All-You-Can-Eat TV Buffets

Pete Holmes - Google (Not Knowing) (by Pete Holmes)

Some time ago on Conan O’Brien, comedian Pete Holmes performed and did this bit about the emotional dissatisfaction that comes with instant Googling everything. The bit really stuck with me ever since I saw it air, not only because it was LOL (although his bit made me do that), but because it resonated as a really profound and sad truth…

It simply sums up how the entire world operates today. So much of what’s been developed and engineered has us living in a place where we rarely have to wait for anything anymore. Everything is given and fed to us at bullet-speed. And since we’re not forced to wait anymore (except in a doctor’s office, what the fuck’s up with that?), it’s made us shitty at waiting when we actually have to. Anything that makes us wait turns us into shark-eyed, moody, self-entitled trolls. The urgency to attain anything has reached ultra hyper, ultra gluttonous levels (SO HURRY THE FUCK UP WITH MY COMPLICATED STARBUCKS ORDER, WILL YOU!?)

Of all the things that has responded to our unrelenting and bratty “NOW-NOW-NOW!” demand, television—namely Netflix— has rolled right up to us, all smiles, with a NEW order on the tray to cut the wait time to an eighth.

Wait, this wasn’t my order! I didn’t ask for House of Cards, the entire season, all at once!?

—Oh, but wait, wasn’t it, you impatient child doing pee dance?

Er, no. And—this is too much to eat, yo!?

No, it isn’t, and you’ll actually want more afterwards.

Here is another common and semi-related problem: here perfectly exemplifies the split in our brain between what we think we want and what we ACTUALLY want. What we ACTUALLY want is what we’re naturally least cognizant of. What we think we want is “THE NEXT EPISODE! NOW! NOW-NOW-NOW! JUST DUMP IT DIRECTLY INTO MY EYES! AUGH, I’M BLIND NOW, WHATEVER, JUST KEEP GOING—“ What we actually want is considerable space between the episode we just watched and the episode that airs the following Sunday—which, by the way— is awesome because why not start Monday with the fuzzy feels from last night’s episode!? God, in my head, Don Draper is committing the infidelities with me while blowing cigarette smoke in my face and spilling Glenfiddy all over my secretary outfit and it’s making churning out these financial reports just a little bit easier.

—So pair this “what we think we want vs. what we actually want” paradox with “we don’t know how to wait” and you get Netflix listening to our stupid, fucking, UNREASONABLE clamour and then coming up with an equally stupid, fucking, UNREASONABLE answer that goes like, “Mkay, so—we have to give them Orange Is the New Black all at once, all at the same time.”

The result? The fastest TV sugar+blow high you’ve ever felt that pulls you up so quickly like a rollercoaster and drops you from the sky like a bag of sand and it all happens in the unnoticeable blink of an eye—

“YOU FEEL NOTHING”

"THE TIME BETWEEN KNOWING AND NOT KNOWING IS SO BRIEF THAT KNOWING FEELS EXACTLY LIKE NOT KNOWING.”

I flatly tell people that I hardly remember even watching Arrested Development Season 4. I just ate it up like Pacman. All I know is that I watched it, but I seriously don’t know what I watched. All the colours just ran together. It went right through me like a scoop of Metamucil and I absorbed nothing. 

House of Cards?

Same.

Orange Is the New Black?

SAME.

I’M CAUGHT IN A ROOFY LOOP. I WATCH MORE AND MORE AND RETAIN LESS AND LESS AND I DON’T REMEMBER A DAMN THING.

I remember nothing and I virtually know nothing. I’m back to square one where I originally knew nothing.

And this is no comment on the quality of the shows, as if they’re actually crappy and unmemorable and that’s why I don’t remember anything. And it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t focused while watching them. It’s that they passed through my eyes and my brain so quickly because I didn’t allow myself any time to fully process any of it. I watched with the intention of getting through the season as quickly as possible because Netflix allowed me to and because of spoiling pricks*

*(In a world where spoiler alerts a’many ring like the sounds of a Vegas casino, can YOU afford to take twice or thrice the time to watch the season??? I’m sometimes up until 1am on a school-night Sunday watching Game of Thrones just so that I can beat the asshole on Twitter the next morning who goes all Tourette’s and lays out, unfiltered, the entire manifest of people who died in last night’s episode.)

Suggested feeble solutions to prevent this awful-feeling comedown/blank slate effect:

-Mitch Hurwitz (creator of Arrested Development) – “Uh guys, the episodes aren’t meant to be consumed all at once and I’ve made a huge mistake.”

(OH YEAH, MKAY, AND GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA KNOW HOW TO POLICE THEMSELVES, GOTCHA)

The more food that’s dished out in one time, the faster we’ll eat up all of it. We do not know how to savour anything and we can’t be told to. We’re goldfish.

Now, you may argue, “I just binge-watched Game of Thrones and I’m fine, I remember all of it and I enjoyed it.” –oh, I totally hear you, homie. But Game of Thrones has been running for a few seasons now, I guarantee that you started to slow down your eating by the time you got to the end of Season 1 and felt too stuffed to go full throttle with Seasons 2 and 3. You had two more seasons to eat through, son, your brain will force you to pace that shit out because it knows before you when it’s full.

With these new shows though, if Netflix did some portion control and aired one new episode per week like a normal person, I really believe we wouldn’t be experiencing this weird roofy effect after binging and we’d treat these shows as something as more than just a flash in the pan. We’re forced to concentrate on that one single episode at a time. If the show’s good, we talk about that one episode, for one whole week. We talk about it, discuss it, dissect it, peel back its layers, analyze it, poke it, prod it, smell it, etc. even perhaps giving the episode a second go –and this is how a massive archive of meaningful discourse and cultural critique belonging to one show slowly starts building over time and this is how a show is remembered and this is how a show is made relevant.

Let’s say it really is just the quality of the show that determines whether or not we’ll be remembering it and talking about it for years to come and how a show is put out really doesn’t matter. Let’s imagine Breaking Bad being run through the Netflix machine and the episodes of each new season were put out in bulk. Would the viewing experience be noticeably different? If we hyper-consumed Breaking Bad today, would we still treat the show as a pivotal TV-culture phenomenon? Would we still group around the water cooler and thoroughly discuss it at length the way we do now, for days and days and months and months to come? Would we—or COULD we quote or recite it, provided we could even remember what was said in the episode or season? Or would the show just slip through our brains and we’ve already moved on trying to find the next show to consume?

We’ve yet to see sophomore seasons from House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black so the “consequences” of how Netflix dish out new TV today aren’t exactly so noticeable or dire even. It’s too early to tell how all of this will pan out in the long run. But so far, what has seemed like a good idea in theory is a bad idea in practice in respect to the new TV-viewing experience.

K.