Ah, binge watching. It’s like a Fourth of July TV marathon, except it happens every weekend and you never leave your house. That’s everybody, right? Not just me? Binge watching has graduated in recent years from catching up on a TV show you never watched to actually watching new shows in huge chunks. Original programming on streaming sites like Netflix is great because you don’t have to do that silly thing where you wait a week in between episodes. If Orange is the New Black had aired on my actual TV, it would take me three months to watch it all. I’d only be like four episodes in. Pssh, forget that, I watched it in two days.
Of course, while the idea of doing nothing but watch TV for hours on end sounds perfect on paper, once you’re eight episodes in, things get kinda hairy, and not just because you haven’t shaved anything in days to save time. Binge watching has become a controversial concept. People warn against it, explaining that you either won’t absorb the information as well or won’t appreciate the excitement that comes with cliffhangers and mysteries. But of course, it’s just like having a baby. You do it once, feel exhausted, say you’ll never do it again, and then suddenly you’ve watched four seasons of Lost and you don’t know how it happened. Or what the hell it means.
I speak from experience as binge-watcher in all formats — Netflix, DVD, On Demand, you name it — and I’ve noticed that there are various stages of emotion that I go through while I watch. Interestingly, they line up with the five stages of grief, plus an extra stage that’s very specific to binge watching. What does this say about us as a society? We send ourselves on an emotional roller coaster and for what? So we can say we watched that show everyone’s watching? Yeah, that’s actually a really good reason.
Stage 1: Denial
Sometimes binge watching is intentional. I went into the new season of Arrested Development intending to watch as many episodes as I could until I wasn’t laughing anymore. But sometimes it just kind of happens. When I clicked play on the first episode of Sherlock last month, I thought I’d just watch one. This is what went through my mind:
“Hmm, I’ve been hearing some good things about this show. Maybe I’ll watch the first episode to try it out. I should just watch a bunch of pilots and then pick the best one to catch up on. I’ll be fine just watching one. That incident with The O.C. was just a fluke because it was so good.”
Stage 2: Anger
Then something happens where you absolutely have to press play on the next episode. And then once you’ve watched a couple more episodes you get mad. You’re mad at the show for being so addictive, you’re mad at Netflix for making it so easy to watch them all, and most of all you’re mad at yourself. This is how it goes:
“Ugh, why is this show so good? I haven’t done anything I said I would do tonight. Damn it, Netflix, why do you autoplay the next episdode? You’re an enabler, Netflix. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I stop? It’s just a TV show. Get it together!”
Stage 3: Bargaining
You start trying to justify your continued watching by making every episode you watch the last one for the day, or by telling yourself you won’t watch as much tomorrow. This is the kind of negotiation you try to make with yourself:
“It’s 10 right now. I’ll watch one more episode and be in bed by 11. Or actually, maybe I’ll just stay up late tonight and take tomorrow off. I have some errands to run tomorrow anyway. But maybe I could fit in just one episode during my lunch break. Okay, I’ll just watch this episode and then I’ll eat something. When did I eat that granola bar? Was that this morning?”
Stage 4: Depression
But of course you don’t just watch one more episode, and you don’t take the next day off. And suddenly you’re not even really enjoying the show. You’re just mindlessly playing the next episode like a zombie, filing plot developments and character names in your head but not really feeling anything. This is your internal monologue:
“Why am I still watching this? I don’t even think I like it that much. I don’t care about any of these people. I’m numb. Who am I? What kind of person does this to herself? Is this all I’m good at? I should have taken up a sport in high school. Why are the episodes so long?! When will it end?!”
Stage 5: Acceptance
Then finally you make it to the home stretch and realize that this is your life now, and it’s pretty okay. That was a good show, and now you can say you watched it.
“Okay, last episode. Wow, that’s pretty impressive. I just watched all those episodes in one day. I mean, I didn’t call my mom like I said I would and when the delivery guy knocked on the door with my food I didn’t answer because I was in the middle of that really awesome scene, but now I can add this show to my favorites on Facebook! That alone makes it worth it. Right?
Stage 6: Crippling Loneliness
Here’s where the list deviates from the stages of grief. There’s that whole thing where you’re done with the show and you want to talk to your friends about it. But oh yeah, none of them have watched it yet. So you deny the exhausting experience you just had binge watching and encourage them to do the same:
“No, it goes really fast, and the stories are so interesting that you’ll never get tired of it. And [insert actor your friend likes] is in it, so you’ll get to see them in every episode. Watch it with you? Umm, sure, I guess I could watch one or two episodes. But you know, I’ve got that thing later, and ugh, I just don’t think I’ll have time. But watch it so we can talk about it. Like now. Here, I’ll open your laptop for you. Do you want me to type it in?”
(Lead GIF: Tumblr)