Merry X-mas ComicMixers! Spend Christmas Eve with us, as we review our Christmas lists and give some suggestions on what to binge-watch, read and listen to over Winter Break. You even get to watch us open our first present!
It’s a good enough show, at least so far. It moves at its own pace, so I had plenty of time to wonder about weird, related stuff. Would I look like star Titus Welliver if I was a man, since we have the same bags under our eyes and the same beginner jowls? Don’t the female characters in the books have more to do than look at Harry with adoring eyes? Is that a part of Los Angeles I’ve been to, or has it been in a million other movies? Why aren’t there more food trucks in the LA on this show? Why aren’t there more food trucks in my neighborhood right now?
Once I was satisfied with my answers to those questions, I started to compare the phenomenon of binge-watching to reading a collected trade paperback collection of comic book series.
It is most satisfying to binge-watch programs made to be binged. By this, I mean that Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, Grace and Frankie and, yes, Bosch work better than American network shows like Supernatural (which I’m trying to get into because it’s a popular Internet meme and I should know what’s going on) or even Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Television shows can work when you watch them once a week, when you need to be reminded who the different characters are and what happened. When you watch them all at once, it’s really annoying to be told the same things over and over (and over and over) again.
However, watching, say, the fifth episode of Bosch (or any other show designed for bingeing) would be less satisfying than watching the fifth episode of Buffy because of that lack of repetition. Each episode of a network drama is designed to be self-contained. When you watch any episode, you can tell who the main characters are, what kind of people they are, and what is at stake for them.
When I started to read comic books, each issue was designed to be self-contained. Regular readers might know more about the backgrounds of the characters, but the publishers knew that every issue might be somebody’s first. Every issue had a beginning, a middle and an end.
Even in the 1990s, when comic book sagas were planned to span several issues, each issue still had a complete story. If there was something from a previous issue that the reader needed to know, the creators and editors found a way to work that in, either with a flashback or dialogue. The best-selling collected edition at the time, The Death of Superman, can be maddening to read in one sitting, precisely because the necessary plot points are repeated so often.
The inside-out version of this is also true, at least for me. When I read a series that seems to be designed to be collected, I often forget what’s happening between issues (and I can’t always find my previous issues, but that’s a house-keeping problem of mine, not a general cultural crisis). Most recently, I notice this with Letter 44, a series I really like. And I’d like it much better if I could remember who the good guys and bad guys were from one issue to the next.
Comic book economics are such that it is not always possible to publish a graphic novel all at once. Those monthly pamphlets let the publishers amortize the costs over a longer term, so there is less risk. I get that. I get that so much that I want to support unusual work that needs my money upfront, at the pamphlet stage. I want artists and writers to get paid as often as possible.
There has to be a better way to do this than we’re doing it now. Either we need a better publishing plan, or we need better drugs for my memory.
Binge-watching is defined by the Urban Dictionary website as a “marathon viewing of a TV show from its DVD box set.” Wikipedia adds that binge-watching has become an “observed cultural phenomena with the rise of online media services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.”
A lot of cable networks have gotten in on the act. Cloo includes on its schedule “marathon” showings of House, CSI, Monk, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent; yesterday (Sunday, July 27th) the channel brought on Burn Notice. The original Law & Order runs on TNT, Sundance, and WE, although I can’t figure out what it’s “thematically” doing on WE, unless it’s because Chris Noth is hot and Jerry Orbach is just so damn watchable. And Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is on USA right now.
Verne Gay of Newsday (yes, the paper at which Ray Barone of Everbody Loves Raymond toils as a sports writer is an actual real-life Long Island institution) recently listed 57 shows that are worthy of your couchpotatoing the weekend away. It’s all a matter of the viewer’s opinion and genre bias, of course, but here are Gay’s (paraphrased) qualifications for shows that are “binge-worthy,” with my examples.*
- A story arc, i.e., a storyline that continues throughout the season, notwithstanding one or two stand-alone episodes that nonetheless always contain either at least once scene related to the season’s overview or is in some way related to the overarching theme of the season. Examples: Breaking Bad, Angel, Orange Is The New Black, Scandal, Friends, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (you didn’t think I wasn’t going to mention BTVS, did you?), Dallas (original and new), Game Of Thrones.
- Characters that the viewer is invested in, i.e., whether good or bad, hero or antihero, starring role or a member of the “Scooby Gang.” Examples: Don Draper, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, Sookie Stackhouse, Willow Rosenberg, Olivia Carolyn Pope, Rachel Green and Ross Geller, Buffy Summers, Sarah Manning, Jesse Pinkman, Spike, Rose Tyler, Frank Underwood, Angel, Monica Geller and Chandler Bing, J.R. Ewing (Sr. and Jr.), Cordelia Chase, Amy Pond, Rory Williams, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce
- A definite ending; i.e., questions raised during the course of the show are answered, the hero/heroine completes his/her journey. This does not guarantee a “happy” ending. It also does not guarantee that the viewer will be satisfied. Examples: Breaking Bad, Friends, Dexter, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (which actually had two endings – Season 5, in which Buffy sacrifices herself to save her sister Dawn and the world, and Season 7, in which Buffy realizes that she can share her power. For the record, I prefer Season 5), Battlestar Galactica. Two shows that were suggested were Lost and Angel. However, I can’t recommend Lost, despite its many excellent moments, because too many questions were left unanswered, and although Angel rocked its five seasons, The WB’s (very stupid, im-no so-ho) decision to cancel the series rushed its ending so that it felt too ambiguous – except for Wesley’s death, which was the only part that felt real. And it remains to be seen how True Blood, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Game Of Thrones handle their endings.
- It’s entertaining. Or as Gay puts it, “fun.” I hope you don’t need an “i.e.,” but just in case you do – you’d better enjoy what you’re watching, or you’re just wasting time. Examples: Dallas (old and new), Doctor Who, Firefly, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Scandal, House Of Cards, Dexter.
- Gaye calls this one “informative,” but I’ll put it more simply – you learn something. You get excited. Maybe about the universe, or maybe, vicariously, about yourself. You can learn to appreciate great writing, or great camera work, or great acting. You can learn that you don’t really want to get an MBA and work on Wall Street, even if it does mean you’ll be rolling in dough and driving a Porsche; you discover that you want to work in an industry that allows you to key into your inner child, whether it’s as an actor or a writer or a director, a special effects artist, or a stunt man/woman, even if it does mean that most of the time you’ll be earning money temping as a receptionist or slinging dishes in a restaurant and depending on tips to make the rent. Examples: Cosmos, Band Of Brothers, Firefly, War And Remembrance, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galatica, The World Wars.
- There ain’t no commercials. And you don’t want to hit the “pause” button. Meaning you hold it in for between discs or between episodes. Examples: Your DVD Boxed Set, Netflix Streaming, And Amazon Prime. As for Hulu/Hulu Plus – points off for the ads.
I’d love to know your binge-worthy shows.
* Some are shows I have binge-watched; others are recommendations by friends and family.