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To Binge, Or Not To Binge, That Is The Question....

There are certain recommendations you can occasionally get during this shutdown that are as valuable as gold. Like a place where toilet paper is in stock. Or a really good book to read. Maybe even a recipe for something different to try at dinner.

But the one I yearn for, and often find difficult to get, is one regarding a television show to binge watch.

It’s not that people won’t offer one. Ask on Twitter and you’ll be overwhelmed with the recommendations, which is the problem. Everyone has their niche show that is their favorite, and you’ll end up with 242 recommendations. It’ll be just like turning on the channel guide and looking through everything.

“Everything” I might note, is rarely good.

In addition, there’s also the “I don’t want to offend you” factor when you ask somebody for a good show to watch. If it doesn’t sound interesting to you, declining to watch the show can come across to the person doing the recommending as “you have no taste” or “your baby is ugly.”

I had one person recommend a book to me once, and she then kept asking in every subsequent conversation if I had read it, and didn’t I absolutely love it, etc. Truth be told, I got about one third of the way through it and it wasn’t my cup of tea. But you can’t say “no, it sucked” after the fourth or fifth time you’re asked how wonderful you thought the book was.

I’m particularly cautious with binge-watching ideas because if it turns out not to be good, I find myself staying with it long past the time I should have quit. I tell myself “this next episode will be the really good one” but it never happens. Then you feel like you just wasted a lot of time.

There’s also the problem that for many series, no matter how successful, they reach a point in their tenure where they drift aimlessly. I remember the TV show “LOST” - where they never defined exactly how long the show was going to go on -and it seemed like the writers just ran out of things to write about.

They had introduced the concept of the show, told all the back stories of all the characters, but weren’t yet to the point of crafting the story line to reach its conclusion. You found yourself watching some episodes and thinking “what was the point of THAT?”

Game of Thrones was another, but in an even worse regard. It started out like a house on fire, based closely on the books of George R.R. Martin. By the end of the first season, it was must-watch television, and the second season was even better. But then the show ran longer than Martin had actually written books to support it. So HBO made up the rest of it as they went along, culminating in a disappointing final season.

Martin’s books were like an oil painting. The HBO scripts were like a crayon drawing by kindergartners. So when someone asks for a recommendation, I hesitate on Game of Thrones. For many years it was great. But I don’t want someone to invest all that time, only to see a pretty disappointing end.

I currently look for a volume of mentions on social media before trying something new. After I see it mentioned at least 10 times or more, I take a look at it. Sometimes I wait even longer, and the worst case of waiting I ever experienced was “The Wire.” People kept saying how great it was, and it didn’t seem like it would be all that interesting. Once I watched the first episode, I don’t think I left my chair for more than a few hours a day for the next month. I watched all the seasons back to back and consider it one of the best series ever done.

I list The Sopranos at No. 1, but part of that may be an inherent bias on my part having grown up in an Italian family. I often thought in watching the show that the house I grew up in was just like Tony Soprano's, only without the guns and the Mafia. Many other things were very real in the interactions between family members.

Folks like Amazon Prime and Netflix are now pumping out even more original shows, making the supply even bigger. It used to be you binge-watched shows on the cable movie channels, particularly HBO. Two more recent shows on Showtime – Billions and Ray Donovan – I’ve enjoyed, one of my more favorite – Justified – was on FX. And no list of binge-worthy shows would be complete AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

But for every one of those shows, there are three others that started well and ran out of steam. House of Cards, for example, was can’t miss watching at first, then got boring for me. The Man In The High Castle on Amazon Prime did the same in the middle of the second season. Westworld’s first season was very good, but I got bored in season 2, and I’ve tried multiple times to get into this most recent season without any success.

For the record, I’ve never watched a single episode of The Office, Stranger Things, or The Walking Dead, despite a lot of recommendation. Just didn’t seem like they would be interesting.

The newest one I’m trying is Ozark on Netflix. Saw it mentioned on Twitter at least 20 times, so I watched the first two episodes last night. Both were intense, Jason Bateman is excellent, and it seems to be moving in the right direction. Since it’s already completed three seasons, I’m guessing it stays that way. The challenge will be the second season. Shows that start off fast always seem to encounter a sophomore slump.

But for now I’m enjoying it. And if I’ve missed one that you think I absolutely have to see, the comments below are open to anyone, so educate me.

I'm sure I'll have some free time to watch.



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