Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Purple is the Black of Thrones"

If you're like millions of others, you tuned in last week for the premier of the final season of "Downton Abbey." Or maybe you're waiting anxiously for April and the next installment of "Game of Thrones." Perhaps your idea of the wilds is Brooklyn, and so you're lying in wait for the upcoming season of "Girls." Or maybe you're more the aural type, were captivated by the podcast "Serial," and are now deep into season 2, even though you know the outcome. Non-spoiler alert: at the end, Bowe Bergdahl gets released in a prisoner swap, and nobody's happy.

What all these programs have in common is their ongoing-ness. It's somewhat counterintuitive: in a world where 140-character Twitter texts and six-second Vine videos are deemed the most effective way to communicate everything from the overthrow of governments to a critique of Obamacare, the shows that are garnering the biggest viewership and critical acclaim are ones that require not just an hour or two commitment, but months and months of disciplined viewing. Sure, you can wait till they are released on Amazon or Netflix, but then we're talking about a 10 or 20-hour binge fest to take it all in. They say the biggest obligation most people make is to buy a house or get married. I disagree: I think it's to sign on as a "Homeland" viewer.

That's because if you take the plunge you're not just watching or listening to a show. Rather you're absorbing the narrative arcs of their lives into yours. We're talking about story lines and character development that takes weeks, months, even seasons to happen, that consume the viewer and require them to diligently follow the plot. In the time that it takes some of these things to play out, you can graduate college, meet someone, have a kid, get divorced and start again. That results in it all getting smooshed together, your timeline and theirs: "When did we first meet? I think it was about the same time as Alicia won the State Attorneys' race, but before Lemmond Bishop was arrested, right honey?"

And if you're not along for the entire ride, you might as well be on a different planet from those that are. Aside from your own inability to follow the plot, you and your significant other who is watching will be but ships passing in the night. And it's not just an inability to make pillow talk about Claire Underwood's motives. You are also likely to incur some ill will along the way. Don't believe me? Just try walking into the room when they are 35 minutes into Season 4 Episode 7 of the Netflix Original Series "Purple is the Black of Thrones" or whatever. Sit down and watch for a bit, then say, "Hey! Why is that guy in the ripped tights and bearskin wearing a flaming funnel on his head?" Or "Didn't the girl in bed with the lead signer have short blond hair as opposed to long purple bangs?" Or "Isn't that guy playing the narc with the twitch the same one from the toothpaste commercial?" Count yourself lucky if all you get is a dirty look as opposed to the remote thrown at your head.

Me? I'm still a "Law and Order" guy. Not the show per se, though I liked that too. I'm talking about the prime time slot as contained universe. Call it one stop shopping: the story started at the beginning and ended at the end. You didn't have to worry that if you had to work late the following week or a friend invited you out to dinner that you were missing important plot points at 8:17PM from which you might never recover. And if they swapped out Darrens or detectives in a subsequent season, so what? It didn't really make a difference to the bottom line.

Perhaps that explains why I don't watch much TV, though it would seem that I am in the minority. After all, it's a trend that shows no signs of abating, with longform series attracting directors, stars and platforms. Whether it's Jude Law in "The Young Pope" or Cameron Crowe directing "Roadies," the hoped-for-hits just keep on coming. Now, if they could just figure out a way to bring the same level of interest, detail and attention to the debates on guns or immigration, we might actually have something.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has never binge-watched anything. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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