With the dawn of the 21st century a new, unique species graced the earth. The ‘binge watchers’. This was catalysed by the rise of sensational series which captivated audiences to such an extent that the term ‘binge watching’ began gaining momentum. We are, therefore, undoubtedly a generation that loves television.
However, are these hours spent staring at screens and watching a complex plot unfold excessive? Unfortunately, money is the driving force behind all entertainment, and television shows are no exception. This means that when a series comes out and reaps instant success, the moneymakers get straight onto thinking about a second series … and then a third … and then a fourth … Before you know, it you are on series eight of 24 (2004) – and this is no mean feat, seeing as each episode is an hour long and there are 24 episodes in the series. That is eight full days dedicated to one TV show, my friends. With the likes of Sex and the City (1998) and Gossip Girl (2007) following suit, are we in danger, as a society, of fueling mediocre narratives because the producers know that this is a commodity fans will no doubt buy into?
If I were to ask you, what happens in series 3 of Friends, would you honestly be able to tell me (unless you’re a die-hard Friends fan, of course)? In Grey’s Anatomy (2005) and Dexter (2006), do we actually ever progress? Or, do we just go round in circles? How often do you find yourself saying that series one, or maybe two at a push, was the best, and that after that, the story line dragged. I was absolutely obsessed with Breaking Bad (2008), but by series 5 I had completely lost the plot. The same goes for The Walking Dead (2010) and Prison Break (2005); these are all TV series that are just so indulgently long.
The best series I ever watched was This Is England (2010). Why? Well for starters, it is a mini series – which means each season had either three or four episodes in it. Secondly, it only ran for three series, which means a total of 11 episodes were produced. Nowadays, that would barely make up one season of a Netflix series. I was left wanting more and ultimately, I think that is a far better position to be in as opposed to sighing with relief that you’ve finally finished the last episode of what has been a 120-hour series. Oh, and here’s the best part. With a mini series, you can still binge away. In fact it’s actually much easier to. Instead of putting your life on hold for days, or even weeks, so that you can finish what can seem like a never-ending series, you can indulge in a few hours over a couple of nights and polish off the lot.
Some of you will, of course, disagree. We all have a series which is a personal favourite and for that special programme, no number of episodes could be too many. You get invested in the lives of the characters and it is a chance for escapism to a world which isn’t your own. No one could ever get bored of that. But if you want to watch a genuinely compelling piece of television, then I would advise you stop watching after series 2 or 3 as this is where the writing usually becomes shoddy.
Many people view watching television as a bad thing. I would like to disagree. I think television is brilliant. It can teach us so much about contemporary culture because ultimately everything we, as an audience, consume is a statement or reflection of our society. Television helps to teach us, it helps us to switch off and it helps us to share an experience with those around us who also watch television. I think that television series are absolutely wonderful, but I think we all need to be aware that their primary purpose is to produce profit; and that, my friends, is why you will see series after series of a successful television programme being churned out.