It’s the week of Blue Monday – and I don’t mean a week of celebrations to commemorate New Order’s seminal 1983 hit. Statistically, the third Monday of January is the most miserable day of the year. Even children are likely to feel the gloom, with Madame Snow once again toying with their emotions.
“Hey kids wanna play? You like snowmen and snowballs? Of course you do! But you don’t always get what you want do you? Here’s a thaw to teach you about disappointment!”
As adults eat the last desolate orange truffle in the box of Roses on the empty desk at work and children struggle to pack one last wodge of wet Mr Freeze-style snow from the roof of the car into a miserable icy snowball, the only refuge is watching the telly.
Or rather a form of telly-watching.
Now, with box-sets and broadband we consume television series like a packet of chocolate biscuits. In one or two sittings, with no self-control and only stopping when we are physically ill.
The only thing that interrupts the watching process is for those – not us, I swear – who journey around the more Del-Boy reaches of the Internet looking to stream the latest episode of Game of Thrones and finding it with Turkish subtitles in a crate marked ‘Spices’.
It’s only a brief interlude however.
Other than that, TV is a completely immersive experience. While watching Love/Hate in real time on an actual television, I was struck by how intrusive the advertising break was. There are none of those interruptions online or from the box-set. You can be lost in the fictional world that is just a few feet or inches from your eyes. After watching a season-and-a-half of Revenge in two-and-a-half evenings, such was the amount of backstabbing and betrayal among the filthy-rich Hampton set, my wife and I were completely suspicious of each other’s motives for about an hour afterwards. “What do you mean ‘do I want tea?’. Just what exactly are you plotting now in your scheming devious mind?”
With everyone watching series at their own pace, conversations between friends will invariably contain the line “Hang on a second, where are you now in it?…Oh okay I won’t say any more so.”
In fact it can be frustrating being in the company of someone who is ‘up to date’ when you’re languishing somewhere in the middle of ‘Series 2’. They know something you don’t. Therefore a further binge is required in order to communicate with them as equals.
But at least you can catch up. Television was not like this before. A series arrived and became the talk of the whole town at the same time. If you hadn’t seen it the previous night, you might as well not bother going to school. There were no repeats, no Sky Plusses, only minuses. Ask anyone over the age of thirty for their Top Ten list of regrets and chances are it will include missing ‘The Last Episode of Something’
Forty four years later my mother still remembers who called to the house just as she was settling down to watch the final episode of The Fugutive. She recalls sitting – almost in physical pain – listening to someone witter on about NOTHING while she could see (not hear, the sound was turned down) Richard Kimble come to some sort of reckoning with the One Armed Man over her guest’s shoulder.
Speaking of The Visitors, I also suffered. On May 24th 1985, the original ‘V’ – a horror-series about aliens called The Visitors who invade Earth – was reaching a dramatic conclusion. It is impossible to overstate how much this series resonated with 1985 Dripsey – where there was a suspicion of people from Ballincollig, let alone Outer Space. The scene where the woman in childbirth recoils in horror as a second green lizard twin hauls itself out of her womb is still imprinted on my brain. But I MISSED THE FINAL EPISODE because I had to go to bed early as it was the night before my First Holy Communion. History has seen many instances where great wrongs have been done in the name of religion but this was one of the worst.
The decline of traditional television-watching is almost like the decline of formal religion. We don’t have a TV. And we’re not the only ones. I meet more and more people who are also choosing to live their lives without any formal television. And what’s worse they’re raising their children without it. You hear people try to rationalise the diminution of the role of The Box in their lives “Like, I spose…I don’t believe…like… that Television is this…like Big Machine in the corner that we should all worship….but I do have my own I ‘spose you’d call it personal relationship with TV… I carry it around with me in a laptop bag but don’t think you have to have this big display of TV watching. I let the kids use the iPad until they’re old enough to decide for themselves.”
And yet, sometimes you realise there is something missing. When we visit people we barely speak to them. We run past them into their sittingroom and gaze in awe at the large screen in the corner. There is a kind of peace that comes from a physical TV set. And unlike a laptop, it doesn’t spend five minutes telling you about all the viruses it intercepted on your behalf (a job previously done by your mother).
Currently we are at a hiatus – up to date in A Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Revenge, Dexter and wondering where to go next. It’s not a trivial decision. It’s important to pick the right one. To embark on a new series only to find it’s not good enough is upsetting. And you can’t binge with a bad taste in your mouth.