Have you ever been obsessed with a television show—perhaps beyond the normal limits of what is acceptable? Have you driven your family and friends insane with constant chatter about your love of a character, a storyline, or an episode? I have. I have a long history of becoming obnoxiously emotionally invested in whatever show I’m watching. Picture the most annoying fan of The Office turned up to eleven, or the most pretentious movie snob you know. In the throes of a new show, I can become all of this and worse.
This started to become a problem with the introduction of Netflix, as the website gave me the ability to “binge–watch” television shows. Being able to take the power into my own hands and actively choose to watch five episodes in a row enabled my fixations, which for most of my childhood had been limited to books. As a young tween, I developed the now globally prevalent habit of binge–watching—and I binged hard.
The first show I remember fully obsessing over was Doctor Who. This makes sense: it’s a suspenseful show that builds upon a large mythology, allowing fans to engage in creating theories and predictions. But what doesn’t make sense is how anyone was able to put up with my constant, insufferable yapping about it. Luckily, I have a loving family who accepted me for my geekiness. Additionally, I was young enough that my wasted time on watching episodes and fan–made videos, reading fan theories, and listening to interviews with the actors didn’t have a significant impact on my life.
But as I got older, gaining both a social life and increased academic involvement, it became apparent that binge–watching was not a pattern that I should continue. I proceeded to spend high school attempting anything possible to reduce my television consumption. Freshman year, I attempted to use television as a reward for work done—only to be drawn in by the innocent banter of Parks and Recreation, and eventually ended up watching one episode per a very small increment of work. Sophomore year, I deleted all streaming apps except for Amazon Prime, and wound up addicted to the nostalgia of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and the adrenaline rush of Orphan Black. Junior year, having in theory learned my lesson, I deleted Amazon Prime as well, and somehow ended up binging clips of The Big Bang Theory on Youtube. Although I never “officially” watched the show, I saw enough that I could be entered in a trivia competition. Each time I watched these shows, I didn’t simply “like” them—I was entranced by them, and to my detriment.
Eventually, senior year came along, and with it an early decision from Penn. It was December, and I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands. As I prepared for winter break, I decided to start Cheers—it was my dad’s favorite sitcom, had an excellent reputation, and is considered one of the most classic shows of all time. I was two and a half seasons in when I realized how crazed I was getting. In addition to the show itself, I was binging Youtube clips of a character I hadn’t even gotten to yet. The breakneck pace with which I was consuming the entertainment was leaving me almost numb to some of the sharpest joke writing in television history. I took a step back and asked myself: “How do I stop this preoccupation with Cheers, specifically with Lilith and her husband Frasier’s relationship, and fully appreciate the show?"
The answer came to me, loud and clear: I had to stop binge–watching Cheers. Instead, I started watching it once a week, Thursdays at 9:00, just as
God NBC intended it back in the ’80s. I did allow myself a “DVR” option, where I could watch it later if I missed the time slot. It wasn’t easy at first, as I wasn’t prepared to go cold turkey. I felt disconnected from the characters when I went back each week to start a new episode—after all, I hadn’t seen them in days. Eventually, however, I fell into a rhythm. I grew to anticipate the episode each Thursday, and when I turned on the television it felt like coming back to old friends, time and time again.
Nearly a year out, here’s how the Cheers is going: I stayed somewhat preoccupied and obsessed for some time, but eventually it faded, and now I’m enjoying the show in a far more healthy way. Even though I’m only about a season and a half ahead of where I was, I have grown to love returning to the place “where everybody knows your name” each week. I have more love for each individual character and a deeper, yet less ruinous, emotional connection to the show.
But aside from Cheers, over the course of quarantine I definitely failed in my mission to stop binge–watching, with some intense viewing sessions of 30 Rock, Community, and Veep. But when school started, I successfully applied my new streaming schedule to some new shows. Eventually, I created a schedule of seven different shows, each of which I’ve assigned an airdate to each week. I normally watch them the day after they “air” while on the treadmill. Is this the way I expected to be consuming television in 2020? No. But would I trade it? No way.
Ultimately, spreading out my television experience turned out to be a great fit for me. It helps me control my emotional involvement in the show, turning something that once caused overexcited, obsessive behavior into a source of calm after a stressful day. It’s probably not for everyone, and I guarantee that I won’t be able to keep it up forever—but it’s certainly a way to add some structure to your life. At the very least, it gives you something to look forward to each week. And these days, that's something we all need.