As one year ended and another began the battle cries were everywhere. They were being tweeted, posted on Facebook, DM’s, and even emailed. They simply could not be ignored.
“You have to watch ‘The Queen’s Gambit’!”
“Have you watched ‘Cobra Kai’ yet?”
“Check out ‘Bridgerton.’ You’ll watch the whole thing in one day!”
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think I was referring to something else?
Hot TV series were plentiful, escapism was a click away, and so too were days. Weeks. Months. Which was good.
See, what typically comes with all of these recommendations from friends and family members alike is the urging to watch it all in one sitting. Even if they don’t urge you to do that, it can still wind up being what happens anyway. Especially with the three shows mentioned, all streaming on various platforms as of this writing, with “Cobra Kai” season three debuting on Netflix the first week of the new year and breaking records. The anticipation of it breaking said records was so fevered, a season four had already been ordered before the premiere.
“Binge-watching” is all the rage, and while it can save the most bored of families or couples or even kiddies on a gray day, it is also time-consuming, exhausting, and not — in my opinion anyway — the best way to take in a television series.
Let’s stay on “Cobra Kai,” shall we? This, by the way, is a follow-up TV series of the popular ’80s film franchise “The Karate Kid.” The stars of the franchise have returned, and now teach a new generation of kung fu kids how to defend themselves against bullies while still contending with the rivalry that permeated their senior year of high school. Ralph Macchio looks exactly the same and William Zabka (Johnny) kinda does too, and is doing the type of work that earns Emmy nods. Seriously.
The show, like so many others, has a terrific way of ending each episode on a note that immediately has you clamoring for the next episode. And with Netflix you can get just that, within seconds. It can be irresistible, and before you know it a whole day is gone. It’s a drug, man.
Now, the best TV shows have always been good at keeping viewers hooked, ever since the first set was plugged in to a living room socket some 70 years ago. But, the beauty was in the waiting.
When J.R. Ewing got shot and the nation had to wait an entire summer to find out “Who shot J.R.?” it made for an intoxicating anticipation and generated tons of great conversations on beaches and front porches, where theories were argued and guesses were taken at the trigger-puller’s identity, for a solid three months.
Today’s TV viewer would probably grimace at such a thought. Maybe even punch a proverbial hole in the wall. Waiting for a next episode is simply asking too much. Even incomprehensible to many, particularly the young.
But there is something about that waiting. My daughter and I enjoy just that when it comes to the NBC hit “This Is Us.” This drama - so reminiscent of the many I grew up watching in the ’70s and ’80s (particularly “Knots Landing”) — leaves us wanting with pretty much episode. At 8:45 or so every Tuesday night we are sitting on the couch, enthusiastically recalling how the previous installment ended, citing details we mulled over the past week but hadn’t shared yet, making those predictions. It’s a beautiful thing.
On that same night in my childhood, it was “Happy Days.” It being a sitcom it wasn’t huge on cliffhangers, but there was often the “special two-part episode.” My kids laughed at my recent mentioning of such an archaic concept.
“Laugh all you want,” I told them. “But when Fonzie jumped the shark, it’s all we talked about the next day at school. And all we talked about for the next week, until we saw him safely make it to the other side.” None of us even mentioned how absurd it was that he’d water-ski wearing a leather jacket.
The same went for the multi-episode story arc from “The Brady Bunch” when they all went to Hawaii. Yes, multi-episode I told my jaw-dropped babied. The “Bunch” were in Hawaii and Greg went down while he was surfing. He wasn’t coming up! Mike and Carol were looking, waiting — as was an entire nation.
That Friday night cliffhanger left my siblings and I wondering if the oldest of the bunch had drowned. Or would Alice simply, and quite comically, give him mouth-to-mouth? (That was the joke in my house; I even got to share it with “Greg” himself, Barry Williams, many years later, when I first got into radio.)
I’m not bashing binge-watching TV shows — I’m guilty of it myself. But it’s not the same. In my opinion, it’s actually jumping the shark.