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COMMENTARY: Binge-watching television is the media equivalent of eating rice

Wed, Mar 25: Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown share the science behind binge-watching and more on The Morning Show.

“I like rice. Rice is great if you’re really hungry and you want to eat 2,000 of something” — Mitch Hedberg

After much thought and after many millennials derided my quixotic stance against TV streaming services, I finally budgeted the 10 bucks a month and started subscribing to Netflix last year. In the grand scheme of things, an extra tenner on top of the over $300 a month I throw to my TV/Internet/Phone provider seemed like a deal. With Netflix, I was guaranteed that I would never ask the question philosophers have pondered since the Age of Enlightenment, “what’s on?”

I was told about “binge-watching” and how it would change the way I consume television. I was promised a break from the interminable weekly wait to learn the fate of characters, the twists of plot and how the very act of controlling my own consumption would make me feel emancipated.

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READ MORE: Binge-watching your favourite shows is bad for you, study says

What I didn’t tell my millennial friends was that their version of the “Emancipation Proclamation” was about as dated as Abraham Lincoln’s. I’d been doing all that since they were watching the Ninja Turtles eat cartoon pizza.  We just didn’t call it Netflix. We called it a DVD box set.

The late, great comedian Mitch Hedberg made his career in clubs across America and making the odd appearance on late-night talk shows. He passed in 2005, long before Netflix started writing massive cheques for exclusive stand-up comedy specials. Hedberg recorded some comedy CDs but he never got a TV special. That’s a shame because I could really binge-watch some Hedberg on Netflix, where 85 per cent of the stand-up specials are, frankly, terrible.

That’s a problem because Netflix is so overwhelmingly jammed with content, we find ourselves defaulting to the stand-up category every time. We are lazy consumers of television in our house. Why take the stairs when the escalator is right next to them?

WATCH: Mitch Hedberg explains that “an escalator can never break: it can only become stairs.”

 

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We have 300 cable channels, Netflix, three computers and dozens of DVD box sets at home and we’ve binge-watched only two series since we got married: Breaking Bad and The Sopranos. To be fair, I had watched the latter since its debut on HBO in 1999 all the way to that brilliant smash cut to black in the final episode eight years later.  Week after week, season after season … and some seasons took 18-month breaks. It was frustrating. But there was terrific on- and off-line discussion as every episode digested.

My wife hadn’t seen The Sopranos, so out came the box set and we binged through 86 episodes in about two weeks. It was horrible, worse than the long waits in the original broadcast run.

“Where’s Chris’s girlfriend?” Jodi would ask.

“She died last season, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, Tony shot her on the porch”

“No, that was Tony’s cousin. Tony had to do it because Phil was going to kill and torture him.”

“Phil who?”

You get the point.

READ MORE: Real-life Breaking Bad? Former New Mexico chemistry teacher pleads guilty to cooking meth

Breaking Bad was a much better experience as a binge because we caught up to the final half-season in about a week and the live airings started the next night. There was no spoiler risk and I was able to contribute to conversations with the same people who urged me to binge the series in the first place. Do you know those people? Do you do what I do and deliberately avoid any show they urge you to watch just out of spite? That’s why I will never see an episode of Peaky Blinders, Game of Thrones or Making A Murderer. I am so glad I ignored my principles for Walter White. Best. Series. Ever.

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WATCH BELOW: Is binge-watching bad for your health?

Is binge-watching bad for your health?
Is binge-watching bad for your health?

In conclusion, psychologists report that binge-watchers are iconoclastic loners with poor communication skills who present as socially anxious and rarely contribute much to humanity. I read that once but have no time to footnote the study.

Seriously, though, the Law of Diminishing Returns can best be explained as: the second chocolate bar is never as good as the first … unless it’s been a week since you ate a chocolate bar.

“Vending machine snacks are better because they fall. If I buy I candy bar in a store, I will drop it. That way it achieves its full flavour potential.” — Mitch Hedberg

Mike Stafford is co-host of The Morning Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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