In Defense of Binge-Watching


My wife loves to binge-watch streaming shows. There are a great many shows she has never seen and new ones joining the fray seemingly every week. She slips on her AirPods and fires up Netflix on her iPad, and away she goes.

She was incredibly disappointed that Bridgerton only has one season (so far), and she tore through it so fast that she roped me into re-watching it with her, although not nearly as quickly.

She watches shows at binge speed and loves every second of them. The term binge suggests it might be a bad thing. Something that’s out of her control or taking up the time she should be doing something else like sleeping or working.

None of that is happening.

To be sure, there is a stereotype of the binge-watcher who spends all their waking hours and some of their non-waking hours watching a streaming show. They call in sick. Forget to eat or worse. Whenever I’ve binge-watched a show, I’ve always just allocated a few hours and then can turn it off. My wife does tend not to like two or three-part episodes because her ability to pause a show mid-cliffhanger is non-existent, but she obviously can take her AirPods out and go to bed.

For me, my binge-watching is timed out so I can relax. I’m not watching complete seasons and becoming one with the couch, but I do like the effort in stepping away from reality for a little while. It is strategic and organized in a way that makes me happy. If my day has been mentally taxing, watching a few episodes of a breezy and easy show is a way to recharge my batteries. It isn’t mindless, and I’m not perpetually scrolling trying to find something to watch.

Binging a TV show is relaxing and therapeutic. Not always, of course. Sometimes I watch a show to pay attention and be rewarded for my attentiveness. I didn’t binge-watch it, but Wandavision was an excellent example of attentive television. On the other hand, re-watching a show I know well, such as Friends, on a streaming service is relaxing.

One of my great joys is taking the dog out for his walks. It is incredibly restorative for me. A twenty- or thirty-minute walk recharges my mental batteries. This isn’t something new. People have been going for walks or playing video games to recharge for years. These experiences are different from work in that they hold your attention but aren’t your everyday work environment. There’s also a clear mark between reality and slight unreality. It can be an immersive painting or book, or even the line between grass and sidewalk.

Binge-watching a TV show isn’t a passive experience. I know I want to watch something exciting or funny and often completely different from my everyday life. Great acting and writing are a must, and it usually has to hook me from the start. My wife usually prefers shows more grounded, such as medical dramas (House, Grey’s Anatomy, The Resident) and period dramas (Call the Midwife, the aforementioned Bridgerton). Still, these shows are as far away from her everyday life as The Expanse or Game of the Thrones is for me.

I remember the days when everyone was watching the same show on the same night and talking about it at work the next day. Social media has changed that landscape, with streamers either throwing an entire season up at once or dolling it out every week. Avoiding spoilers on social media can be a challenge. I rarely live-tweet anything anymore, and I don’t follow specific hashtags to always be “in the know,” so I rarely have those problems.

One thing that is quite different today is the ability to find shows and watch from the beginning. I did not watch the first few seasons of Game of Thrones because I didn’t think it was for me. Word of mouth became so overpowering, and with the encouragement of a co-worker who not only loved the books, she adored the series, I started playing catch up. I was able to dive right in and binge-watch whole seasons. It was fun, and we suddenly had a lot to chat about after each new episode aired.

My wife and I binge-watch because it is an escape that we actively pursue. Our work and home lives can be hectic, with thousands of decisions every day. Taking a few hours each night to fall into a different world and have fun thinking about storylines and characters instead of emails and meetings is a blessing. It is restorative.

Of course, I’m sure for many who don’t curate their time, binge-watching is mindless and unengaging. It is background noise. That’s not how we prefer to watch television.

Imagine if the streamers started actively creating more shows for mindful viewers? I think it might already be happening.

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