Binge backlash: why we regret speed-watching our favorite shows
Updated: Nov 14, 2021
When I’m not listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s album SOUR on repeat, I turn to my newest obsession: British actor Ben Barnes. Specifically, Ben Barnes as The Darkling in the Netflix-adapted fantasy series Shadow and Bone. Snuggled under my blankets with a reserve of sparkling water, I binged all eight episodes in one day. Unfortunately, I felt considerably awful after the final credits finished rolling. It’s not that the show wasn’t well done or worth my time — it was on both accounts — it’s that the phenomenon of binge backlash has become all too common for me and other television show viewers.
Defined as the sense of loss following the rapid viewing of a TV show, binge backlash is routine for individuals that savor drowning themselves in imaginary or alternative worlds in order to assuage the pain of living their day-to-day lives. A melodramatic description? Most certainly. Still, its presence is unavoidable with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Peacock, and the plethora of other streaming platforms that are rolling out entire seasons of television shows in one day for the public’s viewing pleasure.
Gossip Girl co-creator Josh Schwartz commented on the backlash in an interview with Vanity Fair. “You work on something for a year and then it’s over in a weekend for people. There does feel like something is lost in that model…. People are just consuming it as this kind of block of something,” he said.
While the supposed complexities of Gossip Girl may be lost on the viewing public, Schwartz’s sentiment is echoed by other creators like WandaVision’s director Matt Shakman. Disney+ released weekly episodes of acclaimed shows like WandaVision and The Mandalorian in order to build anticipation and hype surrounding pivotal moments on screen.
“Binging has its place, for sure, but there’s something about the mystery—especially for a show like WandaVision—where people can think about what they’ve watched and come up with their own theories,” Shakman said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “It’s exciting to put something out there and allow people to kind of chew on it and come up with their own theories.”
In this way, there is merit to the “parceling” release of TV shows. To truly appreciate a show or series as dynamic as WandaVision, Lovecraft Country, and The Queen’s Gambit, it is necessary to take a step back and let the artistic facets of each episode rest, at least for a day or two. Now, this isn’t to say all television shows shouldn’t be binged. Some are truly designed to be visually consumed in a short period of time.
“There’s a tangible difference between shows that are written to be binged and those that are meant to be watched week to week,” Mashable writer Alexis Nedd wrote. “Binge shows often have shorter, more compact seasons and rely on a formula that’s on prominent display with You and Netflix’s tentpole series Stranger Things — ending each episode with the perfect balance of narrative resolve and revelations that make viewers need to watch the next episode.”
In fact, when You premiered weekly on Lifetime, its viewership was dismal, however, once Netflix streamed the full first season, millions tuned in to see creepy bookstore manager Joe stalk women. Therefore, the enjoyment of a show could be potentially magnified in “binge format”.
Still, if I’m truly honest with myself, I knew what was coming when I started Shadow and Bone. Defenseless against the artfully-written quips and romantic tension, I was hooked from the first episode. However, as I took to Twitter to gauge the “Grishaverse’s” response to the adaptation, I felt more defeated. I had missed so many details and lines that made the series so appealing to readers and the general public alike. So what did I do? I watched it again. Hence, the endless cycle of binge backlash spins its brutal wheel.
While binge backlash cannot always be avoided, maybe it’s time we take a note from cable days and give ourselves time to savor each episode. When it comes to television, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Art by Nelli Molfenter