The UX of 21st century tv series

I love stories. And television series are lovely little drip-fed stories with the same characters, new gags, amusing plot twists, that go on and on for 12 hours each season… but are released on an arbitrary weekly schedule and time! They’re the television equivalent of Harry Potter, Kushiel’s Dart triple-trilogy, the classic The Three Musketeers epic saga, which took me ages to finish (I did!), or the recently adapted to the screen epic adventure Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, if you’re picky). Big, fat, addictive, stories that seem to never end. In episodes. So given I love huge books I can sink into forever, why is it that I have come to love tv series so recently? Because now, I can get stuck in.

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from print series to books

Once upon a time, stories would be released in short instalments in newspapers or magazines. Think Dickens‘ David Copperfield or Balzac’s novels in weekly format. Thousands would wait an entire week to read what happened to their beloved heroes, and writers loved stretching out descriptions and action to keep their audiences waiting. After all those were published, they would be collated into a single collection, forming one book, which a bookworm like me could sit down by a warm fireplace and read in a few over-indulgent afternoons. Ah! The delights of instant gratification! No wonder the serialised novel has died a stolid death and books rule the world of words.

back-to-back, series become addictive

When you can read an entire book, you sink into it, become one with the characters, escape into their lives, and enjoy the experience. Watching a tv series in back-to-back episodes has the same effect. You sink in. You want to watch “one more episode”, just like when your father tucked you in, turned off the lights and left, only to come back ten minutes later to find you reading “one more chapter”. When I was younger, this kind of tv-escapism wasn’t possible. You either watched the episode the channels chose for you, in random order at an arbitrary time, with no ability to watch again (this was pre-VHS), or you had to sit down through a movie of prescribed length, whose characters never lived on beyond the two-hours-and-some. Now, I can buy a boxed set of DVDs and watch an entire series from beginning to end, episode after episode. It has become an addiction. The new format for consuming series is back-to-back, not week-after-week. I know a good number of people who purposely refuse to watch their favourite series as it’s being aired, so they can indulge in a 12-hour binge of their favourite characters. It’s the new way.

Annoyingly, though, tv series can be detrimental to your health… how? Well if you’re like me and want to watch “just one more episode”, two am rolls on rather quickly!

how to stop

I don’t want to stop. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Some tricks I’ve used in the past when the clock was in the small hours and work beckoned cruelly the next morning.

  • Stop mid-episode. I know this is cruel and very difficult, but it’s often easier to stop just after a scene in the middle of the episode, where there is no cliff-hanger, than at the end of the episode. Really.
  • Take it to bed. Yes, you read it right. Take your laptop or tablet to bed, and stream that episode while lying down, with only the little nightstand light on. You’ll get sleepy faster than you can say “sandman”. If you’re watching Dexter or West Wing… change addictions!
  • Have a shower. Sounds a bit odd, but I really enjoy a hot shower in the evening, it gets me nice and cozy and sleepy. Which is a great mindset if you want to get to bed. So if I’m having trouble stopping a show, I’ll pause it (whether mid-episode or not) and go have a shower. When I come out, I end up sometimes finishing that episode, and invariably in bed within the hour.