When it’s associated with eating or drinking, as it was pre-Netflix, bingeing isn’t regarded as a positive practice. It’s about filling up fast, indulging until the feeling of fullness becomes overwhelming or a stupor sets in. It’s not about pausing to savour the subtleties.
Comparable issues apply to TV viewing when rapid ingestion does carefully crafted shows a disservice. Some of the best drama series of the year – The Crown, Succession (Foxtel/iTunes), Unbelievable (Netflix), Total Control (iview) – benefit from slower consumption. Their episodes vary in tone and pace and deserve to be appreciated individually, as distinct elements of a whole.
Succession builds episodes around set-piece events that take place in a range of locations that only the filthy rich like the Roys can enjoy. Even though they take their luxe surrounds for granted, the settings offer viewers a peek into the lifestyles of the one per cent as the power grabs, alliances and betrayals play out: a company retreat in Hungary; a mansion in the Hamptons; a Survivor-style cruise on the family boat.
Unbelievable is so intent on not being seen as a standard crime drama that it doesn’t even introduce its key detectives (Merritt Wever and Toni Collette), or unite them in their investigation, until the second episode and beyond. It’s also a series that deliberately slows the pace, depicting police procedure in all its boredom and repetition. The detectives are dogged and we’re made to feel the numbing cost of their commitment.
If your viewing priority is galloping through and running episodes together as though a series is one big sausage, such subtleties can be lost. It all becomes a blur. So why rush? It might be understandable with productions in which plot is a key factor and the driving force for a viewer is a compulsion to find out what happens next. But much of the detail that contributes to what can be a rich tapestry – a striking image, a rivetting exchange, a killer line of dialogue – risks being overlooked in the race.
Think of a bittersweet, nuanced comedy such as Frayed (iview). The set-up is deftly introduced and then come the riffs on the central theme. Creator and writer Sarah Kendall’s cleverly crafted comedy begins with Simone (Kendall), formerly Sammy of Newcastle, learning of the death of her husband and then discovering that she’s broke. She’s forced to decamp from her upmarket London surrounds to the working-class home where she grew up, with her two teenagers in tow. Sammy’s past collides with her present and Frayed explores how she negotiates the upheaval. There’s an abundance of sharp observation and some delightfully disarming exchanges. Rip through at speed and you risk missing the magic.
It’s still a thrill to have the power to choose how much to watch, blissfully ad-free, with the SVOD services and iview. But the quantity becomes a question of priorities: what’s more important, the pleasure or the pace? For me, it’s the former every time.