To those who survive without weekly doses of “Modern Family” and late-night “Mad Men” Netflix binges: I envy you. You who have uttered “I don’t really watch TV”: I admire you. You are not tied down by your obligations to television — you are free, without binding compulsions to tune in. I envy and admire you, because that’s how I feel whenever I take on another TV show.
I feel like my ever-growing list of storylines and plot twists has become another schedule to follow, rather than an indulgence. I sneak in time between organic chemistry lectures, jamming as much of an episode I can into my measly half-hour break. I stay up as far later than I can willingly admit, catching up on shows I’ve missed. “What about sleep?” my body wonders. “Right after I find out who ‘A’ is!” my mind snaps back.
Nothing about the experience is relaxing, unwinding or sane. It feels ritualistic and all-consuming — instead of enjoying the creative outlet TV provides, I spend the time worrying about being late for class or falling asleep before I reach the end of the episode. But there’s the catch: I have to watch the episode. Anyone who is actively involved with a series understands when I say I cannot skip an episode. I can’t miss a week and continue with the storyline the next Monday. It’s not that I would be completely lost — I would be able to pick up the pieces within minutes — but my commitment to the show would be.
Whenever you begin watching a new series, it’s like a new relationship: You tell the show you’ll see it every week and you make the effort to be interested in what it offers. You slowly unravel every twist and turn of the story, fall in love with a main character, and suddenly, you can’t imagine your life without the series. By cheating and skipping a few episodes here and there, you feel like a phony, a fake. You’re not a truly devoted fan any more, but rather a flip-flopper. You don’t want to be a flip-flopper.
So instead of facing the possibility of being a “sometimes watcher,” I methodically go through the list of shows I’ve stockpiled for this season and watch them weekly — albeit, on occasion, later than their air date. I spend hours each week stressing about shows I have yet to watch and episodes I’ve yet to see. Since television has become such a social experience, and everyone asks one another about their TV habits, I feel like I have to hide from my friends whenever I miss a particularly promising airing. I can’t possibly explain to them (again) that I couldn’t watch because, well … my real life got in the way.
This relationship, like many others, is destined to fail. The romance is draining. It’s not me, television — it’s you. It’s your addicting, needy ways that debilitate me and turn me into an episode-watching zombie. This relationship will have to end because I’m tired of worrying about the TV I watch rather than enjoying it. Unfortunately, I’ve just added another TV show to my schedule, and until the day of parting comes, I’ll be in my room, finishing the pilot episode of “Alcatraz.”