Television: A binge watcher’s medium

THE PHENOMENON of binge watching is fascinating to me. I know there are times that I will sit down and decide I don’t have the time to watch a two hour film but I will then end up watching four or five hours of television. The advent of Netflix has made this even more available. I know people who are still now just starting Breaking Bad and burning through it in fortnights. I envy them for getting to experience these things for the first time.  I still occasionally load up my Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace or Peter Serafinowicz Show DVDs and enjoy three hours of premium grade comedy. It’s one of the advantages of the modern age that we can re-purpose and find new audiences for oddities and popular programmes gone by. This article features some of our recommendations for shows to enjoy over those long summer months when you have nothing better to do and so much time to do it.

Gossip Girl

by Sarah Thornhill

Gossip Girl - Season 1 Cast

The young and fresh Season 1 cast of Gossip Girl.

Gossip Girl is about ‘the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite’ and the mysterious rumour mill surrounding the eponymous figure. It was first aired when I was in the early years of secondary school, but it didn’t appeal to me. And the series came to a close last year – not that I was aware of this at the time or how big it was. I only started watching it when my friend made me a section on her Netflix account. I had nothing else better to do and thought if it was terrible I didn’t have to watch another episode. Instead, I ended up watching six years of GG in about three weeks.

To me, Gossip Girl was an American version of Skins. Except, everyone featured in GG is rolling in wealth. I mean to the point where some of them are dating princes or, going off and buying hotels, have limo drivers to take them to school, only dress in high-fashion designer labels, turn their wardrobes into museums, and are pictured in magazines daily. Their lives are the epitome of the American Dream. 

The show incredibly cleverly directed, keeping you in constant suspense. You always want to know what is going to happen next. You begin to become involved in these people and their relationships. The only thing that keeps you from finding their actions to be without redemption is that they do it out of love. Love for their eventual other half. Most of the nasty things they do is only to protect them. It gives you hope that they will end up together and that their relationship can stand the test of time – and the ever elusive Gossip Girl

Battlestar Galactica

by Andrew Monk

The Re-Imagining of Battlestar Galactica has to be one of my favourite TV series of all time. The science-fiction, post-apocalyptic setting where humanity is wiped out in a robot uprising is just one reason why this is a great show to binge watch. Like many popular shows currently airing like The Walking Dead, what is shown is a survival story which certainly makes for a compelling viewing. Portlandia made a sketch about how the show is so addictive, you can actually lose weeks to it. 

The stakes created could not be higher, with the last 50,000 humans in the galaxy fleeing from the very robots they created with limited resources. This, indeed, makes the sub-plots and arcs concerning the characters compelling and certainly raise both political and philosophical questions. This, in particular, is emphasised in the relationship between the civilian government led by President Laura Roslin (Mary McDowell) and the military led by Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) which remains a key part of the ongoing story which winds season to season.

These issues raised come unsurprising, considering the shows creator Ronald D. Moore is best known for contributing to many parts of the Star Trek franchise, including the highly praised film First Contact, which in cases do similar things. This may not seem binge-worthy but from episode to episode the suspense is built and combined with Bear McCreary’s score for the opening credits preview, hours can easily be lost. 

American Horror Story

by Sam Halford

American Horror Story: Coven

On writing this segment I found myself asking, ‘what makes a good series to binge on?’ We all probably have our own idea on what makes a good series in general, but to me, a series to binge on is a very different criteria. For example, the original British TV show House of Cards was a brilliant series; it highlighted the problems in British politics, gave the audience an intriguing lead character, and had strong set-up with talented actors… However, it was not a television series I could see myself staying in bed for two days with takeout and a strong sense of wasting my life. The American remake with Kevin Spacey’s Southern American accent on the other hand? Most certainly. To me, the secret is finding a television series that has everything: entertainment, talent (in front of and behind the camera) but most of all, a point.

This is where I believe that American Horror Story ticks all the boxes. Each season centres around a different horror trope. The first season is a haunted house, followed by an insane asylum and the third, a witches’ coven.  The cast returns each season as different characters, which is strange when they have such polar opposite character traits between seasons, yet it works surprisingly well. The most enjoyable part is how the directors segue these different genres in new and exciting ways that we would never have imagined. Are the series scary? Not to some, but certainly enjoyable on the whole.  The series is fun to watch and becomes quite immersive, perfect to find a reason to not leave your bed for the whole weekend (like you needed one).

Metalocalypse

Jay Appleseed

As a network, Adult Swim is built for the TV binge fiend, with shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Robot Chicken, and The Venture Bros; all hilariously and horrendously over the top yet continuously fresh, like a well-made salad of nothing but meat. The beefy cherry on top of that for me would have to be Metalocalypse. It’s about five guys, that form the band called Dethklok, and their manager. They also happen to be the biggest death metal band in the world. Wars are started over concert venues, entire economies rely on album releases, there are even conspiracies and ancient prophecies surrounding them, but the band themselves? Collective mental age of 12.

The humour is wonderfully pitch-black, with nothing held back. That’s both a recommendation and a warning: there is nothing the show considers sacred ground. From dead baby jokes to actual dead babies, anyone who appreciates the finer points of Cards Against Humanity will find themselves at home amongst all the blood. There are even little Easter eggs for the metal fans out there.

The music helps, too. It’s not every day a fictional death metal band hits the Billboard 100, the first death metal band to do so. The riffs are wonderfully arranged, with equal parts ferocity and finesse. Expect lyrical genius, too. There’s a song about the mundane brutality of the American workplace, entitled “Briefcase Full of Guts”.

24

by Joe Fairweather

24s7ep14

In which Jack Bauer likes to point guns. A lot.

24 is an American television drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer – an agent of the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit. Every season terrorists inexplicably get hold of a flesh eating virus, nuclear bomb or some other world-threatening macguffin. The show attempts to show how Jack Bauer and CTU save the world in real time with each episode showing an hour of the day, delivering 24 ‘hour’ long episodes to a season (each episode is about 42 minutes long thanks to ridiculous American advertising lengths).

What makes this show so fantastic to binge on is how it is paced. Thanks to the structure, each episode immediately continues on from the one previous, with no time lost in-between, so the drama and the overall story never misses a beat. Each episode has, without fail, a crazy twist or action sequence that keeps the show interesting. 

On the flip-side, however, due to its length, the episodes can vary wildly in quality. As a general rule, the less time Jack Bauer is on screen, the worse the episode. Especially since several of the sub-plots can be very boring or just plain grating. Also 24 episodes is a hell of a lot of television to watch and when you combine that with a twist in almost every episode, it is very easy to burn out about half way through. I still think it is a must watch. It is ridiculous to the point of hilarity, well-acted overall and utterly compelling.

(Side note: Metalocalypse is available to buy from most retailers. Gossip Girl, 24, Battlestar Galactica and American Horror Story are available to stream on Netflix).