a list! My top 10 Binge Watches are:
10. Stargate: Atlantis
I prefer this to SG1 simply because of Rodney McKay. He is the secret 11 herbs and spices that make this one the finger-licking better of the two. The episodes with his sister are especially fun.
9. Band Of Brothers
Yes, this is admittedly dark and intense. But it is exactly as advertised…a band of brothers. You see the war happen to these men who start as strangers and eventually become people you know so very well. If they don’t get killed.
If you can handle the soapy language you are in for a Shakespearean treat. It will break your heart and make you laugh and you’ll never feel the same way about bicycles again.
I really didn’t used to care for this show at all. After I came to the realisation that Whedon’s storytelling departs from the traditional rhythms of the standard hour-long drama I was much better able to be immersed in the story. Whedon excels at writing ad hoc family groups.
6. The West Wing
Like Deadwood, The West Wing is show with musicality in its dialog. Aaron Sorkin is also a really great storyteller. Granted, he tells the same few stories again and again. But they’re all good ones, and of his various TV shows available for Binge-Watching, this is the one with the strongest cast and most compelling setting.
5. Prime Suspect 1-3
I suspect one of the reasons I’m so fond of this is because it was the first binge-show I experienced. Still, the story of finding a way to prove guilty those whom they KNOW did the crime turns this from a standard procedural to a chess game extraordinaire.
4. The Office (U.S.)
I worked in offices for a decade. I know each and every one of these people. That familiarity and the warmth of the humour that binds the group together make this one of my favourite surrogate families.
The top three shows in this list were all conceived as “novels for television” and have an over-arching narrative that transcends the usual hour-by-hour drama structure. As a confirmed reader these are obvious favourites for their resemblance to books. Carnivale is absorbing in its detail and transfixing in its mythos. The great tragedy is that the other four seasons never came to pass, so we are left with Volume I only. Thankfully the Internet exists to give viewers insight into what comes after.
2. Babylon 5
You either love it or you hate it. I happen to love it. The novel-for-television structure is a brilliant masterstroke for a sci-fi show. The relationships that grow in the culture of this program are some of the most touching I’ve ever come across–written or onscreen.
1. The Wire
There is simply no way this show doesn’t get the number one spot. I came into it after the second season aired. Each new season was a gift of an extra day’s worth. You’ll go into this show thinking “who cares about a bunch of druggies in the projects and a bunch of burned out cops?” You’ll leave the show wanting to go to Baltimore on your next vacation to look for Omar, Bubbles and McNulty.