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Is binge-watching the wave of the future? Probably (but we hope not)

The prevalence of binge-watching has increased significantly in the last few years. Once reserved for late-to-the-party folks who were trying to catch up on previously aired television as quickly as possible, bingeing has now become a preferred method of TV viewing for many people. The introduction of original programming on streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon presented, for the first time, the possibility of releasing full seasons of television at once. More and more, people are gravitating toward this format, choosing to watch an entire season of television in an evening or two.

As bingeing becomes popular, it’s no surprise that some networks are beginning to experiment with offering full seasons of their programming upfront. Recently, NBC released all 13 episodes of Aquarius both On Demand and online, giving people the opportunity to binge, while still airing one new episode a week for those who are interested in a more traditional TV-watching experience. Lifetime did something similar with its new series, UnREAL; the first four episodes are available to stream, though episode two aired last night on Lifetime.

It seems likely that more networks will test this model with more shows to see if offering these different options helps boost ratings. My fear is that, in time, this will be the primary way television is consumed.

Don’t get me wrong; binge-watching can be wonderful. Writing for television has become so magnificently complex that the ability to watch an arc straight through from start to finish with little interruption can provide a helpful continuity that is lost when a season is spread out over three or more months. The medium has shifted to a point where it often resembles film. This style of long-form storytelling works incredibly well when viewed in one (or two) sittings.

There is, however, a significant downside to always making television available all at once: the loss of the communal viewing experience. Say what you will about the Internet and social media, but one of the wonderful things about it is the access it has given all of us—to people who are interested in the same things we are. Live-tweeting a show or taking to the Internet afterward to read reviews, ask questions, or share thoughts means we no longer have to enjoy our favorite shows in the isolation of our own homes. That’s a beautiful thing.

However, it’s also currently at risk. The more people binge, the less they are watching together, and the less likely they are to find others with whom they are in sync. Our communal discussions will suffer greatly if each person is at a different point of a season at any given moment. Not to mention the number of people who, after only a few days, may already feel so overwhelmed at being behind that they choose to forgo watching at all.

Television is about entertainment, but there is also much to be gained from analysis and conversation. Critics who provide enlightening insight and commentary on each episode will not be able to keep up with the speed at which people are bingeing. There are several columns I head for immediately after watching a new episode of a show. These articles enhance my appreciation and often add to my understanding. Would I be so inclined to read them if they didn’t come out until three weeks after I finished the season? Likely not.

Good television has the power to excite us. Good television makes us think. It raises questions and it demands they be addressed. If we aren’t watching together, we aren’t capable of having the same conversation, and that diminishes the experience for all of us.

To this point, a friend recently pointed out to me that Orange Is the New Black has been available to binge from the beginning, and it has started many important conversations about race, gender, and incarceration. Part of that is specifically because of its accessibility; the fact that people are always able to jump in and catch up means that new voices are joining the dialogue all the time. This is a salient point, and one that leads me to the conclusion that all shows should be available to stream—after they’ve already aired serially.

It’s important to note the distinction between long-term, change-making conversations like the ones raised in OITNB, and more episode-specific responses. After a particular episode of Game of Thrones aired this season, there was much discussion about a character’s rape and the use of female victimhood as a trope in general. The latter part of the discussion is ongoing; but the part that pertains specifically to that hour of television is less so. There was a comfort we felt in the fact that so much of the audience reacted similarly. We watched together; we responded together. By the end of that week, we’d moved on to something else, even if the overarching questions it evoked continue to be discussed.

There’s no question that binge-watching is the TV trend of the moment. As with all trends, though, a certain degree of moderation is best. Though the binge model has worked well for many shows, the loss of the communal viewing experience, were this to become the norm, is too important to ignore.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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