Bingeing. It’s such an unpleasant word. It even looks clumsy on the page, the kind of word you trip over as you might a loose paving stone or a discarded DVD box set of Bancroft. Its meaning is unappealing, too – going beyond surfeit, stuffing your face, gorging to sickness, having more, more, more… And after that, more, more and more again. So taking pleasure in bingeing, or binge-watching (which sounds even worse), on new television shows is a puzzle.
Old ones, fine; that’s what Sunday afternoons are for. But something that’s actually on proper telly right now? Why?
I know, I know, people keep telling me that’s how young people do their viewing, but let’s put them aside for a moment and concentrate on grown-ups. People like you and me, who like to use our time to savour and enjoy. People who like a bit of delayed gratification, which is surely a delight in itself?
Take Requiem, BBC1’s properly creepy supernatural Friday-night thriller, about a woman, Matilda, who’s haunted (literally, it seems) by the past. She thinks she’s Carys, a little girl who vanished from a Welsh village decades ago.
It has everything. A huge, dismal, remote country house. A locked room that won’t open. A grim cellar where Bad Things happened. Screaming/whispering unseen presences. Glimpses of ectoplasm in mirrors. Local villagers who clearly wish Matilda ill. You can sympathise – she’s very annoying, pestering the poor woman she believes to be her mum and harassing the little boy she thinks is her half-brother in his school playground.
But ghost stories on television are vanishingly rare, so why not make the most of one when it comes along and enjoy the creepiness for as long as possible. Yet the entire six episodes immediately became available on iPlayer after the first instalment was broadcast.
Why? Surely something like Requiem, which has a rich seam of suspense, should be allowed to build its tension week on week? Rather than – Bam! Watch it in six hours and it’s gone. Where’s the fun in that?
My colleague Ben Dowell makes the point that Requiem’s co-producer is that Baron of the Binge, Netflix, which presumably wants its show out there, and fast. But Netflix is Netflix; this is what it does. The BBC is allowed to take its time.
Binge-watching leaves nothing to look forward to, and nothing to talk about afterwards. Isn’t that the enjoyment? Just think of Broadchurch and Doctor Foster. Mysteries were allowed to uncurl and breathe weekly, leaving us to ponder to pleasurable distraction what the hell was going on.
BBC1’s Saturday-night drama Hard Sun was also available immediately, although frankly why anyone would want to plough through a concentrated six hours of brutality remains a mystery to me. It’s sad that the BBC feels pressured to join in with this kind of madness (even Civilisations is released as a box set).
Yes, it’s how a lot of people watch television, but it’s not how all people watch television. If television dramas are to survive long into the future, we have to put the brakes on before they become just more disposable 21st-century items, like everything else.
Why ignore one of the great pleasures of watching something good – the excitement, the appointment to view?
You wouldn’t eat an entire box of chocolates or drink a bottle of wine at once (er, OK, these are possibly bad examples). So why dispense with a potential six weeks of pleasant anticipation in six hours?