Johnny-Come-Lately in the Golden Age of Television
It started with Buffy. No, it started with X-Files. No wait, it started with Star Trek: The Next Generation. It happened with LOST and Battlestar Galactica, probably half a dozen others, and now I’m doing it with Breaking Bad. With all these series, I was late to start watching, and though the reason always varied slightly it mostly boiled down to me finding the premise either underwhelming or unsure it would sustain itself beyond one season. But then a tipping point is reached – enough friends talking about staying up late with marathons, enough seasons get under the show’s belt with steady growing ratings, enough critics are writing about it. Though sometimes it’s as simple as catching one episode on my own by accident and getting sucked in enough to watch more.
So I start watching. For ST:TNG, I had the benefit of syndication – every night at 7 pm while in high school they aired an episode. At 20 episodes a month, I could get through 3 seasons in the summer alone, while watching new episodes air every Sunday night. X-Files got syndicated while in college, I started watching it in the same manner – half a dozen old episodes during the week, one fresh new one on the weekend. Buffy was the first TV show I watched via Netflix discs, watching their origin stories via seasons 1 and 2 in-between watching them battling Glory every week ‘real-time’. I followed this pattern with Angel too.
Battlestar Galactica was the first time this habit happened with a cable show, which threw a wrench into the plan – with LOST I could even tune in via antenna or watch it on the ABC.com website, but I wasn’t going to sign up for cable just to get Syfy (fka plain ole Sci-Fi) and feed my addiction. I would, however, cruise megaupload sites to watch the final season, frequently cursing the 60 minute time limits or hurridly closing windows before viruses got downloaded in my quest. I’ve never been one to torrent, because I already was eating up my computer memory with 10,000+ mp3s, I couldn’t start adding videos to the mix.
Despite the cursing and frustration that comes with the searching for online streams online (or even plunking down the $2 to buy an ep from iTunes), it’s worth it to me for the experience of watching the final season of a show ‘live’ with the rest of the world. I like participating in popular cultural events, it’s part of why I watch the Oscars every year and other random awards shows, it’s also part of the appeal of Dancing With the Stars. One season I was missing the finale of DWTS because of traveling and my father kindly recorded it for me on their DVR, but it just didn’t feel the same watching it 18 hours later, even if I could fast-forward through commercials. I wanted the collective conscious energy of every other household in the world who was tuning in with suspense, worry, scorn, shock, frustration, tears, and laughter.
So while I do enjoy the new Netflix formula of releasing entire seasons at once, allowing me to binge whenever my schedule allows, I hope I never have to quit being a Johnny-come-lately who watches 5 seasons of a show in 3 months specifically so I can tune in with everyone else week-to-week for the series conclusion. Even if I’m frequently disappointed by the endings (looking at you, LOST and BSG), at least we can share in the experience together.