Remember 2014? That innocent time when, for so many of us, the main topic of conversation was season one of True Detective, as it unraveled our collective minds once a week and forced us to wait around 7 whole days for a new episode? Unless you saved up episodes on HBO Go, you could not binge this one. I feel strongly that this element elevated the greatness of an already captivating show. It was a slow-watch in a new binge-watch world that was already feeling like a bit too much.
So there we all were, watching "together" once a week, discussing it the next day at the water cooler, like in olden times, and letting the need for more built up throughout the week. This is how watching Big Little Lies felt to me—the miniseries, which just ended in a spectacularly satisfying way, was perfect for consuming in weekly doses. Shit got real heavy, for one, but it also just felt right—it was an event, and watching it weekly complimented that idea, and the whole thing felt like a communal experience in a world where those are disappearing into our mobile devices and myriad on-demand entertainment options.
This week, however, one coworker told me, "You could watch just the final episode of Big Little Lies and it's all you really needed to see." I was horrified. Has binge-watching altered our brains? Do we need to get the end before we can understand the beginning? What about the goddamn journey, man?
"Maybe I'll go back and re-watch later on," this person concluded. But you can't go back, there's no going back, the experience won't be the same. For one, you know the ending! And you also just lose being a part of the nationwide viewing experience that I like to believe we all feel during these important television moments (look at those ratings!). "We need to do a guide on How To Watch TV Right, because everyone is doing it wrong now," I said, and here we are, because everyone loves someone on the internet telling them how to do things.
How do you watch TV in 2017? Take it from an Old who used to have a "KILL YOUR TELEVISION" bumper sticker on her 1981 Plymouth Reliant K car: the best way to watch television is to be selective. Pick out some shows you think might interest you, watch the pilots, skim some off the top, and dedicate yourself to watching about two per season, in real time. The rest, you can binge when you're bored or sick or just need to stare at something, in between your re-binge of Mad Men or Gilmore Girls or whatever your binge comfort show may be.
We are approaching a fairly busy television season—some shows will be dumped into the internet trough all at once, and others will retain some old school charm by doling out the goods weekly. But since you can't watch everything at once (if you can you should step outside and get more fresh air), within a certain amount of time these shows will all become binge options.
So pick out those binge-shows (your Catastrophes, your Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidts)—hoover up the ones that are easy to swallow and that "everyone" will be talking about immediately. You binge Marvel shows, too, because that just seems like what Marvel fans do. Some are meant for a nice slow-watch à la Big Little Lies, like the upcoming return of Twin Peaks—you want to watch these "live" and let the story unfold before you and the rest of the viewing nation. These are something to talk about. And some are more confusing—with shows like Master of None and High Maintenance, you may have the desire to consume them all at once (it's the good stuff, after all) but trust me, you want to savor that kind of unique, top-shelf TV. This isn't Friends, where you can just press play and zone out and never speak of it again, these are programs that you want to absorb every last second of, because you won't be getting anything like them again for a while. (Note: Season 2 of High Maintenance is not a part of the aforementioned spring TV season, but it is the most perfect show to use as an example here. Also it's just the most perfect show, period.)
Sure, you can binge whatever the hell you want, but I'd like to remind you that isn't always how things were done—sometimes we watched television shows with other people, on a TV set, at whatever time the networks decided we were watching them. And once they were over, they were gone... at least until they went into syndication or got released on VHS. Back in the day, outside of TV critics no one ever felt the need to consume everything offered. Now we might as well put a microchip in our brains and download the entertainment right there.