Good television sticks with you — it begs to be discussed. Consider all the theories that fans have about the ending of Game of Thrones. Whether or not the Starks really do take over Westeros, half the fun is talking about why they should. Pretty Little Liars fans may desperately want to know who Uber A is, but finding clues to his or her identity is its own kind of satisfying. Comparing notes with friends, analysing scenes, and swapping theories makes a TV show more than just a 45-minute per week experience.
That's why I'm seriously bummed about how we watch some of the decade's best new programming. Take Netflix. Watching the streaming service's original content has become a mostly solitary experience. No one is going to binge-watch The Santa Clarita Diet at 3 a.m. on your laptop with you, nor are they going to stick to a weekly episode schedule when every episode is ripe for the streaming.
Want to discuss the unjustness of Barb's death on Stranger Things? You better make sure your friend isn't lagging behind, lest you ruin major plot points. Dissect that controversial ending on The OA? Too bad your roommate is only four episodes in.
Sure, spoilers became a big deal when DVRs and online streaming made it possible to watch shows on your own time, but there's no longer such thing as "catching up." If you can't binge at fast as possible, have fun avoiding the topic of the show du jour entirely.
Giving audiences some time to digest what they've seen — and go on the journey along with other fans — might be what we need for a more satisfying viewing experience.
Netflix and streaming services like it have done wonderful things for storytelling: They've challenged conventional episode lengths, story structures, and genres. But one thing I wish they would borrow from broadcast networks is the idea of releasing episodes, if not one at a time, at least not all at once. Giving audiences some time to digest what they've seen — and go on the journey along with other fans — might be what we need for a more satisfying viewing experience.
Streaming has made television feel a lot, well, lonelier. It's left us to hole up in our rooms rather than have weekly watching sessions. It's stopped us from texting friends during an episode to rant about a surprising hookup or insane twist. It's made conversation about what we're watching a little harder to have.
Let's not forget the beauty of watching an OMG TV moment live. Marissa Cooper's (Mischa Barton) death on The O.C.? My teenage brain could simply not process without frantically discussing the future of the show with friends. American Horror Story's first (and most surprising) season revealing that Violet (Taissa Farmiga) is dead for episodes without knowing it? A true mind-bender — and one that begged to be analysed with fellow viewers, lest a single clue to her true nature be missed. And, honestly, who didn't text their friends in a blind rage when they learned that Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) went by the moniker "GG" in addition to "Lonely Boy"? I certainly wouldn't have wanted to brave that storm solo.
As much as I loved the weekends I spent binging BoJack Horseman (come back to me soon, old friend), I'd gladly take a breather between episodes if the entire world got to gather together on the same TV page.
And no, I'm not just writing this because my sister spoiled the ending of The OA for me. (But really, Alison? Really?)