Binge-Watching Can Be Hazardous and Lots of Fun

Next Avenue readers' tips on how to safely watch a lot of TV at once

It's 2:15 a.m. I'm sitting in bed, earphones in, staring bleary-eyed at the small screen on my laptop, watching Episode 5 of Season 3 of Breaking Bad

The earphones are for my husband who has gone to bed at a reasonable hour and my kids who don’t need to hear the language that Walter White and company use in the gritty TV series, much less at this hour. It is, after all, a school night for them and a work night for me.

Somehow I have become a binge-watcher, viewing shows one after another like a late-night straggler at an all-you-can-eat TV buffet, feeling digitally hungover the next day, wracked with guilt for all the time wasted following the exploits of a violent, detestable, drug dealer. (Such a great show, isn’t it?)
Of course I know I can quit anytime.

A week later, I sprint through all 12 episodes of Serial, a radio podcast from the makers of This American Life. At least with podcasts you can do something productive like running errands in the car, walking the dog or working.

This binge TV thing seems to be spreading through the household. My husband has been walking around with his phone watching The Wire and True Detective, expressing disgust or shock at the exploits of characters from series I’ve never watched. 

What Happened to Us? 

TV used to be something my husband and I watched together, occasionally, if we had downtime in the evening. We had a few shows recorded on our DVR and would click through until something appealed. We’d watch no more than two at a time and then head for bed or pick up a book. 
Then things changed — maybe for you, too. Online services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video began to release whole seasons of TV shows in one block and ad-free episodes for a dollar or two. The shows have mesmerizing plotlines and characters (often anti-heroes like Frank Underwood in House of Cards) and cliffhangers to keep you coming back or click-clicking late into the night.

Shows you heard about at the office but never watched are now available to watch in full, on leisurely-named services like Hulu and VUDU. Wonder what all that fuss was about Lost or The Sopranos? Find them on Amazon. Tired of hearing about last night’s oh-no-she-didn’t episode of Downton Abbey or Game of Thrones? Head to PBS.org (Downton) or sign up for HBO Go (Thrones).

(MORE: Downton Abbey is in my Blood)

No one decides to be a binge-watcher. You catch one or two episodes, the next one is there waiting for you at no extra cost, and suddenly it’s 11 p.m. and you forgot to call your sister, load the dishwasher or walk the dog. Because this phenomenon is happening to more and more of us, we gathered tips from the binge-watching readers of Next Avenue who paused their remotes long enough to give us some advice on how and what to watch and how not to be consumed by this habit. 


How to Watch

With a plethora of online options including Netfllx, Amazon and iTunes — plus cable and satellite and devices like Roku and Chromecast, there are many ways to watch many episodes in row, some more expensive than others. TV.com lists popular shows and places to watch online. There are also TV marathons to watch for and ye ole DVD box sets. 

What to Watch 

It doesn't surprise us that Next Avenue readers are watching a wonderful variety of top-notch programs. Orange Is the New Black was mentioned most often in our informal users' survey, followed closely by House of Cards and Downton Abbey. Transparent, Luther and Breaking Bad also made the list, but beyond those most popular selections, the shows listed were as varied as Next Avenue readers themselves. For more ideas, Grandparents.com has a good list of programs to watch en masse, and Forbes has a list of the most binge-watched shows from 2014. 

(MORE: 5 Underviewed TV Gems to Watch)

Tips from Readers Who Binge
Next Avenue readers had lots of advice for those who want to indulge. Among the highlights: 
“Pick a night when you don't have to work too early the next morning.” – Lynn 
“Be sure to take breaks. Don't watch more than four hours at a time.” – Gin
“Have good snacks in the house. Turn off your phone.” – Kelly 
“Don't watch anything too negative or violent right before bedtime.” – Theresa
“Combine it with something else, like ironing or holiday gift-wrapping or exercise, but mostly, don't do it —  it's too disruptive to sleep.” – Rebecca
“Forego a real life! [Consider] Depends — the diaper, not "it depends." Recognize that sleep is overrated.” – Kate 
“Potato chips, mineral water and my dog all within reach! I will NOT resort to wearing Depends though; even I have my standards!” – Lynn 
“Send your husband out of the room. He never sits through it all.” – Lois 
What to Watch Out for While Watching
Readers also cautioned that all that TV-watching has a downside. Here are some of the negatives they shared: 
"Felt guilty for wasting so much time, often feel bad for isolating myself.” Sahara
“Headache from too much TV and slight dehydration from not drinking enough water.” – no name given
“On shows I caught up with, I sort of find it frustrating to have to wait to get another episode." – Hilary 
“A letdown when it's over and I have to wait for a new season, or when it's REALLY over.” – Patricia
All good advice. So watch carefully out there, and enjoy yourself. As reader Nancy wrote, “There are probably support groups for this kind of thing, but I have loved every minute of it and don't regret doing it.”

Liza Kaufman Hogan
By Liza Kaufman Hogan
Liza Kaufman Hogan is a freelance writer.@lizakhogan

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