A few weeks ago my friend Barbara sent me an article about Lent, figuring I might want to blog about it.
Nothing really came to mind. As in most years, I’ve given up unhealthy between meal snacks like potato chips and desserts like ice cream. Cape Cod potato chips are my downfall. I don’t realize how much until Lent rolls around and there are none in the house.
Giving up things during Lent is good because it teaches us to do without for 40 days in hopes of growing closer to God. And though I’m also trying to do more for others and go to confession – the Curmudgeon suggested that I ask the priest for a two-hour time block to cover all my sins – Lent wouldn’t seem the same without giving up a few indulgences.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until I realized that I’d replaced my Lenten sacrifices with a new vice: Netflix. Over the past few weeks, I’ve binge-watched at least a half-dozen Netflix shows ranging from Turn Up Charlie and Friends from College to my current addiction, Nurse Jackie.
Over the past two weeks – OK, let’s be honest one week – I’ve consumed seven seasons of the show starring Edie Falco as a drug-addicted emergency room nurse. At my most depraved, I sat through six 25-minute shows in a row, watching expectantly as the seconds ticked down to the next episode.
I’m watching in horror as a woman battles an enormous addiction problem when in truth I’m addicted to the show. I know it’s not how I should be spending my time – anything would be more productive – yet I sit as one episode turns into six.
I need to get through this series and find out what happens so I can get to pressing business like cleaning my house and dealing with a name change on my social security card (long story). I even thought about skipping four episodes so I could watch the finale and be done with it. (I finally finished it yesterday. Spoiler alert: the end is somewhat disappointing.)
I’m not sure why binge-watching Netflix is so addictive, but I think part of it is the ability to watch a series from beginning to end in a compacted period of time without commercials. Netflix makes it so easy. As the closing credits roll, a preview of the next episode appears and well, what’s another 25 minutes of your time?
It all seems so harmless until you do a little research and realize that binge-watching is actually a form of addiction. Studies show that the same brain pathways that cause drug and sex addiction are also involved binge-watching shows. This, of course, is no real surprise. By now, we know that anything pleasurable usually has consequences.
I know a lot of people who’ve backed away from social media because it’s an enormous time sucker, but not so much about people cutting back on Netflix. In fact, newspapers like the New York Times even compile lists of the 10 most binge-worthy shows. Most of the time, I’ve never heard of any of the shows. I’m so out of the loop when it comes to hip shows, which may explain why I’m just getting around to Nurse Jackie.
I didn’t start out to be a binge watcher, but I’m not sure anyone sits down and consciously decides to waste half a day watching a series that ended in 2015. Like many other bingers, I was initially drawn to Netflix because most network TV shows don’t interest me.
I watch so little network TV that I don’t know when most shows are on. I can go three or four weeks before I realize that I’ve missed a few episodes of This Is Us. I know that I can watch it whenever I want, so there’s no need to park myself in front of the TV at 9 p.m. Tuesdays.
Years ago, I structured my weeknights around my favorite TV shows because that was the only way to watch them. I associated different nights with certain shows – Dallas was Friday night, Cheers and Seinfeld were on Thursday and Melrose Place on Tuesday – and planned my evening around them.
But being tied to a TV schedule is no longer necessary with On Demand, Netflix and other streaming services. You can watch what you want when you want, and for some of us that’s not a good thing. Some of us have a tiny problem with self control, and knowing when it’s time to step away from the screen.
I met a nice woman last weekend who confessed to holing herself up with her husband in her New York City apartment for an entire weekend watching Breaking Bad – a show I’ve never watched. What I’ve learned is that a binge is very personal: what’s binge-worthy to one person seems a stupendous waste of time to another.
I suspect part of binge-watching is an outgrowth of our desire for immediate gratification these days. Why devote a whole season watching something when you can gobble it up within a week? Still, there’s not a whole lot of time for other things during a binge. Minutes turn into hours, and pretty soon you’ve missed your window to walk the dog or catch up with your spouse.
They say that one of the first things steps of recovery is recognizing that you’ve got a problem, and I do. I don’t feel particularly happy or satisfied when my binging is over, and like too much food or drink, too much TV isn’t good for the mind, body or spirit.
So I’m adding Netflix binging to my list of Lenten abstentions. I’m not watching multiple episodes of anything, and hopefully I will have kicked the habit by Easter.
The idea of Lent isn’t to replace one vice with another, which I’m afraid I did with my binge-watching. It reminds me of a woman I know who told me she was giving up wine for Lent and drinking vodka instead. Um, nice try, but no.
Of course, as any Catholic will tell you, I’m entitled to one cheat day a week and I’m human, so there will be Netflix. (I just watched Amy Schumer’s comedy special “Growing.” I love her.) But the mindless binging for hours on end is over, unless I get sick. Then, all bets are off.