Sunday, 6 July 2014

Box Set Binges (VOR #18)

Quick. Send help. It's been three, maybe four, days. I don't know, time seems to be melting into thin air. Escape seems impossible. I'm starting to realise that it's me versus the TV. It's drawn me in, like the sucker that I am. Simultaneously my friend and nemesis, the DVD box set. 

Sooner or later, one of us is going to crack. Ah, who am I kidding? I don't stand a chance. I'm trapped in the dark alleys of Starling City, the squeaky halls of Pawnee City Hall and dingy Albuquerque meth labs. Episode after episode, disc after disc. It's like popping Pringles, over and over and over. They say life is cyclical, which I can only assume is a reference to DVD discs. Round and round they go, journeying from beginning to end, like life itself...

Snap out of it Rhys, there's a column to get on with. No point getting philosophical! Now, where were we?

Box set binges. Love 'em or hate 'em, it's hard to deny they have become quickly entrenched in the 21st century cultural Zeitgeist. In 2014, very little is more satisfying than plowing through season after season of quality TV. It's no secret that there is plenty of it (more on that in a later column), and covering two months of a show in an evening yields a very special sense of accomplishment.

It might sound a little lame, but I'm not alone. Box set binges are a big thing, with audiences devouring entire seasons of their favourite shows in one sitting becoming a growing trend. For many, they provide a sense of escape from the everyday, an emotional journey into a captivating story or simply a source of casual chat over the water cooler at work. Whatever it is, binge-watching is a big deal.

This has lead to networks sitting up and taking notice. Shows like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones may not be the first to embrace the episodic, string-you-along nature of TV, but they are doing it damn well. You only have to glance at Twitter on Sunday nights to see thousands clamouring for the next blood-drenched chapter from Tyrion and co. or Rick and the gang.

New models are being developed to fit this trend, with streaming services eager to tend to the desire for immediacy. Look no further than Netflix's 'release-it-all-at-once' tactic for House of Cards as another great example of this 'just one more' mentality.

In addition to this, there are shows that only start to find their feet on DVD. Take Breaking Bad for example. After debuting on AMC in 2008, Vince Gilligan's much-lauded drama pulled meagre audience figures for several years. It was only later when the show built towards its thrilling climax and audiences raced to catch-up through DVD box sets that TV ratings began to sky-rocket. Two more great examples would be Firefly and Community, two cult classics that continually finds new audiences on DVD.

Don't hate; embrace. The box set is a blessing, a treasure trove of quality TV patiently waiting to hook you in.

Sometimes unleashed onto audiences mere weeks after a show wraps, the DVD box set is like a humungous box of chocolate that you just can't peel yourself away from. Over the last few months, I've plumbed through four seasons of Parks and Recreation, four seasons of Lost, three seasons of New Girl, as well as Arrow, The Americans and Breaking Bad (not to mention True Detective, Suits, House of Cards and Archer on my 'hitlist'). By apparently drawing audiences into some sort of hypnotic trance, the phrase 'box set binge' has become media-speak for negative viewing habits, the trend widely panned with some proclaiming it to be 'damning addiction.'

Yet, whilst there's no question that locking yourself away for a whole weekend to plumb through the next season of Mad Men borders on unhealthy, I have to wonder whether we're too quick to criticise. It's an interesting dilemma that we can sometimes find ourselves caught in, torn between the perceived social isolation of not being 'caught up' and the actual social isolation of not leaving the house. Are we forsaking actual relationships for fictitious ones with characters like the charismatic Don Draper? Do you dream of a Friday night on the town, or a elongated quest to King's Landing? Maybe I'm getting a bit carried away here; after all, very few of us recede into antisocial hermit crabs every evening. This isn't a Ray Bradbury novel. But my point remains the same; where to do you draw the line when it comes to binge-watching?

A healthy balance between Westeros and the real world is needed for sure, but are we too quick condemn those who get swept of their feet by HBO or AMC's finest? Sometimes I think the media is too quick to demonize those who find themselves wrapped up in a gripping show full of plot twists and cliffhangers. Where is the love and appreciation for this new trend? In fact, some media commentators have actually commented that the box set binge is the best way to build romance and lasting friendship, suggesting that we can actually view this trend in a much more positive light.

View it how you will, but I guess my point is this; be sure to find that balance. As someone who loves stories, discovering a new show and drinking in every single detail is something very special; it isn't often that a show will hook me in the way that Breaking Bad or Parks and Rec have recently. Binge watching shouldn't be a dirty word for antisocial, but a way of framing and depicting a new-found appreciation for some seriously high-quality shows.

Like I said earlier; don't hate, embrace.

The worst best part is, the future seems even bleaker brighter (pick whichever you prefer). With shows like Gotham and The Flash on the way, weekly visits to comic-book shows are set to triple. Not only that, but I just stumbled across Falling Skies, Almost Human and Orphan Black, with rewatches of Battlestar Galactica and Community also beckoning. Whichever way you cut it, that's a lotta TV.

Well, I guess there is only one thing for it. There's no other option. Looks like I'm not sleeping, eating or working this week...


  1. Honestly, I expected this entire post to revolve around Netflix. Out of curiosity, how big is Netflix in Australia?

    1. It isn't a thing...yet. Netflix hasn't been launched here (yeah, really!), and even when it eventually does, it'll most likely be nowhere near as good as the US. Piracy is a real problem here (especially with shows like Game of Thrones) because there is no cheap, easy option like Netflix. I'll keep my fingers crossed, but I don't reckon we'll see it here anytime soon.

    2. Wow! Piracy for Game of Thrones is huge here as well. No HBO shows are on Netflix, but you can watch a few oldies on Amazon Prime.

      For me, it is hard to imagine people buying DVD box sets anymore ha. I have every season of American Horror Story, The Office, That 70's Show, The Big Bang Theory, and LOST, but no one really buys TV on DVD here. Everything is done through Netflix Instant. Neat!

    3. I think sales of box sets are on the decline here, but maybe not to the same degree as the US. I still pick up stuff on DVD (Community, Walking Dead, Big Bang Theory, Arrow) but with the amount of stuff I want to watch (and the time we have to wait for stuff to come out on DVD) it's so much easier to borrow things off friends who have shows stashed away on a hard-drive...

      I honestly think that if Netflix was launched here in a way that was cheap and easy, plenty of people would sign-up!



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