In the days before DVD/VHS, Netflix and endless online options — back when we had a little sanity left — TV binge watching was confined to weekend basic cable marathons. If you wanted to see all the episodes of a particular show in sequence, this was your sole option. Only the most dedicated souls braved those 24- and 48-hour endurance trials.
I tried it once, years ago, with David Lynch's serial freakout Twin Peaks. Like an idiot I went in without a game plan or any training regimen at all. Amateur move. By Episode 15, "Drive with a Dead Girl," I'd lost feeling below the waist and hadn't blinked in eight hours.
Thanks to DVRs, DVD series collections and Netflix's roster of quality on-demand shows (Arrested Development, Breaking Bad), we have a lot more control over when and what we watch. "Time shifting" is what the media pros call it. For many busy adults, controlled binge watching has become the preferred method of assimilating all the great TV out there.
In fact, I haven't watched a TV series during original broadcast since ABC's Lost wrapped up in 2010. That show left a bad taste when, after four seasons of twisty intrigue, the writers ran out of ideas and started resolving everything with gunfights. Remember when there was exactly one gun on that island, and it was a commodity, and Sawyer used it to shoot that polar bear?
But I digress. I'm here to recommend two recent binge-watching opportunities and another big one on the horizon.
NBC's impossibly reliable comedy 30 Rock wrapped up with its series finale late last month. It was a rather underwhelming end to the series, but it stayed true to creator Tina Fey's singular comic vision. The Season 7 DVD collection won't arrive until March, but meanwhile you can see all previous episodes from seasons one through six by way of Netflix's online video streaming.
If you have a Netflix subscription plan, you can access these titles online across multiple platforms. I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that I've watched 30 Rock back episodes by way of laptop, PlayStation 3, iPad and iPhone. I'm a little obsessed by the writing on that show — 30 Rock has become more curriculum than entertainment for me.
Meanwhile, Season One of HBO's terrific new comedy/drama Enlightened was issued to DVD and Blu-ray a few weeks back. Another unique creative vision — each episode is written solely by series creator Mike White — Enlightened stars Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe, an executive coming off a nervous breakdown and trying to find her higher self.
Aren't we all? Enlightened gets better with each episode and features some of TV's most compelling storytelling and portraiture. Dern is endlessly fascinating — she's already won a Golden Globe for best actress — and the supporting characters are equally well-drawn.
You may want to clear your binge-watching slate quickly, though, because next week brings the year's most potentially dangerous time sink: Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season.
Pound-for-pound, Game of Thrones is probably the best and most ambitious show on television right now. Based on the ginormous high fantasy novels of George R. R. Martin, the show is epic in every sense of the word, and just hopelessly addictive. Not only did I devour the first season DVD set in a single weekend last year, I impulsively bought the first novel in the series as an e-book, and have been slogging through the series, on and off, for 11 months now. (Total pages in the series so far: 4,197).
The trick to managing all this controlled TV binge watching? You have to stop watching TV. Outside of baseball games, I rarely see television programs when they're actually, you know, broadcast. I haven't seen a commercial in months. This plays havoc with network revenue models, I suspect, but hey — not my problem.
Meanwhile, I have to start training for this Game of Thrones event. Couch sprints, remote control reps, this sort of thing. Marathoning isn't easy, but it's so rewarding, I find. You just gotta stay in shape.
New This Week:
Daniel Craig returns as 007 in last fall's blockbuster and the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall. The DVD/Blu-ray combo packed is stuffed with bonus materials — 14 featurettes on aspects of the film (the villains, the locations, the title sequence) plus two commentary tracks and footage from the London premiere.
The documentary film Bully, concerning school bullying in the U.S., got a limited release in theaters last fall after a dustup with the MPAA over its initial R rating. The language was toned down and the film was granted a PG-13 rating.
Helen Hunt and John Hawkes star in The Sessions, about a paralyzed poet who hires a sex surrogate to lose his virginity.
Emma Watson headlines the coming-of-age story The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Aging jewel thief Frank Langella teams with a domestic helper droid in the sly indie Robot & Frank.
Wu Tang alpha creative RZA makes his directorial debut in the martial arts actioner The Man with the Iron Fists.
Plus: The horror sequel Silent Hill: Revelation, the Belgian drama The Kid with a Bike, and still more TV-on-DVD collections from Gossip Girl, Matlock, Nurse Jackie, Storage Wars and Weeds.