Power-watching television

There is something very satisfying about power-watching a television series. For the uninitiated, power-watching is watching multiple episodes of the same show, back-to-back in a single sitting. When we started watching The Sopranos, there were four or five seasons available on disc from Netflix. Most of them had three episodes, but once in a while there would be four. That fourth episode was like the last piece of pizza in the box; you’re already stuffed, but one piece isn’t going to be enough for lunch the next day so you might as well go ahead and eat it. When the four-episode disk was over, we were so full we almost didn’t mind waiting a few days for the next one to arrive. Almost.

We’ve power-watched a number of series over the years including The Wire, Weeds, Big Love, In Treatment, Slings and Arrows, and Tell Me You Love Me. Some, like Prison Break, start strong, but begin to lose their appeal after a couple of seasons. I find it difficult, however, to stop watching a show I’ve power-watched for a season or more, particularly since Netflix introduced streaming.

Back in the day, we’d finish a disc, pop it in the mail, and wait for the next one to arrive. That enforced cooling-off period gave us time to reassess our addiction and, if necessary, take corrective action by moving the next disc in the series further down the queue in Netflix. If we did this more than a few times, we knew we were cooling on the series and on our way to breaking the habit. With streaming, each time you look at your “instant queue,” you see a list of all the episodes for the entire series. It is way too easy to say, “Let’s try one more. Just one more. I promise this will be the last one.” And yet, it never is. When the US Postal Service no longer intervened to slow our pace, I realized we, okay, I, had a problem.

In truth, this isn’t really a new problem, merely a variation on one I’ve always had—with books. I can count on one hand the number of books that I’ve abandoned before finishing them. I don’t know why I can’t toss them aside half-read. It’s not as if I’m afraid that as soon as I close the book for good, the one-dimensional characters will expand like an inverse pop-up book, or the plodding plot will suddenly break into a gallop. Honestly? It’s that I worry that it’s not the author’s fault, but mine; I’m not clever enough to appreciate their work.

I don’t have the same insecurity when it comes to judging television series. For instance, Netflix has a new original series called Hemlock Grove that I added to our instant queue. It’s horrible. According to Tim Surette of tv.com, “I’ve had acid flashbacks that made more sense than Hemlock Grove.” So why, then, have I watched half a dozen episodes? Because the whole season is listed on my instant queue and I keep thinking it might get better.

A simple intervention might set me straight. If someone were to delete Hemlock Grove from the queue, I’d probably fuss and fume for a bit, but then I’d move on—to a different series. Any suggestions?

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8 responses to “Power-watching television

  1. I have a 3 to 4 episode rule if I don’t absolutely hate the series right from the start. If a series doesn’t get good by the fourth or fifth episode, it never will (experience has supported this from when I didn’t follow the rule). I give the writers/actors some leeway in both figuring out the show and also having to give in to demands from networks to “punch up” the first few episodes.

    For books, I tell myself if I’m not into it in 60 pages or if it doesn’t make me feel somehow good about humanity or enlightened or intrigued (no matter how cleverly written), that’s it (and that’s probably too generous a page count). Again, this is based on experience. Those books I’ve finished that didn’t have me at 60 pages were never worth it. Also, though, one terribly styled sentence early on will kill a book for me too.

    I check out books at stores by opening to the middle, but I think it’s better to read the first two pages. That’s where the author SHOULD be putting all their big guns. If they can’t pull off a good first few pages, then they probably can’t pull off a good middle or end.

    Quitting TV series is, admittedly, harder for me for some reason. Unsatisfactory series get relegated to “things I watch while doing dishes, cleaning, doing bills, checking off students’ homework, and taxes.” I hated Dollhouse early on but felt loyalty to Joss Whedon and kept hoping something would be worth watching in an episode. But it was great for taxes and bills because I didn’t care if I missed something and didn’t feel a need to look at the screen most of the time. And the last two episodes actually had potential…

    • You are a strong woman. I will try to channel you next time I’m caught in an unsatisfying read. Dollhouse, eh? I’ll avoid it on the strength of your ambivalence.

  2. Read a book while you watch Hemlock Grove. Is this a grove of poison hemlock? That could help the series.

    • Even though half my face is still frozen due to Novocain, you made me laugh out loud.

      • Do you watch True Blood? Worth getting through the first few episodes which are too extra high on sex and violence. But best not to watch with offspring in the house! Other loves of mine: Dexter (haven’t finished it), Downton Abbey (of course, but way behind on that one), Breaking Bad, The Office (American, must be watched from the beginning and in order, but I’m sure you do that), Parks and Recreation (first season very shaky, but better after and always some great moments), Mindy Project (give it a few episodes, I love her character! Charmingly chubby women of color having romantic lives in the modern world on TV! Yes! Compare to the debacle with Margaret Cho’s sitcom years ago…), Modern Family, Mad Men…

        Hmm… The problem is I like to watch series WITH someone and don’t have any good regulars.

        Hey, have you watched the WIRE? It just didn’t pass my four-episode rule, but I keep hearing it’s worth it. Convince me!

        It’s kind of hard to watch movies lately because they are so SHORT. So much fun to get to know characters and watch them develop over time…

      • Loved The Wire. I do remember the first few episodes were not as good, but I loved that series. I suppose it’s not good enough to say that Idris Elba is an incredibly handsome man (which reminds me, check out “Luther”), but he’s enough of a reason. Actually, there were a bunch of phenomenal actors. You should try again.

  3. The 3-4 episode rule referenced above seems like a good one. I had a friend who had a similar one for dating. The guy got three dates regardless. Then it was decision time.

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