I first crossed the television binge-watching threshold with Lost, a series so convoluted that every summer I watched it from the pilot to the cliffhanger to improve my chances of getting the cross-references and picking up on clues during the new season.
Besides, my wife’s brother’s wife’s brother was a set decorator on the show for the first couple seasons. He gave me a Season 3 crew t-shirt after he heard of the Lost party I threw, where everything on the menu was food you could only get on the island—spare ribs in pineapple sauce, weird greens, coconut milk, peanut butter and chocolate bars done up in Dharma Initiative wrappers. So, yeah, I was really into that show.
We used to call binge-watching a “marathon,” which you could only do if the network was showing a bunch of episodes in succession. Unless you taped them all yourself—which I did with Hill Street Blues and Cheers—it was impossible to do your own marathons because few series were available on video.
That changed with the advent of the DVD, and binge-watching went mainstream in 2013 when Netflix started releasing complete seasons of shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.
Suddenly, you could watch an entire season in a single day and then, instead of waiting all summer to find out what happens next, you get to wait an entire year! (Like this is a good thing?)
I usually take at least a week to get through all the episodes of a Netflix series, because when a show is really good I want to savor it. This is the approach I have been taking with Daredevil, which I have been waiting for since the 1980s, when I thought it was the comic book that would best work as a television series.
The only show I used to binge-watch each year was Supernatural, which also happens to be the only series I continue to buy on DVD. For some reason, I got behind on episodes, so I wait until the end of the summer when the last season comes out on DVD and start watching.
I am not teaching this summer so I can go on a binge-binge, so to speak. I do not have any definite plans, but I am more likely to binge-watch a limited series than one season of an ongoing series. A lot of them are 10 to 13 episodes, which is about half of what constitutes a full slate for a regular television series these days.
Another option is to go back and watch a favorite story arc, such as the Angel becomes Angelus second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Mags Bennett as the Big Bad on season two of Justified. A younger me might try to do season one of 24 in one sitting.
But binge-watching is not always the best way to watch a series—for example, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. Yes, they actually made a sequel to the television movie with Christina Ricci as the infamous woman acquitted of ax murdering her parents.
Usually you watch a detective series to find out who did it, and sometimes how they did it, with the answer revealed in the final five minutes. On The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, you wait for those final five minutes to find out who Lizzie is going to kill and how, because she always seems to find a new way to do the deed each week. Sometimes you are absolutely sure who is on Lizzie’s hit list and other times you are surprised.
I think you need to wallow in the bloodletting on that show and wait for the shock to wear off. Besides, laughing at people getting killed is wrong, even if they are really, really bad people who abuse their dog.
There are plenty of lists online covering the most popular shows to binge-watch, with Breaking Bad and Dexter usually topping the list. Here is a trio of recommendations you will not find listed there:
•Rome might not have been the best HBO series of all-time, but it must have been the most underappreciated. There was a point in the second season when they knew there was not going to be at third, and they hit the accelerator to get to a proper end-point, so, unlike Carnivale, you get a complete story.
•The French limited series Les revenants is better than the Americanized version, The Returned, and the eerily similar Resurrection combined. It turns out a story about the dead coming back to life—and not as zombies—works better in a remote Catholic town in a foreign country. This means the government does not descend upon the town, and issues of faith are raised rather than talk about the End of Days.
•Slings and Arrows offers three six-episode seasons of a Canadian series about the struggling New Burbage Theatre Festival, where the unstable artistic director is haunted by the ghost of his predecessor. Each season focuses on a different Shakespeare masterpiece—Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear—so you can actually binge-watch a season each weekend.