I’m behind on just about every television series in which I have any interest. No, wait, not “just about every” — make it straight up “every.”
Sitting here, writing this piece, I have just realized that I have never completed an entire series of a show. Not that this is anything to be particularly ashamed of, but it’s strange, even to me. This realization not only encompasses current, long-running series like Doctor Who or even The Office, but I just realized with some shame that I never even finished watching the second season of Twin Peaks last summer on Netflix (let’s be real, that’s justifiable). Or even Arrested Development, arguably my favorite show. I still have half of its last season to go AND IT’S BEEN OFF OF THE AIR FOR SIX YEARS.
But I love television! I do! Now, more than ever, I am motivated to invest in watching shows because of smart writing, strong acting, unique premises, and artistic quality. I could easily spend days on Netflix catching up on the comedies and dramas that I have deemed worthy of my attention. But I don’t. Because that’s the problem: watching television is a major investment of time, perhaps one of the most valuable resources of the modern age. I spend almost two hours commuting on the subway each day, eight hours at work, maybe seven hours asleep if I’m lucky. So what does that leave me? Seven precious hours of free time during which I can choose to catch up on these shows so as to enrich myself with entertainment and remain relevant in this swiftly shifting cultural environment, or I can choose to interact with actual human beings, an option that, more often than not, wins out to watching TV and is probably the main reason that I find myself constantly behind. On the other hand, I may just have a short attention span. That, however, is an entirely different article altogether.
Anyway, the reason I bring all this up has to do with the critically acclaimed drama Mad Men and the hullabaloo surrounding its fifth season premiere. I recently decided to finally give in and start watching Mad Men, and by recently, I mean almost nine months ago. At the time, I was excited about moving to New York City, the setting of the show, and wanted to use the free time of my unemployed summer for something somewhat productive: expanding my cultural education into the realm of quality television. (For the same reasons, I watched a lot of Woody Allen movies last summer too.) However, despite my best intentions, I was frequently sidetracked by other shows, movies, friendships, vacations, a move across the country, a computer that didn’t work very well, a new job, etc. I had very little time constraints or pressure to complete the seasons that were available to me on Netflix, as the fifth season always seemed ages away. Even when it was but a week away and I was only halfway through the third season, I didn’t panic. I was sure that I could rally and marathon my way through the last twenty episodes. What I didn’t consider is that each episode is 47 minutes long. Twenty episodes multiplied by 47 minutes is 940 minutes, roughly 16 hours. I did not rally. I did not marathon. I was still a full season behind when the premier happened last Sunday.
In my desperation, I asked a friend to forget the sacred eleventh commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Reveal Spoilers” and summarize the fourth season for me. From what I’ve gleaned from the Wikipedia article, he did a pretty decent job of covering the plot points that would have made Season Five, Episode One, comprehensible. However, when Sunday rolled around and Brooklyn bars opened their doors to swanky, boozy, retro-tinged Mad Men watches, I found myself at home, entirely unmotivated to leave. I don’t have cable, so these parties would have been the only way for me to see the show, the show that I had in essence “ruined” for myself by allowing it to be spoiled. Rather than leave, however, I found myself in my bed, plugging through old episodes while Twitter friends made snarky comments about “Zou Bisou Bisou.”
I think it speaks significantly to the quality of Mad Men that, despite being technically “caught up” on the show, I didn’t want to miss a single thing. I didn’t want to miss a moment of the dialogue, the costumes, the tension between characters, the camera work, the scenery. For me, Mad Men isn’t about the big reveal, it’s about the little things. It’s about how beautifully the story is unfurled for the viewer, how intricately the time period is recreated before your eye, how faithfully a world that once was, a world often unsavory but always compelling, is presented as a backdrop to real human drama.
So despite the hype, I did not watch the premiere on Sunday. But you know what? I’m not upset about it. I’ll catch up. I might slip away and start watching Community for a spell, but don’t worry, Don Draper, I’ll be back for you. It might take another nine months, but I’ll make sure I catch every moment of your complicated 1960s existence before it’s all over.
Colin Rich lays out the fundamentals of TV analysis, from standalone cop procedurals to the season-to-season storylines of Lost and Mad Men.
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