My husband and I have never really watched television like “normal” people. Even back in the 90s, when everyone around us was raving about The X-Files, we waited until we had two seasons on VHS before we dove in. Since then we’ve been behind on almost every popular show by at least one season before we finally get sucked in – and usually, we don’t commit to a show until long after its finale.
Over the last 15 years we’ve learned a lot about how to binge-watch without suffering negative affects to health, career or marriage. Here are our tips, illustrated by images from seven of the most satisfying shows we’ve obsessively, relentlessly consumed:
7 Strategies for Successful Binge-Watching 1 of 8
Tip 1: Choose the right partner. 2 of 8
You can binge-watch alone, but I recommend hooking up with a trusted partner instead. Sometimes you need somebody to remind you of that crucial plot point that happened when you were falling asleep at 2 AM last night, and if needed, to wrestle the iPad out of your shaking hands at 3 AM tonight.
This is especially true if you plan on pulling off the Binge of All Binges: gorging on an entire season of a show in a long weekend, like my husband Jon and I did with the Kevin Spacey Netflix original, House of Cards. It was totally worth it in the end, but we needed one another to get us through.
Tip 2: Pace Yourself. 3 of 8
Did you see the episode of Portlandia where the couple lose their jobs, forget to eat and shower, and get the electricity shut off because they're so obsessed with Battlestar Galactica? Yeah, if it weren't for the fact that we were self-employed and could catch up on naps during the day, that could have been us. BSG sucked us in like no other show before or since. And with some 75 episodes including a couple of feature-film length miniseries, we could have destroyed our lives if we'd tried to binge too hard.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Tip 3: Set Ground Rules 4 of 8
So one night around 3 AM, back when Jon and I were bingeing on LOST, he fell asleep at a crucial moment in the show's plot. Instead of doing the Right Thing and hitting "pause", I watched to the end of the episode...and then another one on top of that. It turned out to be an E.T.E. (Extremely Traumatic Episode) and I lay awake for another hour in the throes of depression. The next day I desperately wanted to talk about the ETE, so I confessed my transgressions to my spouse. He was irritated that I'd watched on without him, and it killed our bingeing spirit for quite some time...in fact, we didn't get back to watching LOST for several more years. The good news: our marriage survived and we watched the entire series beginning to end last year. The lesson: it's best to have clear-cut guidelines in place about what to do if one's binge-watching partner falls asleep mid-episode!
Image: Kevin Tostado, via Flickr
Tip 4: When it comes to binge-watching, three’s a crowd. 5 of 8
This summer my nephew Mario and I started binge-watching The Sopranos together. The only problem is that Jon, my husband, was present for some of the episodes and not others. It made for a few awkward moments when Mario and I were ready to watch but Jon couldn't be there. Should we wait for him? Finally we decided that, as the original bingeing duo, we were going to have to cut Jon loose and watch even when he wasn't around - the chances of all three of us being available at the same time often enough to get through so many episodes was slim to none.
It's sort of like when Tony Soprano had to take out his cousin Tony because he'd killed Joey Peeps. Unfortunate, but necessary. Binge-watching requires tough choices.
Image: Michael Knapek, via Flickr
Tip 5: Don’t try to blend bingeing and regular TV-watching. 6 of 8
My husband and I decided to get caught up on The Walking Dead right before the fourth season premiere. After we watched the Season 3 finale, we moved right on to Season 4, Episode 1.
But it turned out, after buzzing quickly through no-commercial, 40-minute episodes, it was painful to watch an episode that lasted a full hour and was peppered with commercials what felt like every two minutes. Commercials, in general, are annoying when you're used to Netflix.
So my advice? Bingeing and regular TV don't mix.
Image: Wapster, via Flickr
Tip 6: Space out your binges 7 of 8
There's a reason why, in 15+ years of marriage, my husband and I have only binged on around the same number of shows (starting with The X-Files in 1998): when we binge, we really go for it...and the experience takes a lot out of us. By the time we reach the conclusion, we're exhausted, behind on housework and pretty much every other kind of work, and often, emotionally bereft. My personal rule is that I can't binge on a show more often than quarterly, and if it's a long, drawn-out series, I'll often wait a year before trying again.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Tip 7: Give yourself a re-entry period. 8 of 8
Jon and I (finally) started watching Arrested Development when our daughter Clara was in the NICU and we were spending a lot of time in a hospital room with an iPad to keep us amused. We blazed through the first three seasons, then waited expectantly for over four years for another.
When Season 4 finally arrived, we treated it like a holiday. Our older kids watched with us and for one glorious weekend, we lived, breathed, and mimicked Gob, George Michael, Lindsay, George, Tobias, Buster, and Lucille. Oh, and Lucille 2.
Then...it was over. Again. We moped listlessly around, with no energy or enthusiasm for life.
The lesson? The end of a show is in many ways like saying goodbye. Give yourself time to mourn and once again acclimate yourself to the emptiness of everyday living. Before you know it, another show will come along to give your life meaning.
Image: daniel jordahl, via Flickr