TV binge-watching: The time, sleep killer


After work, Doug Grabowski rushes home to Pilsen to quickly throw a load of laundry in the washer. There’s no time to cook. Forget about catching up on that book he downloaded to his Nook.

Romantic date nights with his girlfriend go out the window. His social life takes a back seat too. See, he’s in the midst of binge-watching HBO’s “True Detective.”

“If it’s nothing special, happy hour drinks after work or a Friday little get-together, nothing major for an event or special occassion, I will absolutely bail or take a raincheck to go home and watch a show if I’m really into it enough,” said Grabowski, 30, who works in client support for a financial services company in the Loop.

He is just like other binge-watchers guilty of hurrying home only to stare at the TV or computer screen for hours, convincing themselves to watch just one more episode until it’s way past bedtime. Now with the spring TV season finales airing, viewers may be looking to catch up on shows they missed by streaming them online or watching them on demand. It’s easy to get sucked into a show for hours at a time and let TV habits affect your life.

A number of recent surveys in the past few months have confirmed what many TV watchers know: the majority of binge-watchers stay up later than usual, which cut into their hours of sleep and left them feeling tired the next day. And chances are they’ve neglected something while binge-watching their shows.

There’s no official definition of binge-watching though a widely understood explanation is watching multiple episodes of a show in a row. The term, on the shortlist for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year losing out to selfie, was described as having originated in the 1990s for watching full-season DVD sets. But the convenience of on-demand viewing and online streaming pushed it further into the pop culture stratosphere. (this is so beyond obvious)

Binge-watching hit a new level for some when Netflix released full seasons at once of “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” And it seemed everyone was either talking about it or doing it when the last season of “Breaking Bad” aired.

“Yes, it’s another way to lose sleep and not do things you should be doing, but I will be the first to defend the idea that for some shows this is far and away the best way to watch them,” said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

It’s the only way Kevin Clark, who works 6 p.m. to midnight as a grocery produce clerk, watches TV shows. When his shift is done, he’s still wired but his friends are sleeping. So he powered through three seasons of “Veronica Mars” in three days, the “Breaking Bad” series in two weeks, and “House of Cards” in two days.

Binge-watching is a time-killer for sure. He’s stayed up to watch five or six episodes until the birds chirping was his cue to go to bed. “I’ve never been late to work but that’s four hours of sleep I could’ve had,” he said.

He admitted it’s hard to stop after not just one episode, but also one series. “Rather than something you could have savored and enjoyed, I consume it and then move on,” said Clark, 30, who lives in Edgewater. “I’m waiting for the next new thing to come on.”

It’s easy for Dana Michelotti to watch one episode after another especially when they end with suspenseful cliffhangers and the next episode autoplays. She had put off cleaning her Rogers Park apartment and running errands like grocery shopping to binge-watch.

For example, the 21-year-old student and administrative assistant watched the entire series of “Breaking Bad” in two weeks in time for the finale.

“When people would come into class or work on Mondays and say, ‘Did you see Breaking Bad last night?’ you can join in on the conversation,” Michelotti said.

Grabowski, too, said he wanted add to the water cooler discussion.

“The main reason I’ll typically binge-watch is if coworkers or friends have all seen it and there’s a lot of times when they’re shocked and ashamed of you that you haven’t seen it,” he said.

Winter was the ideal time to catch up on shows because he was stuck inside with not much else to do. Waiting a week for the next episode like some TV watchers doesn’t cut it for Grabowski because he said he’s impatient.

When episodes are watched in real time, it’s tough to remember what happened in the last episode a week ago as Jaclyn Pettit found.

Pettit and her boyfriend locked themselves inside an apartment during Martin Luther King weekend to binge-watch the first season of “House of Cards” before the second season came out in February.

“We didn’t get anything done. We didn’t go to the gym and ordered in food,” said Pettit, 28, an attorney who lives in Lakeview.

Binge-watching was an activity the couple did together. That is, until he went ahead and watched a couple episodes of a show without her. “It was the worst betrayal ever,” she said jokingly.

While too many episodes in a row can be overkill and lead to fatigue, there are benefits of the binge-watching experience, Thompson said.

“The artistic density, the literary qualities, all the complexities that make these things so wonderful are so much better appreciated when we watch them in a concentrated period of time,” he said. | @lvivanco

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