“Want to do one more?”
It’s a phrase that’s become common in darkened living rooms from coast to coast, as couples — bleary eyed as the hour grows later — debate whether to indulge in their latest addiction for just a bit longer.
No, I’m not talking about having one more drink or another hit of some illicit substance. Rather, I’m talking, of course, about that other American addiction of the moment: binge-watching TV shows.
I’m sure more than a few of you have binged from time to time. After all, we’re in the era of streaming entertainment, with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube and all the others grabbing a serious foothold in the TV and movie landscape. It’s getting tough to keep up with the various services, as new ones seem to be rolling out all the time. Though Disney is looking to put the hammer down when it launches its Disney+ streaming platform in November and brings all the princesses and superheroes and the rest of its immense catalog to the party.
As streaming has grown more ubiquitous, the days of watching your favorite shows one at a time — and waiting a week until the next episode airs — have become less frequent. Now you can gobble up multiple episodes, and even entire seasons, in marathon sessions.
Last week, my wife and I had such a session with the Netflix show “Stranger Things.” I’m sure a bunch of you have seen it, but for those who haven’t, imagine “The Goonies” meets “The X-Files” meets a Stephen King novel meets a Pizza Hut commercial from 1983. I know that might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but trust me, it’s scary and funny and charming and really well-written and acted. Winona Ryder is at the top of her game, but the real standouts are the young actors who make up the group of middle schoolers the series focuses on. Millie Bobby Brown is an off-the-charts talent.
Of course, some shows are more bingeable than others. Yes, bingeable is actually a word, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which defines it as “having multiple episodes or parts that can be watched in rapid succession.” Netflix’s “Last Chance U,” a docuseries about junior college football programs, goes down so easy it’s scary.
And “Stranger Things” is one of those series, too. When my wife and I started a new season last week, it was our intent to just watch one or two episodes, then maybe catch a couple more a few days later, and so on.
And…then we looked up and it was 2 a.m. and we had watched five episodes. On a work night. I blame my wife for that last episode. She hit me with the classic, “I know we need to go to bed, but I’ve got to see what happens next.”
But, here’s the thing, and this is going to sound crazy: I sort of miss the old way.
I mean, sure, it’s admittedly cool, in the moment, to be able to roll right into the next episode of a show, particularly if it’s a cliffhanger.
But I kind of miss the “water cooler” nature of TV before the streaming era, when you’d get together with friends — sometimes around an actual water cooler at work — and discuss a program from the previous night. There would be debates and theories and predictions about what might happen in the next week’s episode. Sure, you had to wait, but it was fun. That was fandom.
Streaming has taken away the cultural campfire effect of TV. If there’s a popular show on Netflix, chances are we’re all watching at our own pace. I might be on episode five of the new season of “Stranger Things,” while you’re just getting around to episode three. And now you’re begging me not to divulge any “spoilers.”
Don’t get me wrong. Clearly I do my fair share of binging.
But I kind of miss the water cooler.