I’ve currently got a freelance journalism job that has me working some odd hours, but only three or four days a week, so I’ve got a decent amount of time off. I also recently found out that I’m going back to school in the fall. This takes a lot of the pressure off of finding productive things to do with all that “free time,” like, for instance, finding a full time job. Now that I know what I’m doing, it really is “free.” Still, I’m trying to make my days off as productive as possible; I’m working on my webcomic, writing stuff for NQR, and trying to get back into running shape.
I’d worked on Sunday, and was planning on using Monday to do a bunch of comics. I woke up and went to the art supply store to get drawing paper, but while stopped at a red light during the drive home, I happened to check Facebook and saw a fateful status update from some friend.
“Sweet! Season 5 of Mad Men is on Netflix.”
I started watching Mad Men pretty late, to the point where the upcoming final season will be the first time I’ll actually be watching new episodes on TV. Over the summer I’d watched the first four seasons on Netflix. I also had an internship at an ad agency. I’ve since realized that I hate advertising, but I’m pretty sure those two things are unrelated. Season five wasn’t available on Netflix at the time, so I moved on to other things. Then, suddenly, Netflix added season five to it’s online streaming, and the hunger was back with a vengeance.
Mad Men isn’t exactly a “light” show, and even though hour long episodes are only 44 minutes without commercials, that’s still a lot of TV. Thirteen episodes comes out to a little over nine and a half hours. That’s a lot of time to spend just watching TV. I didn’t care. Season five, episode one, “A Little Kiss,” began at 10 a.m.. We were rolling.
At first I was only planning on watching a few episodes, and by a few I probably meant six or seven; still a lot, but way less than I ended up watching. After episode three, and the introduction of Fat Betty, I knew that any plans for my day had been shot. It was then that I decided to try to spin this endeavor from being a form of procrastination into a show of dedication and endurance. I knew that it was going hurt towards the end, but by golly I was going to push through it.
I’ve done a couple impressive/depressing TV binges before. I once watched an entire season of 24 (also known as a day,) over the course of workweek while working in the admission both for a sparsely attended arboretum during one summer. I was caught up for the season two finale of Game of Thrones on a Sunday having never seen an episode before Friday night, and think I took down the available seasons of Breaking Bad at about the same rate that a meth-head might consume the actual product. But this binge was probably my most ambitious one yet, and I’m fully aware that I’m misusing the word “ambitious.”
At some point my father called to see how my mom was doing, as she’d been sick with some sort of flu. I told him that she was fine, and mentioned that I was trying to watch a whole season of Mad Men in one day.
“That’s unhealthy,” he said.
“Really. That’s not healthy.” His voice was tinged with just the right amount of pity, disgust, and genuine concern to make me question what I was doing. I decided I was just going to lie to him, and say that I was joking.
After episode nine I took a break for dinner and to watch an episode of another show, and so that my dad wouldn’t walk in to see me, eyes glazed over, on the couch where he knew I’d been all day. In retrospect, I regret doing this. It upset the purity of the binge.
Around episode ten, “Christmas Waltz,” I was looking forward for this to end. I had watched Don and Megan fight and make up all day, and my mind was transitioning from wandering, to ceasing to function. I wasn’t really having fun anymore, and the fact that I already knew a couple of the major (2-year-old) spoilers kind of dampened the final episodes.
When I finished, shortly before 11 p.m., I was exhausted, even though I had done essentially nothing all day. I made a hotdog during episode one, and that’s about the extent of my physical exertion. Much like Don Draper after the events of “The Other Woman,” I felt dirty. I felt hungover, even though I’d only a beer with dinner. I couldn’t remember what exactly had happened in episodes I’d watched only a couple hours beforehand, let along episode one. I was in a haze. It wasn’t drugs. It was Netflix.
I absolutely got less out of this season as a viewer than I could have. Watching it live would have been ideal of course, but my epic binge was possibly the worst way to enjoy one of the greatest dramas of all time. It became a chore. I was looking forward to starting the next episode ten minutes into the one I was watching.
Watching it all in two days probably would’ve been fine. Experience has taught me that there is a finite number of episodes of any show a person can watch in a row. I pushed it beyond the limit with this one, and am mildly worse off because of it. There are merits to watching a show marathon style, but when what should be an enjoyable viewing of art turns into a feat of shameful endurance, you’re doing it wrong. I turned a meticulously crafted, excellently written, and amazingly acted season of television into a blur. Most of the satisfaction I got from watching the show came not from the actual episodes, but the fact that I had watched it. I won. I beat television, as if that’s actually a thing that normal people care about.
That said, I am determined not to learn any lessons from this, and will likely do the same thing when the most recent season of Breaking Bad is finally available on Netflix as well.
But that doesn’t mean you should. Kids, remember, Winners Don’t Do TV Binges.