It seems that every week a friend, colleague, family member or even a complete stranger asks the same question; Have you been watching? But whereas five or so years ago the subject of the question would always be one of a handful of shows, the list has got to the point where no normal, rounded human being can keep up to date.
My first experience of the concept of box set TV happened about seven years ago, when a friend lent me all five seasons of The Wire on DVD. It was my second year of University and the perfect way to procrastinate from my assignments and planning my dissertation. The ‘Dickensian’ tales of modern day Baltimore had me glued to the screen and in a constant state of lying to myself: “just one more”.
But that was then, when buying or burrowing a DVD or even VHS box set was the only way of enjoying a marathon of the show everyone was talking about. At that time, TV on demand services like Netflix weren’t the mainstream. Most of us were happy watching one episode of a show, switching the TV off and waiting until next week to see what happens next.
The move away from scheduled TV, to on-demand has also had the effect of removing the social aspect of TV. If most of your friends or work mates watched a particular show, a few years ago you would all watch it on the same day and time and discuss the next day. Now, there is the fear of leaking spoilers or more frustratingly, the problem of even finding someone else who’s watched the same show as you.
If the truth be told, a few years ago this problem wouldn’t have existed anyway. The likes of The Wire and The Sopranos are the precursors to what TV looks like now. These shows deserve particular praise for demonstrating what TV, so often in the past cinema’s poor relation, is capable of. The big problem now though, there is just too much to watch. Previously we could heed the advice of our friends and family and happily give a TV show a chance to impress us. Not now, we don’t have time for that.
The great David Carr of the New York Times wrote: “The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process.” This is the problem; we all possess a finite amount of free time. We all want to invest our free time in the best way possible and this is where the sad truth lies. I’m not saying that watching TV is the best way to spend our free time, but most of us love to do it, the viewing figures don’t lie. The thing is, whatever we choose to watch now, no matter how great, we’re missing something else equally great. If you watch the Walking Dead, what do you sacrifice instead? Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, True Detective?
We sit in the midst of a golden era of TV. Most families have access to some form of on-demand service like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Now TV. But can we really enjoy this golden era? I for one am always wondering am I missing? Counting how many episodes I’ve got left before I can start on the next show.
I’m never truly engrossed in the programmes now as I was watching my first marathon TV fix, The Wire. Now whatever I watch, no matter how good it is, in the back of my mind there’s a nagging thought about all the other great stuff that I could be watching instead.