Binge Culture Ruins What Makes TV Special

Hello Interwebs! These “warm takes” are all about stirring up debate but I think I’m gonna catch some extra flak for this one. I assume I’m in the minority here nowadays, though I’d appreciate you hearing me out. Read ahead to learn why I believe “Binge Culture” is ruining TV.

For those not well-versed in internet slang: binging is the practice of watching TV series as fast as humanly possible. For my purposes, I define “binge culture” as society’s obsession with orchestrating content designed to be consumed without delay. I believe it was Netflix that popularized this practice, and they’re still the primary offender. I’m going to be complaining about them and some of their shows a lot.

Have you ever heard the term “13 hour movie”? Over the years, I’ve heard this phrase oft repeated in connection to Netflix original programming. The intent is clear: we’re supposed to watch a series as if it was an extremely long film (and preferably all at once). As a bonus, the phrase appears secretly ashamed of its content really being TV (playing into traditional film elitism). In the 13-hour model, there’s often one main story inside a self-contained season, and big stakes will keep us invested til the end.

The idea of a TV series effectively being a 13-hour movie was cool… at first. In fact, I’d say the idea was revolutionary in the entertainment world! But this model has become the standard for “prestige” TV, and that’s really bad. Don’t get me wrong: the system works sometimes; but it’s used far too much, and it bullies TV into being something its not (namely– a movie). 


Heavily Serialized Formats Ruin Accessibility

My first issue is one of accessibility. TV’s traditional draw is its episodic nature. Whether the show was must-watch or total trash, you could usually tune in any week and understand the basic setup. Almost every episode was self-contained and enjoyable as a piece of bite-sized entertainment. Even shows with more long-term stories were easy enough to follow because the big picture was only a bonus for long-time viewers.

Now, more and more, every episode of every show is one giant puzzle piece in service of a main idea. Every episode builds upon the last to create a unit. And if you’re already invested in a show, that’s great, but it really really sucks if you WANT to start a new series. Oftentimes, you can’t even begin a show with its latest season and understand what’s happening! You need to watch the whole show for context. People are busy and don’t always have the time to see an entire series from beginning to end. The longer a show continues, the more intimidating it gets to start if you have to see EVERYTHING.

How casual TV fans feel about serialized shows…

Let’s compare Stranger Things to The X-Files (that’s the original show this time, and not TPM’s X. Files). They’re two shows about government conspiracies and weird monsters but their executions are vastly different. Stranger Things has a lot of information you need to know in a year (and between years): government tests, stuff about the upside-down, monsters, character relationships, etc. And that information is constantly evolving/ changing from episode to episode. If you watch one episode and skip the next before watching another, you’d probably be lost. 

The X. Files, however, was famous for balancing its overarching government conspiracy plotline with “monster-of-the-week” episodes (which were honestly the more entertaining ones). All you need to know to watch that show: two FBI agents investigate freaky stuff and the government is sketchy. With that in mind, you can see almost any episode in any order and get a solid self-contained story each time. The show is better if you watch it in order, but it’s still comprehensible if you’ve never seen an episode.

The 13-hour movie mode of thinking works great if your show only runs for one year (in which case, its premise was really only good as a mini-series anyway). If the show goes on a long time, however, it ought to be more accessible to casual viewers. I feel fanbases grow more organically when they can join at any time without doing homework.

Predictable/ Formulaic Structure Ruins Audience Investment

If any TV/ streaming service executives are reading this, I beg you: PLEASE stop making epic season-long arcs. I, for one, am tired of it! High stakes are good; crazy culminations are fun and memorable; and one major plot per season helps keep audiences focused. But every. single. season of every show seems to do this now. The formula has become predictable and, when you watch as much TV as I have, the effect dwindles every year.

The plot usually goes something like this: a new threat emerges to threaten the status quo of our heroes; over the season, the threat slowly creeps into their lives, dismantling it slowly; the heroes piece everything together late into the story and try to stop it; there’s an epic confrontation with dramatic music, tearful sacrifices and maybe even some character deaths; and, ultimately, the next season does the exact same thing but even bigger.

Epic confrontations and giant shifts in the status quo used to mean something on TV. Television was once about maintaining the “ordinary world” with a built-in sense of consistency. Characters grew and changed, and dramatic things happened but not every season had “event” stories, and that was OK. The rarity of gigantic moments is what made them events in the first place.

Off the top of my head– Doctor Who does this to a ridiculous degree. That show has contrived so many epic series finales that I just don’t care about them anymore. I can only see the universe come close to destruction so many times before the stakes stop feeling real. We know The Doctor can overcome all kinds of insurmountable odds. There’s no challenge anymore.

Contrast this to Classic Doctor Who. Sure, there’s a lot of trash in that old show but, when it wanted to tell an epic story, the stakes felt real. Serials like The War Games and Genesis of the Daleks provided genuine no-win scenarios which The Doctor couldn’t think their way out of. There were lasting consequences. The new series only cares about how many thousands of Daleks can invade all of time and space at once, or whatever (and they’re never THAT hard to defeat). I still like the show, but legitimate suspense is in short supply.

There was more tension between those two wires than in most of the modern series (if you know, you know)

I’ve been complaining a lot about the season finales, but I’m annoyed with the seasons too. I’m sure you’ve never questioned why movies aren’t 13 hours. They’d be BORING. Yet so many series insist on dragging one big plot over 13 episodes. I believe gradual build-up is good for excitement, and season-long arcs have potential; yet when that structure is the go-to, many shows write themselves into a corner.

As great as 13-hour stories can be, they have an equal potential to be misguided. Have you ever watched a show (probably on Netflix) that had a great first couple episodes and a fantastic ending, yet seemed to drag in the middle? I sure have. And that’s because writers don’t know what to do with that part of the narrative. They can tell a compelling story in 5-6 hours, and maybe even a few more, but 13 hours is far too long for any single story (unless there’s some stand-alone episodes in the middle).

SIDE NOTE: It pisses me off when people complain 3-4 hour films are too long, then binge an entire season of TV in one day…

Netflix’s Jessica Jones is a good example of a show I loved at the start only to lose interest later. The first season told a complex story and flowed pretty well; but the next few seasons were trapped into the same format and couldn’t maintain the same level of quality. What worked the first time was not sustainable long term. Personally, that’s because there weren’t enough stand-alone episodes for JJ to fall back on. Each year focused on its primary stories to the detriment of one-off world-building tales. 

Me watching most of JJ seasons 2 and 3

My main point: when shows with the “13-hour movie” model are doing well, people love them; but once those shows put out a bad or mediocre season, they seem to lose a lot of momentum. If series only offer one major story to see per year, and said story is sub-par, there’s little incentive for audiences to invest in an entire season. Content needs to be diversified.

I wouldn’t call a show like the CW’s Supergirl a masterpiece (another superhero-centered series) but it’s infinitely more entertaining in the long-term than Jessica Jones because of its varied conflicts/ plotlines each seasonIf I didn’t like Supergirl‘s main plot of the year, I could always count on the dozen other episodes to pick up the slack. Even the most passionate fans will eventually lose interest in a show which consistently aims for a singular point, focuses all its efforts, and misses the mark most years. 

Dropping Seasons All at Once Ruins The Fun

Now, this one you might have heard before… I’m still gonna cover it. I don’t like when TV series release every episode at once. Though I appreciate the convenience of getting through a series at leisure (or all at once), I find that my experience is always better with a weekly release schedule.

Week-to-week TV builds anticipation for future episodes. What ever happened to the good-old-fashioned cliffhanger? Sure, you might experience some of those when binging a show, but the option of resolving them straight away dampens the effect. Back when you had to wait a whole 7 days for a new series installment, you could analyze, debate and otherwise savor episodes as individual pieces of entertainment.

Lately people get through shows so fast they don’t often have the time to really consider the point/ quality of each episode before the next one. I tend to feel deeper relationships with shows I spent more time watching. The quicker I get through a series the sooner I forget it and move on. The ritual of carving out time for scheduled programming adds importance to the subject and allows me to form a long-term connection with it. The show becomes a regular part of my life for a year or longer, and often grows into a strange sort of symbiotic bond.

SIDE NOTE: I know that sounds weird to say, but that’s how I see it: a show can’t survive without its audience, and audiences have a hard time letting go of their favourite shows.

What a healthy symbiotic relationship looks like

From a more social perspective, scheduled programming allows you to talk with people and share a common interest. I can’t count the number of times my friends and I want to discuss TV but quickly change the subject because we’re not all “together” on the same programs (I might have seen the entirety of a new season when they haven’t seen a single episode yet). Releasing seasons all at once stifles conversation around a show because everyone’s got fingers in their ears trying to avoid spoilers. On the other hand, a weekly release schedule maintains discussion around TV for longer because audiences are on equal footing.

Two major parts of TV’s appeal were the weekly discussions and anticipation. Binge Culture has ruined both those things at once by releasing seasons all at once. Some people, like me, choose to get through shows slowly anyway but many don’t. 

A few positive notes: I applaud TV’s shift from 24 episodes/ season to the new standard of 13. Old-style TV had far too much filler. I already noted how much I appreciate a good stand-alone adventure, but the filler I’m referring to was frequently placed to pad the episode count, which is bad…

Also, there’s a lot of “prestige” shows I’m glad to say don’t follow the “13-hour movie” format. Star Trek: Discovery has finally found its footing this year by switching to more episodic adventures. Another example is Better Call Saul (one of my all-time favourites), which has always been entertaining, brilliant, AND tells riveting stories from week to week. There can be balance.


This has been my “warm take” on binge culture. As I said up top: I’ve got a healthy suspicion my opinions around this matter are unpopular. As always, I encourage debate. Of course it’s better to have a variety of content and release strategies in the world. The world’s made up of all kinds and everybody watches their TV differently. In the end, I’m happy to watch any quality show! There’s just a format and style I prefer…

What’s the last show you binge-watched? Do you prefer the old style of TV or the more modern format? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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