Let's get one thing straight: I invented the binge watch. It began with my Netflix subscription 10 years ago; I had the eight-at-a-time package and I made the most of it by ordering entire seasons of shows and then sitting on my ass for hours on my days off while I took in Upstairs Downstairs, all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Kolchak the Nightstalker, The Twilight Zone, you name it. I knew it was addictive behavior, much like the ape who needs to complete a repetitive task to receive a pellet and finds himself doing nothing else all day long. Man, he thinks, I really should be picking nits off of Ulbrecht the Silverback, but damn, this is engrossing.
As with most addictions, I only knew I had a problem when my boyfriend at the time pointed it out. He would leave me in the morning with a fresh pile of CSIs and come home to find that I had watched the entire season and had moved on to The Shield. It got so bad that, like an alcoholic, I began hiding the evidence. The Sopranos was safely stashed in my clothes hamper, the Poirot collection behind the ficus.
But let me guess… in the last week you've binge-watched the new season of Orange Is the New Black, right? Or perhaps you anticipate doing so? Netflix has made it easy for you, releasing the show in its entirety. There is something so novel about this approach, so satisfying… it feels, well, naughty to be able to find out what is going to happen, immediately, without having to wait for each week's installment. If binge-watching is an addiction, then the Netflix model is the crack cocaine of the form: highly addictive, easily administered, and just cheap enough.
I have a love/hate relationship with the creator of the series, Jenji Kohan. She was behind the Showtime series Weeds, which started out great. The series focuses on a struggling single mom and her two sons, with the fantastic Justin Kirk as her shiftless brother-in-law Andy. Unable to keep up with her expenses after the death of her husband, she becomes a suburbanite pot dealer. Hilarity ensues… at least until about the middle of its eight-season run. Steeped in the contemporary TV zeitgeist of the anti-hero, her character (Nancy Botwin, played by Mary-Louise Parker) becomes ever more mixed up with the druggy underbelly of America, which is all good and fine until she starts involving her children in her crimes. Perhaps I'm a prude, but this began to test my stockpile of acceptable moral relativism. You didn't see Walter White use Walt Junior as a drug mule. Parker herself also got tiresome, forever sucking on her beverages through a straw and making shitty decisions. Bah.
Orange Is The New Black, however, shows much deeper pathos and humor from the get-go. The show still revolves around women paying for bad mistakes they've made, only this time there's redemption involved. It satisfies our prurient lockup taste for what goes on in prison, combined with our fears of being thrown to the wolves, powerless over our surroundings.
Season Two debuted on June 6, and apparently everyone has already seen it, as evidenced by the myriad Facebook postings from friends: “One more episode to go for OITNB!” The entire week was filled with my female friends binging on it. Imagine if Sex and the City had been released the same way. Entire corridors of major cities would be free from the scourge of women drivers for an entire weekend.
Since Binge-Watching Is the New Black, haters are of course coming out of the circuit boards. “Netflix's horrible binge watching content distribution model,” reads a link on Hot Air. “I don't think binge culture is all that good for us,” says a writer on Huffpo, “and it's kind of insulting to the show to watch it that quickly.” Really? With all the problems in the world, this is the cause you are taking up; to discourage immersion in a quality show? Are you going to tell me how much soda I can buy at once too? I don't need the Ladies Temperance League making sure I parse out my doses. Because I don't really have a binge-watching problem.
I can quit at any time.