Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Breaking Bad is Ruining My Life (spoiler-free)

Some years back, I watched the first two seasons of Weeds. They were amazing. [I won't get into it here, but I was only able to watch about half of season 3 before the show turned straight rediculous.] What I find interesting is why Weeds was (for two seasons) such a successful piece of entertainment.

It's important to point out that I had borrowed the entire first two seasons on DVD. This has just as much--or more--to do with my enjoyment of Weeds than almost anything else. Having the whole box-set works amazingly well to complement Weeds' specific formula. Weeds episodes had three great things: 1) They began and ended with drama while the middle of the episodes were filled with a comedic creme-filling 2) They were short, and 3) the drama at the end wasn't necessarily the kind that made you understand things better OR raised a million questions... rather it was the compelling kind which made you singularly focused on one thing and one thing only--watching the next episode, immediately.

Over the course of one weekend, I cancelled all my plans and funnelled two seasons into my cortex quicker than snacking on a box of munchkins [that's what Ray Bolger said]. Had the show not turned to shit, I would have cashed in all the sick-days I needed to finish the series. It was a really modern experience, because what I was enjoying weren't the actual episodes of the show (which were, of course, what I was watching). I was enjoying the moments between the end of one and the immediate gratification of starting the next one. It was my first time experiencing binge-style consumption of television programming. Since binge-style is how I consume all things, it was a naturally good fit.

In the bigger picture, you could also say I was enjoying Weeds Season 1 and Weeds Season 2. To compare it to college classes, I don't remember very many individual afternoons being particularly gratifying, but there are whole semesters that I loved. Weeds was being taken in whole seasons as a singular experience. To be fair, one of the reasons this was new for me is because I generally watch comedies, as opposed to dramas. When a pure comedy show is over, you only want to watch another one for as long as you feel like sitting around. If it's daytime, you often have plans. If it's night, you can only watch like four hours of TV before you fall asleep. With short story-style dramas like Law and Order or--when it was good--House, the same general principle applies. Your desire to watch another one is usually rooted in what you're doing next and how much you like the show IN GENERAL.

But Weeds wasn't a television show, it was an addiction. Later on, they started giving me the stepped-on stuff, and I couldn't sustain my mellow. Since then, I've only watched shows that are available in large blocks on Netflix. This is half because I don't have cable, and half because it's the best way to consume. I got up to the end of season four of Mad Men. Not bad, but it has qualities of watching a painting, as opposed to the volatility of Breaking Bad. And alas, I've hit my snag.

I finished the first four seasons of Breaking Bad quickly, but I also paced myself just a tiny tad, because as each season got better, I knew I wasn't going to experience art or entertainment as good as the initial unraveling of Breaking Bad again... maybe ever. I held myself to about three a day, during the mid-seasons. (Of course, near the premiers and finale's, that number went up, cuz I aint some kinda buddhist monk.) It was still a binge in the big picture, and one that I've not yet recovered from.

Now that the fifth season is on, I've been making the mistake of going to friends' houses who have cable to watch it every Sunday. Once a week. I don't know why I thought I could live with that kind of moderation. Imagine being an alcoholic and then saying, "I'm going to have one scotch per week." It would be asinine, because one scotch doesn't mean anything. You'd be way better just having none. All it does is get that taste in your mouth, but you can't actually get your fix. Because your fix is the NEXT episode. Watching Breaking Bad after I've been doing yard-work or going to the beach doesn't mean anything to me. Okay, I exaggerate, it means a little because the show is so good. But the only time an episode of Breaking Bad truly fulfills it's potential is when I just saw the previous episode.

I should have waited till the weekend of the 8th episode and mainlined the previous seven on demand or torrent. I basically wasted the whole season. Which is really bad, because this fifth season is already the best season yet, easily. (This isn't even a point of contention, really it's simple math. The more time we've already spent with these characters, the easier it becomes to develop them further. What used to take maybe a few episodes or a half episode of character buildup can now be equaled with 30 seconds of Walt whistling while he works. A sideways glance from your girlfriend carries more information than a sideways glance from a stranger, simply because you know her better. The sheer availability of time to further plot development while simultaneously getting as much or more character development as always means you're literally getting more show per hour. Which is the only way Breaking Bad finds room for improvement.)

Despite the fact that I know the episodes are better--because I'm experiencing in a given episode the same amount of emotional contractions that I previously experienced in two episodes--I'm still not enjoying them to the fullest. Which is better: one scotch a day for two weeks, or 9 scotches over a weekend whenever you want them?

Need a better analogy?

What's a better prize, winning $1 every day for a year? Or simply winning $250? Quantity becomes a type of quality, and if there's only one better example that dollar bills--or perhaps maybe T-cells--it's Breaking Bad episodes.

What about spoilers, you say? How can I successfully navigate a social-media drenched landscape for 8 weeks next summer and not "over-hear" a conversation that could cause certain episodes to lose some of their quality for me? Honestly, if this summer was an example, the terms "Magnets, Bitch!" and "Say my name!" aren't spoilers, because I have no clue what they mean unless I saw the episode.

But still, it is a concern.

Can I shut off WiFi for 2 months? Spend the summer in a cabin? It will probably be worth it, if the two months ends with an 8-episode binge of the best episodes and finale of the best television show ever.

Speaking of best television show. I'm pleased to say that I haven't done The Wire yet. I don't know what I'm waiting for, but general wisdom says that it's the last show in Breaking Bad's stratosphere, which means I'm saving it for when I want to be done enjoying TV this good.

2 comments:

leo said...

"What's a better prize, winning $1 every day for a year? Or simply winning $250?"

Winning $ 365 would be a little better. And, you know, more appropriate for that compariosn. (366 $ this year)

But for real... I dunno, watching season 2 all at once nearly made me quit (so many Walt and Jesse bickering scenes, which needed to be spread out) but then watching season 3 mostly all at once was awesome. Hard to say if I agree with you.

And yes, once you start watching The Wire, you'll be glad to do it all at once, you'll disappear for several weeks.

Dr. Carey said...

Leo, when you take a lump sum instead of aggregate payout, you get a little less money than the full amount, because it's worth more to access the cash all at once instead of over time. This goes for either the lottery or simply paying a mortgage. I chose $250 to illustrate that, even winning a hundred bucks less is more enticing if you get it all at once. This is probably more true for media than money, because we get into moods and phases... As opposed to currency, cuz we're always "in" the "money era" of our lives..