I Need A New TV Show!

I just finished 70 episodes of Glee and I need a new TV show to feed my TV addiction.  I’m not a super binger like those described by John Jurgensen in “Binge Viewing:  TV’s Lost Weekends.”  This Wall Street Journal article reported on heavy weight TV bingers like Chad Rohrbacher who watched 22 straight hours of Breaking Bad in one sitting.  I’m a fly weight when it comes to binge TV watch, just watching 2-3 episodes at a time.  At the end of the day, I love to have one or two episodes of a fabulous TV show to watch before I go to bed.  And if they’re really fantastic I might stay up past my bedtime to watch a third.


Having a TV series that covers several TV seasons is like having a very long novel to read before falling asleep.  I recently read Anna Karenina, which clocked in at 42 hours on audio.  That’s about three seasons of Big Love or The Sopranos.

Before I watched all of Glee I watched all of Breaking Bad.  I go months without a TV show fix because I can’t always find a series insanely great enough to trigger the addictive response.  I really hate when I don’t have a TV show to look forward to each day.  I’m in one of those dry periods now, and I need a new TV show!  I ache with TV withdrawal.

That’s kind of sick when you think about it – I should use these long periods on the wagon to go cold turkey and break this habit, but I don’t want to.  I should work on my novel.  I should write on my blog.  I should finish the essays I’m writing.  But instead, I want to veg out with another epic TV series.  I know this is the worst kind of escapism – I’m turning off reality and switching on virtual reality.  But this kind of TV is fiction at its very best, and I’m a life-long fiction junky.

Here’s my problem.  I need GREAT television to feed my addiction.  Merely good, is not good enough.  I thought after Friday Night Lights, Downtown Abbey and Breaking Bad that I’d never find television that good again.  Then I discovered Glee.  Now, it’s not that Glee is better than those shows, but the shear creative innovation that went into Glee made it stand out.  I was hooked on it’s extreme novelty.  Now, I’m going through Glee withdrawal.

It seems every TV series I consume must be better than all the ones before it.  And sadly, re-watching old favorites don’t ease the cravings.  Neither do shows that are self-contained in each episode.  I need long story arcs.  I need my nightly soap opera.

From the WSJ article, Jurgensen describes the social change that’s going on.

Binge viewing is transforming the way people watch television and changing the economics of the industry. The passive couch potato of the broadcast era turned into the channel surfer, flipping through hundreds of cable channels. Now, technologies such as on-demand video and digital video recorders are giving rise to the binge viewer, who devours shows in quick succession—episode after episode, season after season, perhaps for $7.99 a month, the cost of a basic Netflix membership. In the past, such sessions required buying stacks of costly DVDs ($66.99 for seasons one through four of “Mad Men”) or special broadcast marathons.

Having a great TV show to look forward to each week was the standard way I watched TV for almost fifty years.  Then came DVD box sets and that changed everything.   Thinking of TV as whole seasons was a game changer.

Now with Netflix, where you can pick a show like Glee and have 66 episodes waiting to be seen one after another.  That’s another quantum leap in TV watching.  Is it good or bad?  I don’t know.  I don’t care.  I love it.  It’s better than binge eating, it’s even better than drugs, may even be better than sex.

I think the first TV show I watched from first episode to last in a binge fashion was Northern Exposure, when it was first syndicated.  I printed an episode guide off the Internet and watched its entire 110 episodes.  After that I watched seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starting with season one and catching so I could watch season seven live.  Battlestar Galactica was another show I caught up with before watching the last season live.  That also happened with Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights.  I watched the final season not on cable, but on Amazon, buying the new episodes a day late.  I prefer to have shows I binge on to be finished, or have many successful seasons.

So, if you know of a great TV show to recommend, please let me know.  Here’s are the ones I’ve already discovered – in no particular order.

  • Breaking Bad
  • Glee
  • Friday Night Lights
  • Big Love
  • Sopranos
  • ER
  • Dexter
  • Weeds
  • Californication
  • Six Feet Under
  • Deadwood
  • Mad Men
  • Hell on Wheels
  • Dead Like Me
  • Most Masterpiece Theater shows
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Lost
  • United States of Tara
  • Nurse Jackie
  • True Blood
  • Rescue Me

JWH – 10/21/12

Reading in the Second Half of Life

I started reading Anna Karenina this week.  I’ve never read Tolstoy before, I guess I wasn’t old enough.  Last year my favorite novels were The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope and Middlemarch by George Elliot.  Those stories are a far cry from the science fiction I grew up reading.  My story tastes have changed as I’ve gotten older.  I still read science fiction, I just finished Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds, but characters seldom seem real in science fiction, not like those in the classic and literary novels.  The same is true of movies and television, where I once thought The Matrix brilliant, now I find the sublime in Downton Abbey.


At sixty I can look back and see my reading life changed around fifty.  Starting at twelve until my college years my reading life had been shaped by the science fiction of Robert A. Heinlein, but even before that, I can remember hazy days of grade school, and the earliest novels I remember reading on my own were the Oz books by L. Frank Baum and the Danny Dunn and Tom Swift, Jr. series.  My early life of reading was inspired by escapism, fantasy and science fiction.  But then, isn’t the youthful literary work of humankind about myths, fantastic creatures, gods, epic voyages,  magic and faraway places?

Don’t we all come down to Earth when we get old?  More and more I prefer nonfiction and history to fiction, but when I read fiction I crave literary works whose authors were careful observers of the realistic details of living.

Getting old for me means paying more attention to the real world and less to the fantasy worlds.  All fiction is fantasy, but I grew up reading fiction inspired by fantasy worlds, and now that I’m getting old I prefer books inspired by this world.  I wonder if this trend continues as I age, will I give up fiction altogether and just read the here and now?

I’ve often compared my reading habit to a drug addiction, and my belief in science fiction to religion, but then Marx said religion is the opiate of the people, so the two overlap.  When we are young we want reality to be more fantastic than it is.  We want to fly.  We want super powers.  We want to be protected by powerful beings.  Comic book super-heroes are no different from the gods of mythology.

As the years pile up the fantastic fails us like our fleshy passions.  As our bodies decay, we are forced to face reality.

Why after fifty, is James Joyce’s Ulysses so much more an adventure than Homer’s?

Konstantin Levin becomes more fascinating than Valentine Michael Smith.

When I was young I wanted to be John Carter, now I rather be John Bates, the valet in Downton Abbey.

Who knew Earth would become more far out than Mars.

JWH – 3/27/12


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