Saturday, October 29, 2016

In Praise of Serial Consuming

Scott D. Parker

I know bingeing (Yes, it's spelled correctly) is all the rage nowadays, but I’m here to praise serial consumption.

Tomorrow, the penultimate episode of Washington Post’s Presidential podcast will be released. Hosted by Lillian Cunningham, this podcast spends an episode per week examining each of the 43 men—Cleveland is counted once in this podcast even though he gets two numbers in the official order of presidents—that have held the highest office here in the US. I discovered the podcast at James Monroe back in February so I binged all six episodes in one day and have consumed each new episode Monday morning. She brings in historians and journalists and archivists to discuss each president. She even included a question that seemed odd at first, but grew to be a great window in the presidents as young men. “What would it have been like to go on a blind date with ______?” Moreover, as the show picked up steam over the weeks, word of mouth spread. Folks liked it so much that it even spawned merchandise. That's what serial consuming can produce.

On the last few episodes, Cunningham has commented on the journey she and us have been on this past year. The first episode was 43 weeks ago. That’s January. Each week, no matter the current event, she focused on a president. No matter whether it was spring, the heat of summer, or now into fall, every Sunday, a new episode was released. And when she mentioned the journey, I find comfort in thinking back to January and where I was when I discovered this podcast. I think back to my summer vacation and making my family listen to the then latest episode—Calvin Coolidge—as we drove around Texas’s Big Bend region. It also was great to know that as the list of presidents slowly reached the present day, our own 2016 Election was ever closer.

Bingeing just doesn’t give that kind of emotional connection.

First off, absolutely nothing wrong with bingeing. For fiction-related items—television shows, novel series, etc.—bingeing can work well. You can consume all the episodes in a weekend and really get the “novel as TV show” vibe.

But sometimes, it’s nice to have the breathing space between episodes. Take “LOST” for example. I’ve talked with folks who have binged all seasons of “LOST” in a month. I imagine the concentrated viewing helped those viewers get consumed in the story, but they missed something. I watched it live, on a weekly basis, for the entire run (save the first fall). For seven days, everyone got to discuss what happened on the previous episode, what all the clues meant, and to get ready for the new week’s episode. Repeat. We got three months of pondering over the summer after a season’s cliffhanger. Sure, over those hot months we might’ve forgotten nuances of some episodes, but, for me, that’s part of why you wait for the DVD released of the previous season during the weeks leading up to the new season.

I know I’m probably old fashioned. I know that having all the episodes of a new show available for any type of viewing you’d want. As a side note, my wife and I ended up watching “STRANGER THINGS” over a week, but there were a few times when we looked at each other and said, “One more?” We did. But I still remember fondly sitting down in front of the TV Monday’s at 9 pm to watch “CASTLE” (or CSI: MIAMI before it), or Tuesday’s at 7:00 pm to watch “THE FLASH” or Sundays at 9:00 pm for “ELEMENTARY.” That’s just me.

What about y’all? Now that bingeing is available, do y’all prefer it? Or do you still like to consume your media peace meal, over a long period of time? Or do you like having all the shows at your fingertips, allowing yourself to consume at whatever pace you want?

1 comment:

Dana King said...

The Beloved Spouse and I usually limit ourselves to one or two episodes at a time, unless we're getting close to something. One particular exception was the final season of THE SHIELD, which had us up till 3:00 Am watching the last nine episodes in a row.

We do watch our one or two a night on consecutive nights if our scheduled permit. It allows the show to have a better flow. Much as we enjoyed JUSTIFIED when it aired, we liked it even more when we watched it every night without commercials on DVD a few months ago. Some plot points were much more clear without the intervening week.