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Sun, June 16

Funt: Binging makes an unhealthy TV diet

In 2019 I resolve to cut back on bingeing. Not at the dinner table — although that would be wise — but at the TV.

I believe TV programmers and viewers will come to regret serving up a show’s entire season at once, enabling viewers to binge through it as if it were a half-gallon of mocha-almond chip.

Bingeing seems like fun, as any overeater will attest, but it rarely feels good when it’s over.

Which brings me to a TV series that has prompted epic bingeing recently — myself among the over-indulgers. It’s Amazon’s delightful “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” in which Rachel Brosnahan plays a 1950s housewife who finds herself attempting a career in stand-up comedy.

After waiting a full year for the second season to arrive, I gobbled it up in a day and a half. Frustration grew as I realized It will be as long as 12 months until I find out more about Midge’s career, the two men in her life, and the antics of her overly-typed yet beautifully played Jewish parents.

Binge-watching of first run TV shows wasn’t possible until early 2013, when Netflix released an entire season of the political drama “House of Cards.” For Netflix, the move represented a strategic breakthrough; for competitors, such as Amazon, it forced an immediate shift to emulate this new type of scheduling.

I’ve heard some producers compare the new system to reading a book: One consumes as many pages or chapters as he wants, setting his own pace. And many TV viewers say they welcome the freedom and convenience of self-scheduling — which, of course, need not result in bingeing unless that is one’s inclination.

I’m not sold. Series television is a distinct form that establishes a bond with viewers and nurtures it over the course of a season. Often a producer is able to adjust after the first few episodes to make improvements with casting or plot. Publicity and word-of-mouth build over time. Water-cooler conversation for a hit show makes every installment an event, rather than having it meld into a season-long arc.

Watching a series for two days a year, as I’ve done with “Mrs. Maisel,” is like visiting a summer cottage briefly and then boarding it up for many months. Things become musty. Series TV is at its best when viewers form a love — or, hate — relationship with key characters. What will Midge do next week? That intrigues me. Twelve months from now? Meh.

If you binged “Mrs. Maisel,” contrast the experience, and buzz, with Showtime’s “Escape at Dennemora,” the recent prison drama released in conventional weekly form. Despite being based on a true story, with the outcome well publicized, “Dennemora” built audience and enthusiasm week to week during its run.

To be clear, there is a distinction between bingeing a new series and exploring the library of an old one. “Friends,” the ensemble comedy that ran on NBC for 10 years beginning in 1994, remains one of Netflix’s top bingeing properties. Viewers are less likely to overdose with an old favorite, but if they do it’s not as problematic as with an ongoing series.

A few years back I sought to remedy the fact that I had somehow missed all of Vince Gilligan’s quirky AMC drama about a teacher turned meth maker, “Breaking Bad.” I binged my way through all five seasons in the course of a few weeks.

Soon after, Gilligan’s companion series — actually a prequel — “Better Call Saul,” had its debut on AMC, and I have faithfully watched every episode since. For me, the anticipation of each weekly installment, followed by the chance to digest it and chat about it with friends, is far more enjoyable than consuming it all in a short time.

So, Midge, I envision you at a comedy club somewhere, in your party dress and pearls, knocking them dead with one-liners. I trust you’ll still be at it 12 months from now. I’m just not sure how I’ll feel by then about another half-gallon of mocha-almond chip.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

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