The Commercial Appeal

Bingeing now part of television-viewing experience

New devices, services enable watching a season at a time

- By Carla Meyer

It’s a not-so-pretty name for a highly enjoyable experience.

“Binge-watching” is the common term for watching a season or the entire run of a TV show in one or a few sittings.

The practice now has a name because it has moved beyond sci-fi nerds and stoners to the greater populace.

Suburban moms approach the third season of “Downton Abbey” by first inhaling Seasons 1 and 2. Teenagers consume all of “Lost” on iPads. Otherwise responsibl­e middleaged husbands hide in their basements for days to stream the five-season run of “The Wire.”

Marathon viewing is so widespread that jokes about it sell easily, like the bit on IFC’s “Portlandia,” in which a couple sit down for an episode of “Battlestar Galactica” before a party, then miss the party and days of work because of binge-watching episodes.

“It’s a trend, more and more, that viewers are moving to,” Beau Willimon, writer and showrunner for the new Netflix original drama “House of Cards,” said. “They are experienci­ng television shows more often as an entire season. They want to watch (episodes) when they want to watch them, where they want to watch them and on what device they want to watch them.”

Based on a British series, the Washington, D.C.-set hourlong political drama “House of Cards” carries the prestige of an HBO series. It stars Kevin Spacey as the House majority whip and Robin Wright as his Lady Macbeth-esque spouse. David Fincher (“The Social Network”) directed the first two episodes.

But instead of unfolding over three months on HBO, “Cards” is available Ready for binge-watchers, all 13 episodes of the Netflix original series “House of Cards” can be streamed instantly via the online service. The political drama stars Kevin Spacey as U. S. congressma­n Frank Underwood, and Robin Wright as his wife.

in its entirety, today, to Netflix customers. All 13 episodes can be streamed instantly via the online service.

“Netflix is smart enough to acknowledg­e (the trend) and exploit it,” Willimon said of marathon viewing habits. “We are proud to be the first to deliver it that way. We certainly won’t be the last.”

Netflix also has been a primary enabler of bingewatch­ing by offering entire seasons of shows for streaming and then availing its service to most devices, from iPads to Blu-ray players capable of streaming Internet video to television­s.

Before streaming became common, bingewatch­ing often was associated with DVD box sets of premium-cable shows. People who wanted to see “The Sopranos” without paying monthly HBO fees would wait for a season on DVD, then watch episodes back-to-back.

Binge-watching still is more likely to occur with shows containing bigger, overarchin­g storylines than with strictly episodic series. Shows with longer threads practicall­y beg you to continue to the next episode, even if it is 1 a.m. and there’s work in the morning.

Binge-watch shows also tend to lack a satisfying entry point at any place other than the series’ start. Starting “Two and a Half Men” in Season 4 probably would work fine, because the characters and situation are so transparen­t. But try introducin­g yourself to the meth-dealing hell of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” in Season 4. It’s impenetrab­le.

Willimon said he envisioned Season 1 of “House of Cards” as a film playing out over 13 episodes. Because Netflix committed to two seasons, or 26 episodes, up front — a move Willimon called “extraordin­ary” — the creative team went further in planning, he said, enabling the introducti­on of moments in Season 1 and pinpoint when to call back to them in Season 2.

“Cards” might someday join the binge-watched elite led by “The Wire,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “Sons of Anarchy.”

So could some other current shows listed below. These shows were chosen because they have engendered awards or controvers­y, or offer serieslong­s arcs that encourage marathon viewing. Catch up with these:

“Girls” (8 p.m. Sundays, HBO): Lena Dunham, 26-year- old star, writer and director of this series about four young New York women, either gets overpraise­d as the voice of her generation or trashed as unworthy of having her own show. So you know she’s struck a cultural nerve. Season 2 started a few weeks ago. (Season 1 is available to HBO subscriber­s on cable On Demand and is out on DVD and streaming.)

“The Good Wife” (8 p.m. Sundays, CBS): Start with Season 1 to fully appreciate Alicia’s (Julianna Margulies) progressio­n from wronged political wife to self-assured attorney and ambivalent political wife. (Seasons 1-3 are out on DVD and streaming, and earlier Season 4 episodes are streaming on

“Homeland”: Showtime just concluded Season 2 of this Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning, edge- of-your-seat series about a Marine (Damian Lewis)-turned-terroristt­urnedand the scary-smart, bipolar CIA agent (Claire Danes) who hunts/ loves him. It was a wild season that was, binge- watch- speaking, more addictive than any other show. (Seasons 1 and 2 on On Demand. Season 1 also available on DVD and streaming).

“Game of Thrones,” HBO: This sprawling series based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, with its family intrigue, incest and tales of kingdoms won and lost, certainly has an avid following. Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for his performanc­e as Tyrion Lannister, crafty but compassion­ate younger brother to the queen. (Seasons 1 and 2 are available to HBO subscriber­s on On Demand; also on DVD and streaming)

“Justified,” 9 p. m. Tuesdays, FX: It’s possible to climb on board this well-written, wellacted crime drama during The award-winning “Homeland,” which just finished a wild Season 2, is a prime candidate for bingeing. Mandy Patinkin stars as Saul Berenson in the series. its fourth and current season without having to ask a lot of questions. But knowing more about what makes Deputy U. S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) so tough, wry and capable would probably enhance the viewing experience, as would a greater consciousn­ess of how charismati­c crime boss Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) became so selfaware. (Seasons 1-3 are available on DVD and streaming.)

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