I’m guilty of binge-watching TV shows on Netflix and I’ll probably still do it until Netflix doesn’t exist anymore.* I wanted to get that confession out of the way before I launch into the next paragraph that’s going to seem like I’m anti binge-watching when I’m really not. Or at least, not entirely. Let me explain.
Binge-watching shows on Netflix is changing the way people talk about television, and I’m not entirely positive it’s for the better. And I’m not talking about old TV shows that aren’t on the air anymore but rather the Netflix original shows that release entire seasons all at once. Because if you’re like me, those 13 or so episodes are going to be finished in a day. But then, there are some people who are a bit slower with watching them, so then you have to be extra careful about spoilers because people are real sensitive about those, ya know? And that’s cool, I get that. But it makes the conversation a bit harder to have. If there’s another person who binge-watched all the episodes in a day, the conversation becomes about the whole season and renders speculation mute because the only thing left to discuss is what the show did wrong and what the show did right.
Netflix Instant streaming became available in 2007. At the time, I wasn’t watching TV like I do now, but I remember other people talking about TV at school. The clearest example I remember is “Lost.” Man, people were obsessed with that show. Even my history teachers in high school would spend time during class to discuss theories with students or fellow teachers. I watched the show after all the seasons were on Netflix, but I went looking for archives of commentary on it on the web, and though some critics kind of ran away with their theories every week, I thought it was so cool how people were having these very thoughtful and intricate discussions about a television show.
But Netflix Originals don’t get the same treatment, which is a damn shame. It’s a shame because a lot of Netflix originals are really good and worth that discussion. “Jessica Jones” is one of the best superhero shows I’ve seen and it has a female lead and deals with issues of rape and consent. It’s a shame because not many people were exposed to this incredibly awesome show, and those that were moved on pretty quickly. And then there are shows like “Making a Murderer” where it becomes a real problem.
“Making a Murderer” is a ten-episode docu-series that premiered on Netflix December 18, 2015. The show covers a ten-year time span of the life of Stephen Avery, a man who was put on trial for the murder of Teresa Halbach just two years after being exonerated for a different crime for which he served 18 years. I found out about the show through Twitter when the comedians and film critics I follow were tweeting at each other about it, which led me to binge-watching the show over a four day time span. A couple weeks later, everyone on Facebook began talking about it. Soon, my family gathered in the living room to watch. More discussion followed.
Then, nothing. The last time I remember having any conversation or seeing any Facebook posts about the show was back in January.
“Making a Murderer” isn’t a show trying to answer the “is Stephen Avery guilty?” question. It’s a show that is asking “is there something wrong with the system?” question. The difference is important, especially in the wake of the events in Ferguson and Columbia, MO and other places where young men are dying and terms like “justice” are being called into question. Avery’s whole defense is based on the Manitowoc County Police Department planting evidence to frame Avery for Ms. Halbach’s murder because Avery was suing them for wrongfully convicting him of the previous crime. And then there’s Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey, a learning-disabled teenager with an IQ of 70, who is coerced by detectives to confess to Ms. Halbach’s murder. What we see of Dassey’s trial is clouded with mistakes on the prosecution’s and defense’s side and extreme bias in the wake of Avery’s trial.
But not really anyone is talking about the show anymore. And I’m not just talking about the critics or reporters. I’m talking about the people around you — your family, your peers, your enemies, the cashier at the grocery store. No one’s talking about it because all the conversation to have about it happened within the first month it aired. A month later, and everyone had seen it. The few who managed to let the show slip through their fingers at least heard about it from their friends. I’m certain that if the show had been released episode-by-episode over a ten-week period, the conversation would have lasted longer. Having time to think and theorize allows for richer discussions on entertainment than whatever spews out of our mouth in the moment 30 seconds after we’ve finished the last episode of an entire season.
But hey, that’s the nature of TV shows, right? Some fade away from conversation, or the conversation changes. It is what it is. But we, as the audience and the ones who are consuming entertainment the way we are now, should at least be aware of this change. Maybe slow down on the binge-watching. Watch it with other people, that way at least you’re all on the same page. Because a conversation needs to happen, regardless of whatever you’re watching. All entertainment lends to some sort of discussion — don’t let it fade away with the click of the “next episode” button.
*Does anyone have this fear that Netflix will suddenly go away forever and all your favorite TV shows are gone and no longer at your disposal? This is why DVDs are always the way to go.
What’s your favorite Netflix binge? We’re dying to know @TheMoshery!
Katey is a writer and film and television critic. She maintains Mad Max: Fury Road is the best movie of the past decade, and definitely deserved Best Picture at the Oscars. Follow her on Twitter, where her Twitter bio says she live tweets her progress of “The X-Files,” but that hasn’t actually happened in a really long time. Follow her anyway. It’ll be a laugh, probably.