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"Breaking Bad" and Binge-Watching: What Makes a Show Binge-Worthy?

by Kevin Marshall   August 14, 2013 at 12:00AM  |  Views: 1,396
Source: AMC

The concept of "binge watching" is a relatively new phenomena. There have always been pockets of loyal fans that would watch and re-watch an entire series in a handful of sittings, but it wasn't something people openly acknowledged doing until mail-order DVD services like Netflix became the norm.

Now that Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others have online streaming? Forget about it. Binge watching rules all. It's been helped along by highly addictive shows like "Breaking Bad," which started the second half of its final season this past Sunday.

But not all shows make for good binge-watching. In fact, some might actually work better on a slow burn, for example "Mad Men." There are also shows like the various iterations of "Law and Order;" they make for great marathon viewing when you call in still kind of drunk from last night sick to work, but each episode is more or less self-contained.

So what makes a show binge-worthy? What are the sort of elements that will make you pop in the next disc or click "watch next episode" until you realize you've lost your entire weekend on...well, "Lost?"

 

To find out, I re-watched ten of the most binge-able shows in history to find out why they make for great binge watching. The things I do in the name of science and Spike.com.

 

Source: HBO

The Wire

Summary: It's arguably the show that kicked off the binge-watching revolution. The show had low viewership throughout its five seasons on HBO, but word of mouth gave it a second life on DVD and became that show "you have to watch," according to your bossy friends. "The Wire" is a gritty crime drama that covers all facets of inner-city life in Baltimore: the morally compromised police department, the complicated culture of the drug trade, the surprisingly perilous seaports, the decaying public school system, and the emaciated print journalism industry.

Why you should binge-watch it: It's often referred to as a visual novel, which is appropriate given that it has some of the best writing ever seen on television. Sitting down through multiple episodes at a time is like finishing the chapter of a great book. Similarly, sitting down for one episode at a time can often feel like reading a book piecemeal, a few pages here and there, while stopping for days at a time. The way the intertwining stories of Baltimore slowly unfurl and then become precariously tangled make binge-watching pretty much the only way to get through it.

 

Battlestar Galactica

Summary: This reboot of the cult 1970s space opera was far more complex than the original. While it retained some elements of the original, many others were turned on their ears. Characters switched motivations, ages, genders, and even species. The show was still about the remnants of a humanoid race trying to outrun the Cylons and get to a mythological planet called "Earth" (hey that's us!), but in this reimagining the Cylons have evolved to look, act, think, and talk just like us. It made for an intriguing twist and one of the show's big hooks, even though producer Glen Larson recently revealed they only did it because of budget constraints.

Why you should binge-watch it: One of the things that hurt this show in the long run was that it set up mysteries that didn't really "pay off." Some of the reveals, in particular the final five Cylons, and the show's finale split the fandom in half when they aired. The thing is, though, that all the twists and turns are in keeping with the themes central to the show. Watching it all in one sitting, you get a better appreciation for what the show's creators were gunning for and aren't bothered as much with all the deus ex machina.

 

Source: HBO

Deadwood

Summary: The town where Wild Bill played his last card game is the setting for this intense, curse-laden, and (of course) bloody Western drama, which lasted three seasons but ultimately ended due to budget constraints. It's a shame, too, because it remains one of the most intriguing and gritty shows ever produced. At first the show focuses on lawman Seth Bullock (played by Timothy Olyphant), but then becomes more about the exploits and machinations of the town itself and in particular saloon owner Al Swearengen, who is alternately an antagonist for Bullock and also one of the people keeping the town from being overrun by outside forces.

Why you should binge-watch it: Not only is it the harshest, grittiest Western series ever produced, it's also one of the most addicting shows ever made. A lot of that is due to Ian McShane's performance as Swearengen, which is nearly hypnotizing.

 

Friday Night Lights

Summary: The etymology of this show is fascinating. It started out as non-fiction chronicle of small-town sports culture, was adapted into a fictionalized feature film starring Billy Bob Thornton, and then eventually became a critically acclaimed weekly series. Each work stands on its own, completely apart from the other, and are critically acclaimed in their respective mediums.

Why you should binge-watch it: You'll get so emotionally invested in the characters that you'll need to watch the next episode to find out what happens to them. Also, if you binge-watch it you can blow past that whole manslaughter sub-plot that occurs in the second season which – SPOILER ALERT - totally sucks. A great show otherwise..

 

Source: 20th Century Fox Television

Firefly

Summary: For decades, broadcast networks steered clear of producing Westerns or sci-fi shows. It was quite a feat, then, for Joss Whedon to convince Fox to produce a show that was both. "Firefly" aired at a time when shows were cancelled and pulled off the schedule despite having full season orders, which is exactly what happened. But what just a few years prior would be angry hand-written letters that could be ignored were now a loud, vocal contingent on the internet. The reaction to the show's cancellation spread word of mouth about it, and when it was released on DVD the high sales couldn't be ignored. The show eventually returned as a major motion picture, "Serenity," which did pretty well all things considered.

Why you should binge-watch it: It lasts less than a full season, plus a movie. You might as well.

 

The Sopranos

Summary: Come on, you didn't think this wouldn't appear on this list, did you?

Why you should binge-watch it: Because it's "The Sopranos." There really isn't any better answer I can give.

 

Arrested Development

Summary: Jason Bateman is Michael Bluth, a loyal son tasked with keeping dysfunctional family from falling into financial ruin after their father is thrown in jail. He has to contend with his socially awkward little brother Buster, his bungling conman and magician brother GOB, his duplicitous and lazy twin sister Lindsey, her estranged husband Tobias, and his selfish mother Lucille all while trying to set a good example for his awkward son George Michael. The show struggled to find an audience when it first aired on Fox, but got a second lease on life by becoming a Netflix exclusive.

Why you should binge-watch it: It's a great show on its own, but binge-watching it allows you to catch all the little recurring sight gags, inside jokes, and callbacks.

 

Source: Channel 4

The IT Crowd

Summary: The big break for British comedians Chris Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Kathleen Parkinson, and Matt Berry was a sitcom focusing on two IT professionals and their clueless supervisor. The show was co-created by Graham Linehan, the same guy behind the equally as binge-able series "Black Books" and "Father Ted."

Why you should binge-watch it: The show's frenetic pace and increasingly absurd premises make the time fly by. Before you know it, three hours will have passed and felt like twenty minutes. Plus, it's only 24 episodes total (four seasons of six episodes each).

 

Six Feet Under

Summary: A wayward son (Peter Krause) becomes the unwilling patriarch and inheritor of his family's funeral home after his father unexpectedly dies in a car accident. The series, created by "American Beauty" writer Alan Ball, focuses on death but is really an affirmation of life.

Why you should binge-watch it: It's tough to call this a dramedy, since it's really just a drama that's surprisingly light given its setting. It has arguably the most intriguing array of characters ever assembled on one television show.

 

Source: Channel 4

Peep Show

Summary: Comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb do some of the smartest, most avant garde humor in British television. "Peep Show" features Mitchell and Webb as mismatched roommate. The show's style can be jarring, since it's shot from the point of view of the respective characters. Once you get used to that, though, you'll be hooked.

Why you should binge-watch it: It's hilarious and different from pretty much any sitcom you'll see.

 

So what's the key to making a show binge-worthy? Wild developments. Characters that we can care about and identify with that come from a different world, either figuratively or literally. Hooks that keep you coming back. Most important of all? It just has to be good.

 

 

We talked to the stars of one of the shows on this list – "Arrested Development" – on an episode of All Access Weekly earlier this season. Check it out below!

THE DAILY FOUR

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