Saturday, August 11, 2012

serial bingeing

I have fallen out of the habit of consuming television shows as they are meant to be consumed. Once a week, at that certain hour, a story broken up by cliffhangers (either large or small, elegant or crude) whose bite fades over the intervening days, only to be renewed at the end of the next episode. I love the idea of serialization, of that added layer of experience brought on by forced patience and delayed gratification of the piercing lust for what happens next.

But I don't watch real TV anymore. I've abandoned the schedule that grants certain nights of the week a glow of anticipation. I binge. I go for months without watching much of anything and then am struck with the raging desire to watch all 251 episodes of M*A*S*H, or every episode of Psych that the internet has to offer (79, according to Netflix. I know because I just ran up against the end of the 79th episode yesterday.).

It becomes less about what happens next when I watch episode after episode after episode. The importance of the story fades, and my consumption becomes more of an exercise in spending time in another world. I want to hang out. Drown reality. Murder time. Wallow in a place where I like the people and am fond of the scenery. My favorites seem to be the ones in which the citizens are reliable in their vividness. You know them as you would like to know real people, but so often don't. Real people, with their hidden switchbacks and closed doors and endless stretches of landscapes you can't possibly imagine, are mostly difficult to pin down to the constrains of believable character.

[an aside: fictional people can, I think, also be real. It's going the other way that gets dodgy.]

I like knowing that Hawkeye Pierce will always flirt, drink to excess, lie shamelessly, and have a heart of gold. I like dawdling in a universe where the Doctor will always save the world. I like watching an unlikely series of events plague a hotel and I like knowing that in a few seconds, more or less, I will hear Basil Fawlty scream.

Everything becomes predictable when you smash a long enough arc into a short enough time. It doesn't matter what small tragedy or shock the writers detonate in this or that storyline because I know that my heroes and heroines and their universe in general will still be recognizably the ones that made me watch in the first place.

It's sad, really. (the mild kind of sad, non-life changing and really nothing to be concerned about unless you're like me and have had an excess of free hours in recent history to think about shallow pleasures) The last time I remember the particular concern and anticipation and utter, but not unbelievable, surprise that comes along with good serialized fiction was when I picked up the second issue of Neil Gaiman's 1602 at an actual comic shop and I was in such a frenzy to know what happened next that I sat down on the curb and read the entire thing while the sun burnt the back of my neck.

Since then, it's all been bingeing.
This past week, I wrote a piece about music and music shows for Fantasy Matters. It's HERE.

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