We like to watch

House of Cards, Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead and other conundrums of 21st-century TV.

click to enlarge CARDS SHARK: The Frank Underwood character proves that nobody does smarmy Southern charm like Kevin Spacey. - Melinda Sue Gordon for Netflix
Melinda Sue Gordon for Netflix
CARDS SHARK: The Frank Underwood character proves that nobody does smarmy Southern charm like Kevin Spacey.

It had gotten out of hand. So many people in the CL offices were talking about the new Netflix series House of Cards — or trying not to talk about it, in case the person in the next cubicle hadn’t started watching or had just gotten to episode 2 or just didn’t want to hear about TV at all — that we had to let it all out.

What follows are a series of short meditations on the topic, beginning with thoughts from new Daily Loaf blogger and early House of Cards adopter Erik Hahmann, who watched the whole series the first weekend it was out. The rest of us are at various points in the HoC journey (note the number of episodes watched before the author names below), and of several minds about the experience — not just of this particular series, but of TV-watching in general.

Do we binge? Do we take it slow? Do we go on a crash diet for the sake of our own sanity? One thing’s for sure — the TV landscape is in a permanent state of flux.

13: Erik Hahmann

Netflix released all 13 episodes of its original drama House of Cards on Fri., Feb. 1. I’d finished watching them all by Sunday night.

I was left with a strange feeling, though. An emptiness. Who do I talk about the show with? I had to be one of the few people in America who had finished the series that quickly. I couldn’t tweet about the fantastic performance Kevin Spacey gave as Frank Underwood, or how Kate Mara was brilliant in episode seven. I couldn’t read reviews from critics. Years of TV-watching in the 21st century had conditioned me to expect a sort of instant gratification with the post-show experience. I had gotten what I wanted — every episode of the season delivered to me at once — but was ultimately left a bit unsatisfied.

The Walking Dead, which debuted to a series record 12.3 million viewers, doesn’t suffer from that problem. Within minutes of its airing, any media outlet you could find was buzzing about what had just transpired: What is Daryl thinking? Is Rick going to snap? Hell, AMC even airs Talking Dead, where a panel discusses the events of the previous hour, immediately after the latest episode. There’s nothing more instant gratification-y than that. The problem is, you have to wait a week for the next episode.

Each way has its advantages. If you’re following a show week to week, when a big event happens you’re able to share that with everyone. The finales of The Sopranos and Lost were huge social media events. If you hadn’t seen either of them, in the day, or even hours, afterward you were seemingly exiled from society. I should know; I didn’t watch either show as it aired and had to experience those moments alone years after the fact.

Binge-watching allows you to experience something at your own pace without the pressure of tuning in at a certain date and time. I’ll watch Girls at my own pace, Internet.

Appointment TV is never going away. But with the success of Netflix’s streaming service, House of Cards, and the return of Arrested Development, binge-watching is here to stay, too. Amazon is even getting into the original programming business, having ordered six pilots into production that will be available only via Prime Instant Video.

We’re a society that’s advancing. The only wrong choice is not to watch.

8: Joe Bardi

I must confess: I have binged before, most notably on the first two seasons of Lost, which I consumed over several insane summer weekends before the premiere of Season Three. That was back in my single days, when I was a professional binge-watcher with a four-disc-at-a-time Netflix account. Now I’ve got a wife and a kid and no time for anything, much less 12 continuous hours of couch-sinking. I thought I had given up binge-watching forever.

Then came House of Cards, which seems designed for marathon viewing. I relapsed hard, and started mainlining episodes over the Feb. 8-10 weekend (one week after the show became available for streaming on Netflix Instant). If my son was napping, Daddy was cramming in an episode. When he went to bed for the night, I’d watch two or three in a row. Before I knew it, I had seen the first eight installments. Only five to go. The end was in sight.

But then a funny thing happened: I stopped. Not because I got bored or decided I didn’t like House of Cards. To the contrary, It’s Grade-A material. Nobody does smarmy Southern charm like Kevin Spacey, and the supporting players and twisted plotlines are fabulous. No, what slowed me down was the thought that I was going too fast. I wasn’t savoring each episode, thinking about it afterward, chewing on it. The nuance of the show was becoming lost on me.