Binge-Watching v. Serial Viewing

I’m currently working my way through Netflix’s newly-released series Hemlock Grove, and it’s making me consider which is the best, or most rewarding, way to watch a TV series.

Personally, I like both options: binge-watching and serial viewing. I have numerous shows I’ve been following on television for months/years, but I also like to binge-watch past, or currently airing, television shows on Netflix. Recently, I binge-watched The CW’s Supernatural over several weeks, and now I watch the show on a weekly basis. Both ways I watched it, I enjoyed it.

However, not all shows seem to work well in a serial format. Both Hemlock Grove and Netflix’s previous release, House of Cards, probably wouldn’t have lasted as serial television shows. Both tell their stories with a slow place; if they had aired on television, viewers likely would’ve gotten bored within the first few episodes and dropped off. However, when viewed straight through, the shows tell a coherent, in-depth multi-part story. Highly gratifying story-telling, but in a different way than traditional serial viewing.

Another thing I’ve noticed when binge-watching any show is my inability to grow attached to the characters in the same way I do with serial viewing. I’ve been watching The CW’s The Vampire Diaries since its premiere in 2009, so I’ve been following the characters’ stories and journies on a weekly basis for four years now. I feel much more attached to Stefan and Elena than I do Jim and Pam, since I’ve only begun watching The Office on Netflix earlier this month. While I love both sets of characters, I feel like I know the former much better than the latter. I’m a huge fan of character-centric stories and strong characters, so this is a pretty sizeable hit against binge-watching for me.

As an avid television viewer for nearly a decade now, I’ve found that TV shows are a highlight of my week; something to look forward to watching, discussing with friends, family, or other fans, and debating what’s occurred and what’s to come. With the show Lost, half the fun of viewing was debating and theorizing about the show’s mysteries. When binge-watching, the mystery is all but gone; how can there be any suspense when the next episode, or episodes, are readily available? While fans can still discuss the show after (or while) binge-watching, the fun of a weekly chat/discussion is eradicated.

Honestly, I don’t believe Netflix is ruining the way we watch TV, but simply causing it to evolve. I love Netflix, but I’ll never stop tuning in to watch shows on a weekly basis in favor of pure binge-watching. And more often than not, I’m able to catch-up on a show on Netflix and begin watching it on a weekly basis. Netflix is helping build fanbases rather than destroy them.

In the end, neither option is really better than the other. Too many variables need to be accounted for, such as the audience, the way the story is told, the story’s pacing, etc. Some shows are capable of being enjoyed equally well either way you watch, while others only work one way or the other.

I love television, so I’m happy with both options if it means I have constant access to quality storytelling and characters.

Anyway, back to binge-watching Hemlock Grove. Oh, and I’ll also be tuning in to a new episode of ABC’s Once Upon A Time (another show I’ve been watching since the premiere).

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