Binging Bad

Oh hey, Star Trek, a thing that two years ago I generally regarded as ‘just some nerd show I have no interest in’ that I’ve now realised I have enough of a familiarity with to be able to meaningfully research and have opinions on, that’s wild. It seems that every few months, usually when something leaves me to my own devices while work demands a lot of attention on grinding information like a research paper or marking, I will wind up using my second monitor to cannonball a television series, which has sometimes been an entire Star Trek and has sometimes been Longmire, and the show doesn’t have to be good as much as it has to be not intolerable. I suppose that sounds like an indictment of Star Trek but really it’s worth knowing that at its worst, it was never as bad as Longmire, so there’s something to be proud of, able to consistently stand above an absolutely shit series that leads with a Katie Sackhoff poledance.

The series of this season was Deep Space Nine, which I watched over the course of a few months, as my picture-in-picture soundscape filler, and I celebrated this watch by turning as many episodes as I could find one into a funny image macro that you could decipher with the context of me, as a person, informing the episode of Deep Space Nine assuming you’d already seen it, creating the impression of yourself and myself as an ingroup that shared that common experience, aka ‘memes.’

One thing that the binge generation has done for a lot of television programs is that there’s a surprising number of episodic TV shows where it was easy to lose track of the sequence of episodes unless you were a hardcore nerd with a DVD stacker, and therefore get weird impressions of how ‘close together’ some things were. There’s a sort of phantom memory that can crop up with long-running shows, like how in M*A*S*H some people may forget there ever was a character called Spearchucker.

When you view a large text with its own episodes as context, when performances that were normally week to week are instead side by side, you can get some really interesting, weird, phantom effects. If you watch all of The Simpsons in one string of episodes, the recurrent themes become obvious and the series stops being about a series going back, seven years or so later, to re-do stories with new information and instead becomes about showing an endless, toiling, unstopping cycle of awfulness, and strangely, becomes a series about how the author (in the Barthes sense) kind of hates Lisa. She’s always being shown told some hopeful story of ‘tomorrow will be better’ only for the status quo to reset hard and the next time she’s focal, it’s the same basic problem.

Deep Space 9 is not a series that benefits from being watched all in a rush, and it absolutely does not benefit from having its beloved multi-part sequences of episodes (a couple of 6 parters and one nine parter finale) treated as single, long, cannonballed experiences from someone with a notepad in hand.

Similarly, I watched all of Breaking Bad in a few days once I had a service that offered it, and when you do that, the series becomes fascinatingly blatant. If you watch it this way it seems extremely hard to me to ever see the good in Walter – there’s no break or pause in his behaviour, no time to speculate, because you know it’s coming, you know it’s right there. Breaking Bad was a media event, and it was a big deal that each week, people would gather and talk about where they imagined the story was going, or what something about the story meant. This was a big enough deal that when Breaking Bad was airing, there was a channel package advertising itself as having the show on ‘at the same time as America’ meaning you could deal with the internet without worrying about spoilers. The shared cultural moment of suspending each episode for a week and then taking time to process it changes the character of the show.

Essentially, most of the people who watched Breaking Bad made some Breaking Bad fanfiction in their head, and we just don’t talk about it, because that’s something those other nerds get involved in. Not every single white person over the age of twenty two.

I feel like this is an important piece of context to give for later, when I decide to talk about Deep Space Nine in its actuality… because boy, that series has some weird stuff in it when you view it all at once.