We all know that Netflix is the future of TV. Maybe not Netflix exactly, but TV in the form of on-demand media. Someone might build a new platform or come up with a new payment system or call it MiTV, but the idea is that people can watch a story, from beginning to end, in increments, at their own pace, on a device of their choosing.
This idea is not new and I am certainly not the first person to discuss it or write about it in a blog post.
But this idea became abundantly clear to me last week, when Jim and I sat down and watched four episodes of “Orange is the New Black” in one night. And then two more the next night. And we finished the season by the end of the week. This raises two questions for me. Was the captivating allure of “Orange” so compelling that I couldn’t tear myself away? Or did I watch thirteen episodes of a show in one week just because I could?
If you haven’t heard by now, “Orange is the New Black” is a show, available exclusively on Netflix, about a woman who goes to prison for carrying drugs ten years ago. It is based on a memoir by Piper Kerman of the same title. While in prison, the character, Piper Chapman, must come to terms with her circumstances, forgive or not forgive the ex-lover who got her in the situation, carry on her relationship with her fiancé, who is obviously not in prison, all while managing to survive in a hostile environment with guards and inmates whose lives, for better or worse, have crossed hers.
This show, created by Jenji Kohan, has captured the attention of millions. (More or less.) One of the main reasons why I wanted to start watching it was not because of all the hype and publicity, but because Jenji is a good friend of Steeltown Entertainment Project, and one of the writers, Lauren Morelli, is a Pittsburgh native. We were talking about “Orange” so much at work and planned an event to have Lauren back to the Burgh to talk about writing for the series, that I figured I just had to know what we were talking about. It was a work-related decision.
After the first episode, it became a personal decision. I liked the characters. I liked Piper and her sad boyfriend and her determination to always be in the middle of whatever is going on in the prison. Even the meanest, hardest, craziest inmate has a past and can be a good person. They all have a story, of how they got there and who they are. They have relationships with the other inmates that either work or don’t and when they don’t, they still have to figure out how to live next to each other.
You’d think that there’s not too much that could happen within the finite walls of a prison. But the characters drive the story. And Piper always manages to get herself into trouble because she just can’t keep her damn mouth shut.
So I loved the show.
But I also loved being able to watch it for four hours straight. Episodes of television shows end with cliffhangers. How else will they get people to come back and watch more? Someone is on the brink of death, someone has said the wrong thing, someone is hiding something. You can’t just stop watching. So when you watch a show on Netflix, the choice is easy. You don’t stop. You watch it until you literally can’t keep your eyes open. And then you can keep watching it the next night.
I don’t have my own Netflix account, so this phenomenon is relatively new to me. I’m used to watching an episode of a TV show and freaking out when the ending is a complete surprise and hanging on to every scene of the previews for the next week. But the next week comes and sometimes I forget parts of the previous episode, or parts of the story that was playing out. Case in point, “Lost.” I loved the show, and anxiously waited for the weekly episodes to be on TV. But often the story was confusing, brought in ideas from past seasons, skipped to different story lines, and I would find it hard to keep up from week to week.
Sometimes I’ll really like the first episode or two of a new show. I’ll have every intention to keep watching and tune in every week. But I get busy, it’s not written on a calendar anywhere, it’s not at the forefront of my mind. So I fall off the bandwagon.
With Netflix, no problem. Just watch all of them right now. Or go back, watch that last one again if you forgot what happened. Oh, you have to leave the house? It’s fine, just pull it up on your iPhone or tablet.
It’s the ease of use. The accessibility. The availability. All the episodes. Right now. Anywhere. Anytime.
I liked “Orange.” But I also had nothing better to do and the shows I’m waiting for this fall aren’t on yet. Might as well just keep watching.
It’s not that I don’t think people actually like the shows they’re watching on Netflix. I think it’s just easier to like a show when you can watch as much of it as you want. You can get to know the characters after three or four episodes and then you’re hooked.
Now that I’ve finished the season and am impatiently awaiting the next season, I can say that I was thoroughly hooked because I binged on the show. I watched clips of the cast on Katie Couric’s show. I read Lauren Morelli’s blog post about her big break into television writing, and I can’t wait to see her speak at Steeltown’s event.
So while television is not going away any time soon, it’s time to jump on this Netflix bandwagon. I may never need to pay for cable again…