Box Set Blitz
There are many wonderful things about the British Summer. Lazy picnics, playing in the park, trips to the seaside, cremated burgers on barbecues... One thing that sucks about the British Summer however, is the telly.
From June to September, telefantasy appears to leave town. Maybe it summers in St Lucia. Maybe, like many of its devotées, it finds all the sun a bit too much. Whatever the reason, for the telly-loving geek, often averse to the sporting events which dominate summer TV, this is the barren season.
In the past, there wasn't much we could do but sit and bemoan our lot or perhaps resort to stumbling, blinking, out into the real world, but in the last few years, all that has changed. For most geeks of my acquaintance, summer means box sets.
I know people who deliberately save box sets for the summer. I know many of us swap them between us. It's a golden opportunity to dip one's toes into one of those series that we've somehow never quite gotten around to watching, or to undertake a rewatch of an old favourite.
Watching a box set is a very different experience to watching a programme week by week, with six month (or longer) gaps between seasons. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this.
One of the best things about watching a box set is that each episode remains fresh as we watch the next. For arc-heavy shows like Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5, this allows the story to unfold like an epic novel. The viewer better recalls subtle plot points and seemingly insignificant lines of dialogue that might be lost if watched over a longer period. We remember bit part characters from the second episode that show up again three seasons later, where otherwise we might turn to a loved-one or friend and ask “Who's that dude?”
The downside of this occurs with shows that have mostly standalone episodes, with the odd reference to something that will become relevant in the season finale. Peppered over 13 or more weeks, this can seem subtle and intriguing; watched over a weekend, it can feel like you're being battered around the head with a cricket bat bearing the legend “Season Arc”. Bad Wolf in season one of the new series of Doctor Who is a prime example of this.
Similarly, every show has its tropes; devices upon which the regular writers or directors rely. Watched over time, they are often barely noticeable, but watching the show in a short period of time can make it seem far more formulaic and lazy. I can understand why some people hate Joss Whedon shows. If you're not a fan of Whedonisms, 'shipping bait, or his Wilde-fulfilling habit of killing the things you love, then watching the Firefly box set at the behest of a fan would have been torture. Although, since I love those things, Firefly is probably my second most watched box set after Star Trek.
Earlier this year, I started watching Supernatural for the first time. It's one of those shows I'd just never got around to watching. I came home after spending the weekend with a couple of avid fans with box sets in my sticky mitts. After an heroic effort, I caught up just in time for the start of season five! When I started reading blogs and message boards about the show, I was amazed to find that a lot of otherwise sensible, discerning fans were sick to the back teeth with Bobby. Bobby Singer is one of my favourite characters, right up there with Dean, Castiel and Ellen. I started reading their very well-reasoned complaints and suddenly thought: maybe it's because I've only lived with the character for four or five months, whereas they've known him for five years? Or maybe they're just mental, because Bobby rocks.
Then I thought about Farscape and Stark. Man, I loathe Stark. He ruins one of my favourite characters (Zhaan) and just drags down every episode he's in with his kerrazy antics. Yet a lot of people who've only seen the show as a box set experience don't have a problem with him. After all, he's not really in it that much: After his introduction in season one, he turns up on Moya towards the end of season two, and for most of season three he's on Talyn, meaning he's only in alternating episodes. Then he's off again. Over two years though, it felt like a lot. It still does on a rewatch. And Meltdown is an abomination. It's not quite as bad as Taking the Stone and Picture If You Will, but still, it's pretty awful.
There's a point: bad episodes. To skip or not to skip? I know there are purists who will throw up their hands in horror at the very idea, but I'm not one of them. Life is too short to sit through those three episodes again. The same goes for Buffy's After Life, Blake's 7's Sarcophagus and (prepares to run and hide) The Girl in the sodding Fireplace.
Of course, if you're indulging in a box set binge with a loved one, it gets a little more complicated. Most people are mental and would not only want to watch The Girl in the Fireplace, but would go on about how it's brilliant and one of the best episodes since Doctor Who's return. Pffft.
If you're showing somebody the programme for the first time, it's not really fair to foist your prejudices upon them, so you may well have to end up sitting through a story you hate, or that makes you go to sleep. I find that this is a good time to go and put dinner on.
Eventually though, box set season ends. Soon, the Coming Soon trailers start to appear on telly, and TV message boards get all a-flutter with anticipation. Autumn and winter are upon us, and we wonder how we'll ever find time to watch all the must-see shows we simply must see.
The box sets go back on the shelves, only coming down for the odd couple of choice episodes or a disc on a cold, wet afternoon.
Oh, in case you were wondering, this summer I've tried out Gilmore Girls on Mr Thompson's recommendation, and I've rewatched season one of Babylon 5. I'm currently introducing the BF to Supernatural and then I'm going to try the anime series Mushishi (courtesy of Mr Dillon).