Binge watching gives users control

Two weekends ago, I was stranded in my bed. And with the exception of the occasional jolting cough, I couldn’t really move. Stuck there, after coming down with a nasty cold, I did something I’d never done before. I binged on TV.

Since Breaking Bad ended a few months ago, I’ve gone cold turkey with my TV watching, trying to figure out what show I should watch next. And that weekend when I was sick, I found it.

Scandal. I’m addicted to Scandal. I became so addicted, in fact, that I can tell you the difference between Olivia Pope’s home wine glasses and work wine glasses.

I used to not believe in binge watching, which sounds about as pretentious as admitting to binge watching Scandal because Breaking Bad was no longer an option. I’m here to report that binge watching does exist, and I am a victim. But I’m not the only one.

“When I get caught up with a show, it actually annoys me because I have to wait,” a colleague and fellow Scandal addict told me. “I really wanted to watch Scandal on Sunday when I got back from Thanksgiving break, but I realized they didn’t have an episode because it was Thanksgiving. And I got mad.”

Coincidentally, this happened to me, too. But when Scandal comes back on tonight (and yes, I’ve cleared my calendar), I’ll be thankful for one thing: no more uninvited, intrusive pointers.

On the website I use to watch Scandal, these so-called pointers came in two forms. On some occasions, these messages came as a transparent box on the side of the screen with questions, such as “OMG, can you believe what Mellie just said to Fitz … in front of Olivia!?!” or “Will Cyrus be mad that James … la di da?”

The other messages came in the form of user tweets, presumably from the time that the show aired. They were embedded on top of the screen, usually somewhere in the negative space — you know, that part of the frame that the director or show runner presumably never cared about in the first place. The tweets went something like, “@OliviaPopeMaven101: An affair with Prez. Seeing Daddy. Olivia deserves to break out that red wine” or “@CyrusForPresident: Quinn is annoying.”

Those are obviously not direct quotes (or actual Twitter accounts). But you get the idea.

I’m sure, months ago, these questions and messages were planned with good intentions. I imagine a boardroom meeting with a group of executives sitting around and thinking about the possibilities and how much this would enhance the viewing experience. Well, it doesn’t.

These comments and questions were distracting at best. At worst, they diminished my viewing experience by, well, making it someone else’s viewing experience.

I enjoy reading commentary more than the next person. But when I watch TV — binge watch TV — I want to be sucked in to a vortex where my mind is actively thinking about what might come next and what has just passed. I want to be the person asking the question and providing the snarky commentary.

What I’m saying is that I don’t need a transparent box floating on the side of the screen to prompt me to be outraged that something outrageous has happened. I should just be outraged. And I certainly don’t need a random person’s tweet to encapsulate it for me.

There are shows where this simultaneous engagement with the audience seems appropriate. Sunday news shows, for example, that curate and display tweets providing news reaction or expanding the conversation add value to the content. Even competition shows that ask their audiences to vote or save a member seem to add value.

But providing commentary or questions to prompt my behavior for a fictional series seems to bring no value. If anything, it diminishes the product. When I watch television, I want to be the one doing the watching. Good shows make you think and I want to be the one doing the thinking. So in the spirit of AMC Theatres’ disclaimer before movies, please don’t spoil the TV show by adding your own commentary.


Daniel Rothberg is a junior majoring in political science.  His column “21st Century Fears” ran Thursdays.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielRothberg