The series finale of mega-hit Breaking Bad prompted more than one television fanatic to watch hours of the show in one sitting. In fact, AMC ran a five-day marathon prior to the finale. The Prince Charles Cinema in London is hosting its own marathon when it shows the entire final season over the span of twelve hours.
Breaking Bad is not the only show to motivate the television fanatic to such curious behavior. The same was seen prior to the Dexter finale. Lost is another classic example. Luckily, technology is aiding and abetting back-to-back episode consumption. Innovations, such as the streaming video, the DVR, and Television Fanatic have revolutionized the home viewing experience in countless ways.
Ironically, the greatest and long lasting impact of these new technologies has not been the ability to watch pristine copies of theatrical film releases in your own house. It is the ability to watch episodes of television shows in a new way: back-to-back. Until recently, it was inconvenient or expensive to watch an entire season of TV in one set. Your options were limited to recording individual episodes or buying boxed sets of TV shows – not happy options for the true television fanatic.
These new technologies have allowed viewers to immerse themselves in older programs of which they had only been able to catch scattered episodes. Thanks to streaming technology, television watchers have more opportunities than ever before to watch made-for-television stories unfold in marathon viewings. Many television shows have become more heavily serialized, and that trend can be directly attributed to people choosing to watch TV in a different way. The following are a number of reasons why back-to-back viewing can make for a much more rewarding experience..
- It allows you to experience a single, overarching story. Historically, individual episodes have been fully self-contained in order to have the broadest level of appeal to all viewers – diehard fans and neophytes alike. Most shows—even serialized ones—operate on a standalone format. The main or “A” plot of an episode is fairly easy for a newbie to understand and is resolved within the confines of the episode’s running time; the “B” plot forwards the show’s broader narrative. There are also an increasing number of shows that feature fully arched storytelling. A prime example is HBO’s heavily lauded Game of Thrones. Based on the bestselling fantasy series by George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, it contains no standalones. Each episode simply continues the myriad of intertwined, serialized plots and subplots that comprise the saga. Because it has such a huge cast and occurs over such a vast landscape, often a week or two will go by until a certain character’s story is continued.
- It makes it easier to piece together plot elements that take years to unfold. Some shows not only introduce thematic and symbolic scenes or in-jokes into their episodes but also include significant plot elements that aren’t referenced again for a long time. The extremely innovative sci-fi series, Fringe, often doesn’t answer certain questions for years. Sometimes even avid viewers can be thrown by the return of a plot piece they may only vaguely recall, but it proves crucial to the story as a whole. Back-to-back viewing is arguably the only way to fully remedy this.
This new way of watching TV helps improve most shows. Minor flaws tend to fade into the background while long-term plotting comes to the forefront. Shows that aren’t as meticulous in their continuity and arching, though, might suffer from marathon viewing. Glee is a particularly glaring example. When viewed back-to-back, all of its plot holes only become more apparent. Television Fanatic believes when a show is solidly written and composed, back-to-back viewing can transform a very good television series experience into a great one.