Sometimes I think about life in terms of before-Netflix and after-Netflix. I am using Netflix colloquially here to mean some sort of on demand TV show screening service, really any will do. Blockbuster, although based around a similar concept, really just didn't provide the life change that I think Netflix did, mainly because a movie lasts around two hours and then you're done and you can go to bed.
I remember when I was avoiding dealing with everything in my life, not in school despite pretending to be and wasting everyone's time, Hulu was a revelation for me. It was incredible how much time could be occupied by watching season after season of TV shows on Hulu. It wasn't like flipping aimlessly through daytime talk shows or watching a CSI marathon on Spike; you could watch whatever you wanted at your leisure. And for me, it was a fucking disaster.
The problem with TV shows is that they aim to really suck you in. In the traditional format of weekly episodes this was great, since you would feel compelled to stick to your TV show schedule and tune in every week, even if that meant embarrassing your daughter in front of her math teacher with whom she was having a conversation with just because it was 9 o'fucking-clock and you had reminded her that The West Wing was on tonight and not to make you miss the opening credits (no joke, my dad did this). It was fun too, anticipating the next episode and spending summers speculating about how cliffhangers from the season finale would affect the characters and story.
Now, this same ability to suck you in is what leads so many of us to waste entire days in bed, hitting "Next Episode" on our iPads and laptops, feeling like we accomplished something because we finally finished Breaking Bad even though, in reality, we did absolutely nothing all day but lay in bed. It seems like we did something - we watched Walter White do lots of things including go through chemotherapy and then get cancer again and even grow his hair back, we are able to post statuses informing the masses we just watched the finale and OMG was it good, we can blog about how the finale made us feel and finally join in the discussions we have been carefully avoiding fearing spoilers - but we really just laid in bed. After you watch Breaking Bad, what have you really done? It was a great show, don't get me wrong, but what did I get out of the hours upon hours of watching this show? I joined the vast club of people who watched and am now able to discuss it with others and understand the plethora of Los Pollos Hermanos jokes flying around work, undeniably giving me a sense of belonging in a club with people who I would otherwise have very little to say to. Beyond that, not a whole lot. Same goes for the Sopranos, it was like I invested so much time into these characters and spent so many hours with them and then in a split second, it was all gone. They had gone through so many of life's adventures while I sat there watching along, essentially replacing my desires to seek out adventures of my own. For all the things they learned from their experiences, thus giving their mistakes and wasted time meaning, I didn't learn a damn thing.
I wonder if the people who dedicate their lives to blogging about TV shows somehow manage to get more out of them than me. Personally I hate movies, but I certainly know a lot of people who claim their lives have been changed by them, and for some reason I don't have trouble believing that. Why is it more believable to me that a two hour film can be life changing while a collective 100 hour TV series can't? I would imagine it has to do with the pacing, since a long TV series must necessarily move more slowly therefore necessitating the promotion of minor subplots to major importance and distracting the viewer from the overall message with episodes, and sometimes even whole seasons, entirely unrelated to that message.
Now I just mainly wonder what people did on Saturdays during the BN (Before Netflix) era. I find it difficult to fill up my day when I am not in the middle of a TV series binge, so I can't imagine what it was like for those who didn't even have the myriad distraction options I have at my fingertips these days. Are we lazier, or are we just less willing to face things in our lives and more desperate to consume anything that will distract us from everything else? I know they say my generation is the first that will not do better than their parents, job prospects are incredibly bleak even for college graduates, and the wealth gap is ever widening. Maybe Breaking Bad helps us all keep our minds off of that in the same way that House, MD kept my mind off of my obvious failures in school and inability to cope with grief. The cults of TV show obsessives are growing ever larger, but maybe it's just because a lot more of us have shit that we just don't want to deal with than before.