Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Mountain of Downton or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Streaming Content

Growing up, I preferred watching TV to almost any other activity.  I liked riding my bike, sure.  Choreographing dance routines, playing dress-up, giggling at sleepovers -- all delightful endeavors.  But TV was always awesome.  Always was, and always will be.

That's why I'm caught off-guard whenever someone ruins a perfectly good conversation by saying, "I don't watch TV."  These folks know very well what they're doing, forcing you to conjure up images of the quiet evenings they spend at home reading The New Yorker, playing classical piano, sketching a still life with pastels.  While you've got your eyes fixed to last night's DVR'd Daily Show, eating off a plate in your lap and dribbling sauce on your sweatshirt, they're out dining with novelists, snuggled into a booth at a jazz club, attending an opening at an art gallery downtown.  What else would a non-TV-watcher do with his time other than every aspirational thing you fail to do on a daily basis? 

For a select few individuals who "don't watch TV," this is some version of the truth.  But the rest of them are just waiting for you, the TV-watching neanderthal, to cock your head to the side, furrow your unibrow and ask, amazed, "You no watch TV? What you mean you no watch TV?"

"I have Hulu plus/Netflix/Apple TV."  Mmhmm.  There it is.  You watch TV shows.  That's the same thing.  Now quit wasting my time.  I have Kardashians to keep up with!

Once the new media cat is out of the bag, they move to convincing you why you don't need old fashioned (cable) TV any more.  And I suppose, in many ways, they're right.  You really can see pretty much everything online or on an iPad or through a PS3 (I just figured out how to do that 5 days ago) or, okay I'm out of my element.  I don't know how else but I know there must be something.  A cranial implant.  A service that sends a show to your phone via text in one minute video chunks.

Through and through, I'm a TV -- nay, a television -- traditionalist.  I like watching shows week to week, roughly around the time they originally air.  It gives me something to look forward to.  [When HBO promotes "watch next week's episode right now on HBO GO," I am horrified.  What would I do next week?!]  I like sitting on my couch, remote in hand, directing my attention to my beloved, outdated flat-screen.  Is that so wrong?  I even like that I have 300 channels and at any given time I hate whatever is airing on all of them.

But, like the aforementioned TV-shunning freaks, I haven't been giving you the full story.  There is one element of the new frontier that I have actually embraced: The sleep-depriving, best-laid-plan-ruining, back-to-back-episode series viewing binge.  It's the kind of thing we brag about, even if we should be embarrassed.  "I haven't worked out in a month. I'm catching up on Walking Dead before it comes back."  "Sorry I didn't call you back, I was catching up on Homeland."  In my case, I managed to watch the first 2 seasons of Downton Abbey in 4 days time.

May I remind you, this is ME we're talking about.  I can't manage to accomplish anything these days.  I don't even know how it happened. Devin was working and I was alone taking care of Oscar for all of the long weekend.  I went to the park, the farmer's market, Target.  I did laundry.  I cleaned.  And, unfathomably, I watched 15+ hours of a show that you have to pay a good deal of attention to or you'll miss a plot point faster than you can say Lavinia Swire.

What compels me, or any of us, to OD on shows in this manner?  Is it just because we can?  Because they're so accessible?  

Or is it in large part to the phenomenon of "catching up" on a series?  Heaven forbid anyone see a single episode of a talked-about show without first viewing the dozen or fifty episodes that preceded it.

It didn't used to be like that, did it?  My memory is foggy, but I seem to remember it was acceptable to simply jump into a show whenever you pleased, relying on the kindness of friends to fill you in if you got confused with a plot line. [Entire marriages perhaps stayed alive because one spouse frequently leaned across the sofa to ask the other, "Wait, now who is that?  Did he blackmail the father in law?"]  During the decade-long run of Beverly Hills, 90210 I only popped in for a few episodes every other season, and I could pretty much make sense of everything (except for what was happening to Donna's boobs).  

Now that I think about it, have shows become more complexly serialized because they know the audience could very well be watching a whole season in one thirteen-hour marathon?  That would explain why, when I sit down on Sunday night to watch Game of Thrones,  I wonder if perhaps I suffered some kind of head trauma in the week since the last episode because I can't remember anyone or make sense of anything.

Anyway, the tv-viewing populace is divided into two groups: those who are caught up (with the smug subset of those who watched every episode as it originally aired) and those unfortunate souls who are not caught up.  The latter will forever be making excuses and living under a media black-out for fear of encountering the dreaded spoiler.  It's no way to live.

And, with Downton Abbey, I'm in a not caught up prison of my own making.  I have the third season to watch.  But the finale, with some major major devastating event, just aired this past Sunday and those who were caught up were loudly mourning, conspiratorially.  I couldn't stand not knowing so I went online and found out what happened.  It's bad.  Very bad.  So bad, in fact, that I may not be able to make myself watch the third season knowing what's about to happen.  Surely by the fourth season things will have improved. 

Is it acceptable, these days, to skip a whole season?  I'll pick it back up when the new one premieres, and I'll watch it on an actual TV, one episode per week, like they do in the rec room of an old folks home. 

I think I'm in over my head.  Maybe I'll start throwing a new wrench into television related conversation.  Instead of "I don't watch TV," I'll be the one going around claiming, "I don't know how to watch TV any more."  That's more accurate. 

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