I spent last Sunday binge-watching an entire season of Hemlock Grove, the Netflix original series about werewolves or some shit. I get a limited number of days on this Earth, and that's where one of them went. Mom and dad, if you're reading this (please stop), it's important that you know that when you were raising me, you were preparing me for an entire day of drinking beer, eating delivery food, popping Vicodin, and ignoring my friends because I was "too busy working."
David Christopher Bell
Comedy writers put on pants only for the most strenuous of tasks.
It's true that sucking down an entire season of bad TV like a Red Bull on a lazy Sunday left me drained and smelly and seriously harmed my relationship with my cat, but that's not the only problem we're dealing with here. Because Hemlock Grove isn't just bad. Oh, goodness no. It scoffs right through the humble meadows of incompetence to scale the virgin peaks of terribleness. It is The New Badness, a shade of horrible that our species has never encountered before. And unless we take action now, it's poised to reshape the entire telescape in its own warped image.
(Note: I'm going full tin-foil-hat conspiracy theorist today. If that bothers you, please take solace in the fact that some day you'll be dead, and everyone you ever loved will be dead. All you ever created or care for will wither and die. The Earth will grow cold, the sun will extinguish, and it will be as if we were never here. All because of this fucking show.)
#4. TV Writers Are Writing for Bingers Now
"Binge-watching" isn't really the phrase to describe what I did to myself with Hemlock Grove last Sunday, because "binge" implies an excessive consumption of something, and spending all day watching television is just what we do now. You might argue that this is a sign that Western Culture has reached its decadent peak, and you'd be totally right. Good job. I know that I, personally, have never felt more like an emperor than I did during this binge. I lounged with an air of tepid boredom in my soft, blue couch-chariot as diligent slaves dragged me past an endless display of sordid entertainment.
David Christopher Bell
Deeply did I drink of my Scotchy, caffeinated elixir.
This is the new normal, and TV writing has changed to adapt. If you watch an old episode of The X-Files, the presentation, particularly the exposition, seems weirder than the alien-government-conspiracy mysteries: Dana Scully has to frequently remind us that she's a skeptical genius who could rewire our nervous system into an auto-harp in 30 seconds flat, because casual viewers may have forgotten or new viewers may not know.
But that's not what TV is anymore. When a show is released in a big 13-episode chunk, it's designed to be binged. We don't need as much hand-holding because we're watching the show on our own terms, and the writers are adapting.They're not writing for people who watch an episode a week, they're writing for people who are sitting down and watching 13 in one day, like some kind of irredeemable fucking lunatic.
While it's true that this has allowed some truly great shows to happen (I hear Orange is the New Black is great, but I haven't watched it, because I was too busy watching Hemlock Grove, because I only make terrible decisions), it doesn't change one fact: writing good TV is harder than writing shitty TV. So we're still going to be hit in the face with a big shit-nail, pounded in place by a crap-hammer, wielded by a carpenter that is just a pooplicate of a person. And these new tools, that allowed Orange to be so good (I've heard), also make bad TV easier than ever, because ...
#3. Bingeing Keeps You from Paying Attention
Video streaming allows us access to an utterly new medium: TV not as serialized storytelling but as a video book. If each episode is a chapter, we can enjoy it on our own terms, around our own schedules, stopping and starting anywhere we want, whenever we want. Just like a novel, except with titties and blood that we won't have to imagine. Right?
No, because TV is not the same as reading. I know that sounds like the kind of old-person ranting more befitting a senile middle-school teacher than a young and hip Internet comedy writer like me (see: earlier pictures of me, demonstrating my hipness), but in this case I have science: Reading is better for your brain than watching TV is.
Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Around the world, librarians are having orgasms and don't know why.
When you're reading, your brain not only has to interpret words into ideas, it has to pay close enough attention to context so it can add inflection to dialogue and remember, like, whether the characters are currently having kinky sex in a damp, cold bathroom or a crashing spaceship. When you're watching a movie or TV, you don't have to do any of that. You're shown exactly where the kinky sex is happening, and how kinky it is, so imagination is ... basically unnecessary. Hell, you don't even have to decide where to look or what to focus on: The camera does all that for you. This has nothing to do with the inherent quality of one medium over another, because even if one isn't better than the other, it's still super clear which one is less taxing on the brain muscle, right?
OJO Images/OJO Images/Getty Images
Aww yeah baby, work that skull-putty.
Your brain enters a "reactive state" where instead of thinking critically or analyzing the stuff you're watching, you're just passively absorbing it like a big sopping couch-sponge. OK, fine: I'm the one passively absorbing it like a big sopping couch-sponge. Which means I'm not going to notice if, say, I watch a show where nothing fucking happens between episodes 3 and 11 please God just end my suffering, because my brain is just wired to react to colors and emotions.
And this is where all that conspiracy shit really takes off, because ...