No, we are not sharing another scientific report on how binge-watching can be bad for your health. This is actually more of an attempt to create debate on binge-watching and whether it is a wise choice when it comes to enjoying a TV show.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I binge-watched a series was because I became really obsessed with it. Right now I can think of Supernatural, Doctor Who, One Piece, Naruto and more recently, Shameless (I’m actually taking a break in between episodes to write this!). But then there’s also series that I enjoyed a lot, but I chose to watch one episode per week instead (I have a busy TV watching schedule!). Some examples that come to mind would be when I was catching up with iZombie and The 100, or when I watched Queer as Folk.
After a while, I noticed some differences in my viewing experience for the shows I had binge-watched non-stop (we’re talking 7 seasons of Supernatural in about 1 week and a half) and the shows that I had watched 1 episode per week, give or take (Queer a Folk took me about 3-4 months). These were the differences I found:
- I remember things (plot points, things characters say, etc.) better for the series that I have NOT binge-watched
- I formed a more emotional bond and attachment to the characters of the series I have NOT binge-watched
I would like to make a quick remark first. When it comes to 1), I’m not counting series in which I have been in its fandom. I was in the Supernatural fandom for more than a year. I re-watched episodes countless times, read fanfiction, participated in debates… Same thing with One Piece. Even though I had binge-watched both shows the first time, I re-watched them and talked about the events that took place in those seasons countless times so I actually remembered things pretty well. It can’t really be compared with Doctor Who and Naruto. These are both series that I binge-watched and absolutely loved, but I haven’t watched for a second time and I don’t really consider myself an active member of the fandoms. Doctor Who is a long, veeery long series with many elements to remember (planets, alien species, time-wimey events, different personalities of each Doctor…). And Naruto has over 600 episodes. After having binge-watched both series in 2012 and 2014 respectively, I can only remember some of the most current events in the plot and I constantly have to consult things in their Wikis when reviewing them.
However, for the series I did not binge-watch, like Queer as Folk or Orphan Black, I find myself remembering events much more easily. This could have an easy explanation: considering that I only had one episode to watch per week, I focused all my attention on the plot events of that one episode and had a whole week to think about it and ‘digest’ what had happened. This meant that the plot events that occurred in that episode stayed with me much longer, making them easier to remember over time. On the other hand, I find myself struggling to remember the order of events of many things that happened in Naruto and Doctor Who because, having watched both in about 2 weeks, it’s all a bit of a blur.
As per the emotional bond mentioned in 2), and once again, excluding the series in which I have been part of the fandoms, I found myself becoming way more attached to the characters from the series I had not binge-watched. Why? Simple: because I spent more time with them. Excluding on-going series (after all, I have been watching Doctor Who as it aired for the past 3 seasons), I noticed differences with the shows that were already over. For example, I noticed differences between F.R.I.E.N.D.S (which I had binge-watched) and Queer as Folk (which I watched weekly). Of course I will always remember and love the cast of F.R.I.E.N.D.S (who doesn’t?), but I felt much more sad when I finished Queer as Folk after 4 months of dedicating my Monday nights to Brian and the gang.
I guess what I mean to say is that watching something periodically can have some pros over binge-watching (besides the health aspect of it). It’s only natural that you would form even stronger bonds with something you love if you actually got to spend more time with it than if it all happened quickly. And it’s also logical that you would find it easier to remember aspects from something you have learned over the weeks than from getting an information dump in a short period of time.
The big question now is: can you even avoid binge-watching when you are REALLY obsessed? I’m not suggesting everyone should stop binge-watching, after all this is almost a fandom practice and something that platforms like Netflix have made really easy. And I would be lying if I said that after posting this article I’m not going back to Shameless.
However, my advice (and something that I have been practicing lately) is that next time you encounter a series that you like a lot, but are not obsessed with, try watching it 1 or 2 episodes per week, instead of one season per day. Even if you have all the time in the world! Trust me, you’ll thank me with time.