Binge-watching TV Series

They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes. Thanks to Internet video streaming you can create a facsimile of that experience by watching whole TV series in a few day’s time that you once watched over a period of years. It won’t exactly be your life that flashes before your eyes, but it was your life that the show’s original broadcast punctuated.

I first experienced binge-watching TV shows when I came upon a complete stash of Rawhide episodes on YouTube. I went on to find and watch complete series of:

  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • The Bob Newhart Show
  • Hill Street Blues
  • Law and Order
  • Renegade
  • The Practice
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Blue Bloods
  • Lost
  • Homeland
  • Nashville

I found others that didn’t hold my interest, and others which weren’t available as complete series. A couple of observations seem worth sharing.

The first is that a lot of TV is just terrible. There are many shows like Thirty Something or The Odd Couple that I liked when they aired, but which today seem perfectly dreary.

The best TV shows have well-defined and essentially likable characters, just as 2,000 year old literary theory would predict. The best also feature plots that maintain a compelling tension between right and wrong. These two characteristics were especially true of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which I hold to be the pinnacle of all TV production. But you can see the pattern just as well in the cheesy but entertaining Renegade (staring a long-haired Lorenzo Lamas who rides a fire-branded Harley up and down California solving crimes as an outlaw).

But given the prerequisites of character and plot there’s a huge playground in which to formulate good TV. Among the series I have binge-watched, Lost exemplifies this best. I would describe that series as a cross between Giligan’s Island, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Robert Graves’ book, The White Goddess, if you can imagine such a thing.

Overall, I am struck by how few and far between good TV shows are. I suppose there is a sensible explanation. TV as we understand it today is about 100 years old. Assuming only one broadcast station, no re-runs, and complete archives, there should be at least 876,000 hours of TV show content on file, the same as the number of hours in 100 years. But then subtract out news, weather, public service announcements, game shows, off-air periods, rerun seasons and lost archives, and the available record for any one TV producer is probably only a small fraction of the potential whole. Make further adjustments for quality and changing public tastes, then even with multiple TV producers it becomes unlikely that the complete catalog of good TV show programming could ever be large.

Finally, I am struck, too, at how our culture has changed around TV. Rawhide (1959-1965) and Homeland (2011-2020) both were reflections of the period in which they were filmed, but those periods are so completely different. To cite just one example, insanity in Rawhide was a common cause of social conflict, with the possessed person usually depicted as the bad guy. In Homeland insanity is the main characteristic of the main character, a female CIA officer and ultimate good guy for whom bipolar disorder becomes a superpower.

My parents bought their first TV to keep me at home after catching me watching Poop Deck Pappy through a neighbor’s window. Thank goodness for and damn the Internet.

17 thoughts on “Binge-watching TV Series

      1. My dad and his wife are in LOVE with Ted Lasso on Apple+. Not sure if comedy is appealing to you, but it is the one recommendation, outside of The Crown on NETFLIX, that I hear about from them regularly.

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  1. The last series I binged was Country Music by Ken Burns. (kinda, I watched a few each night via streaming). Great stuff.

    I might be my lifelong AD, but I stopped series watching after the first few seasons of the Sopranos. My friends and my dear wife have all told me about great shows, so someday I will try again.

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    1. We loved that (Country Music) series, and no one does those types of documentaries like Ken Burns. My husband has never been the biggest of ‘country fans’ – but the two of us watched everyone of the 16 hours of the series. None of Burns series that I’ve watched have been boring, as some may think those long series would be. I am looking forward to the Muhammad Ali series, also by Burns) that’s recently started on PBS.

      I’ve been catching some of The Sopranos in the last week or so. I watched them the 1st time around on HBO, but they’re still funny and wild. (Every time I say something about ‘Starbucks’, THE MR. in my house cracks me up by repeating that line from Paulie ‘Wallnuts’) I always tell him not to say that around me, because I just might let that line slip at some time if I stop into Starbucks. Ha.

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  2. I dont binge watch but I love the old westerns like Rawhide, Wagon Train, Rifleman, Wanted Dead or Alive, etc. playing 6 days a week on MeTv. Adam 12 (strangely all perps are white), Beverly Hillbillies, Hogans Heroes, etc are all fun to watch. The defining theme of these shows was there was a moral code that is long lost now. You worked or you were a leech, unless you truly couldn’t. There was honor, courage, manners, societal values and certain things just weren’t tolerated that seem to popular today. Oh to be able to go back in time…

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    1. RE: “The defining theme of these shows was there was a moral code that is long lost now.”

      Yes, Rawhide especially is like watching a lost part of my own life replayed.

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      1. You do realize that those two statements are a bit antithetical of each other.

        Yes, Catherine Bell is/was a beautiful woman. But to claim “an unbending moral code” and then comment about the appearance of one of the characters is a bit …. off.

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  3. Since binge watching “Bosch” last year, whenever I watch Prime/Netflix (my only two), I immediately select only movies. Just sort those series right out of the choice.

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      1. Good is in the eye of the viewer. Part of the issue today is we of a certain age are outside the demographic for most advertisers, so networks aren’t going to make shows that appeal to us. The only real choice appears to be streaming, or like Bob said, MEtv. (MASH reruns M-F from 7-8 are my go-to when Jeopardy is in reruns). Movies even more so because there appears to be a belief that old people don’t go to the movies.

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