Arts & Culture · Film & Television

True Confessions of a Netflix Binger

A couple of weeks ago, I came down with a terrible cold. You know the kind—sinus pain, congestion, sore throat, headache. I was too uncomfortable to sleep and too foggy to work, doped up on over-the-counter phenylephrine, acetaminophen, guaifenesin and dextromethorphan hydrobromide. (Suffice it to say, it was a damn good thing I didn’t have to operate any heavy machinery.

My two business partners took care of our clients; my teenage daughter went off to school and my husband to his office. This left me free to do what I do best when I’m alone at home for several days. I binged.

I watched Showtime’s entire series The Tudors on Netflix.

Not a season, mind you, but the entire series: 6 wives, 38 episodes.

Every time I told myself I should get up, get to work (get a life), I’d fast forward through the closing credits and Netflix would automatically push me into the next episode. I realized that the show was—shall we say—less than historically accurate. Still, I couldn’t resist. What would happen in season 3, episode 6? I had to know.

Netflix Series

Check out our popular series, The Netflix Five—Films Featuring Inspiring Women.

Binge-viewing isn’t completely new. Prior to digital video on demand, people used to buy box sets on VHS or DVD, and networks might schedule “weekend marathons” of a favorite syndicated show. My earliest memory of a binge was particularly “old school.” It was the 1970s, and my best friend and I attended an all-day, back-to-back showing of the five Planet of the Apes movies at the Beacon Theater on Broadway and 74th Street.

What we now call binge-viewing really came of age in the past couple of years, with the arrival of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. With very little effort, we could watch multiple episodes of an old favorite, catch up on a show we had missed when it was on in real-time, or binge through an entire new digital series the day it’s released.

According to a July 2014 study by Omnicom’s data company Annalect, 49 percent of U.S. households have at least one television connected to the Internet via a video game system, Blu-ray player, smart TV set, or digital box. This has more than doubled, up from 24 percent in 2012. And 47 percent of households subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and/or Hulu. Another 31 percent of adults watch video on non-TV devices (like tablets, smart phones, and PCs), up from 18 percent in 2012.

Annalect reports that while only half of all TV viewers have heard of the term “binge-viewing,” nearly two-thirds are, in fact, binge-viewers themselves.

Women are 67 percent more likely to binge than men. And binge-viewing behaviors differ by gender—men tend to binge by appointment, while women are more impulsive.

Unlike other compulsive behavior (overeating or drinking come to mind), there is no shame in bingeing—nearly three-quarters of binge-viewers do not feel guilty, even though they admit to some negative consequences. Seventy-six percent say that watching several back-to-back episodes of a great show is a welcome escape from their busy lives. Bottom line? Bingers enjoy watching TV this way, and plan to continue doing so in the future

Whether you’re a dedicated binger already or simply looking for some good entertainment, here are some of the best binge-worthy titles available. As a bonus, all of these (unlike most of the fare you’ll find at the local multiplex) feature strong women characters.

Popular TV Series
Streaming digital episodes is a great way to re-experience a personal favorite, or to see why everyone else was buzzing. From the rapid-fire repartee of the two Lorelais in Gilmore Girls (just released to Netflix this month) to the clever, campy horror of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there truly is a binge available for every taste. Other options include: Desperate Housewives, Modern Family, Scandal, The Good Wife, and Ugly Betty.

Pay TV Mini-Series
Despite my recent protracted visit to the English court, I can’t recommend The Tudors with any kind of clear conscience unless you are really in the mood for some serious bosom-heaving bodice-ripping (not to mention heads rolling). However, digital streaming is a great way to catch original programming from cable pay services like Showtime and HBO. You can’t watch the current seasons unless you subscribe to the networks themselves, but you can often find prior seasons or shows that are no longer running. Many of these are only half an hour per episode. So you can get twice the binge for your time. Some of my favorites are: Weeds, United States of Tara, and Sex and the City.

Direct to Digital Content
Both Netflix and Amazon recently began producing their own content as well. These programs have been critically acclaimed and are already holding their own at the various awards shows. They tend to be a little more outrageous than traditional network or cable fare—but that’s part of the fun. Try Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards or the latest offering from Amazon, Transparent.

Classics–Old and New
Binge-viewing seems to be a guilty pleasure for many women, so it’s no surprise that serious programming like documentaries doesn’t appear on any top titles lists. You can still feel that you’re getting some value out of the binge by focusing on “quality” as well as quantity. For example, you might revisit the original Upstairs, Downstairs and compare it with Downton Abbey. I highly recommend Call the Midwife, and can think of no finer way to waste an afternoon than spending six hours with Colin Firth and Pride and Prejudice.

A final word to the wise. As you begin to binge, you’ll want to check your subscription service. Digital streaming is still very new and contracts between content owners and networks change. So, for example, you can watch the first two seasons of Jessica Lange in American Horror on Netflix, but have to use Amazon Prime for the third. The Firth Pride and Prejudice is on Amazon, but you’ll need Netflix for the Keira Knightley version. If you’re a dedicated video binger, you may need multiple subscriptions to feel covered.

Then again, if you amortize those fees across 81 episodes of Upstairs Downstairs and 34 of Downton Abbey, plus 151 of Gilmore Girls for good measure, I think you’ll agree that bingeing is a bargain.

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  • KT October 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Thanks for vindicating an obsessive binge syndrome. Discovered a Spanish language series (subtitled) called Grand Hotel on Netflix and it drew me in and out of my life.. Two seasons on Netflix (about 40+episodes) end rather abruptly in an unexpected way, but I got a tip that it continued for a third season on YouTube, tho without subtitles. Happy to report I finally finished it all last night and have my life back. Very similar to Downton Abbey, but the estate is a hotel and the murder and mayhem are all part of keeping the property in the Alarcon family. There’s even a charismatic detective with a Clousseau- kind of sidekick. Some very crazy side stories/ characters but all clamoring to a rapid conclusion in the 22nd episode. And then, of course, there’s the “making of” doc of the final episode. All in good fun.

  • Trish October 24, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Binging on Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle’s Pride and Prejudice saved me after surgery recently. It was a wonderful way to escape and like a visit with old and dear friends. I have to confess I just enjoy the luxury of watching the whole of a show.

  • Millicent Borges Accardi October 21, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Timely article! I just binged my way thru Hostages (mostly awful except McDermont), Reign, Midwives, Californication (excellent), Bones (so so but they use big words so I didn’t feel as guilty) and lastly got lost in the contrived weirdly reminiscent of The Walking Dead, Revolution (no electricity? apparently a big problem, despite the fact that the world did very well without for many years).

  • Catherine October 21, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Hello! I am glad you addressed this! I too am a binge viewer of Netflix. I have always loved getting caught up in a good series. I have chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic pain at times where my brain sort of shuts down along with my body and I have to just lie on the couch. This is when I get into binging on Netflix from time to time. I went through the whole seasons of Weeds in like a week or so, I think. It was a show I thought I would not be interested in. It is now getting harder to find good series. One I liked recently was L.A. Complex (it only went through two seasons.)

    However, I do often feel guilty and am considering canceling Netflix, but really what I am doing now is trying to get wrapped up in a good book more often to balance it all out. But there are days I just don’t have the mental energy and focus to read, so back to Netflix I go!

    And there are always new seasons ready to come out! American Horror is pretty good too. I thought I would not like that sort of show, but a good series is a good series. Hemlock Grove is one of my favorites too. Have fun! I think there is no harm in appreciating the work of art that some of these series really are. Thanks for the extra suggestions too!