Left Behind

On consuming television shows well after anyone else in the Netflix era

I’m really enjoying Arrested Development right now.

“Welcome to 2003" will be the reaction to that for that. And this is entirely understandable. A lot of people have told me in the intervening time that this is a show I should watch, and would enjoy if I did. I first saw it with an ex-girlfriend, through Netflix, though even that was several years after it first hit our television screens, and had long since faded from pop-culture relevance.

This has happened to me with several television shows in the last several years. From cult sci-fi classics such as Farscape and Firefly, to broader network hits like the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, to lighter fare such as Chuck and the aforementioned Arrested Development, I’ve often come into shows after they’d started (and in most cases finished) their run.

Like everyone else, I watched, white-knuckled, the last several episodes of Breaking Bad- though unlike most everyone else, it was late at night sometime in October of 2013, and halfway through a bottle of red wine.

I don’t say this to lord any sense of superiority in coming to it AFTER it was popular, I just want to figure out why I do it, what it means, and if it’s better or worse to do it that way.

Television has evolved as a medium over the last several years, and it’s been amazing to see. Storytelling has become more advanced as shows are expected to have threads that grow and inter-weave from week to week, and a show that you can pick up in mid-run and be able to understand and appreciate right away is rare. That’s mostly good, though it can make it harder to get friends into shows that you like.

I bought Netflix shortly after my introduction to Arrested Development in 2011, and it’s changed how I consume television. All these shows that I’d missed, I could now catch up on in my own time, at my own pace. The new stuff: well, I had a PVR for that. Let a few episodes stack up, and watch them if/when I have an evening free.

In some ways, the immediacy of social media and the push towards longer-form storytelling in show compete against each other. There’s more pressure to be good right away, which wasn’t as much the case ten or twenty years ago. Low ratings doomed Firefly and Arrested Development, even as they live on in pop culture as shows with cult followings. Shows like Cheers and MASH had slow starts, but lived on to be beloved, long running shows.

In general, I enjoy the time we live in now, and that I can consume things at my own pace. I also enjoy the improvement in storytelling, as someone who has an appreciation for longer form plotting and writing. We’re even seeing it in movies, with Marvel developing an entire universe around their superhero franchises, and having a lot of them tie in together.

So with all this technology, I’m happy to be able to control my TV watching. There aren’t many shows that I feel the urgency to stay current with, and that’s probably fine. There’s something to be said for being part of a greater culture that’s immersed in the story RIGHT NOW, but that’s the wonderful thing about technology: I’ll always be able to see it later.