Magazine | February 23, 2015, Issue

Lids Eternally Apart

A few years back, I was stricken with the stomach flu and sequestered from my family, friends, and colleagues. It was hunkered down in this solitary misery that I had my first taste of streaming television. In less than a week, I emerged from my bedroom having polished off three seasons of Mad Men, a series that follows the misadventures of a part-time 1960s-era sex-addicted ad executive with the moral temperament of Caligula and the personality of a cucumber. And since watching it, I too have been held hostage by addiction.

Soon enough, I went on a bender and watched 75 episodes of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica — a space opera about an exodus to New Earth. I binged on Breaking Bad (twice) and The Sopranos more times than I care to admit. On a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Brazil, I skipped out on an invite to a party at Copacabana beach with a group of fascinating people in order to finish off the final season of The Wire in my cheerless hotel room.

I’ve been to Deadwood and I feel like I’ve lived with the Walking Dead. Let me put it this way: The two concise seasons of House of Cards are nothing more than a digital amuse-bouche for someone with my insatiable appetite. And when my supply of fresh serial dramas began drying up, I manned up and began devouring the languorous British soap opera Downton Abbey, which then sparked an entire BBC-watching spree that saw me march through series about a Welsh murder in Hinterland, an English murder in Broadchurch, Irish murders in The Fall, a bunch of amateurish murders in Father Brown, and the entire murderous reign of a Birmingham crime syndicate circa 1918 in Peaky Blinders. I watched classics like Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. Actually, I’ve immersed myself in decades of British culture in a mere few months. Nothing could stop me from watching. Not even Rowan Atkinson. I only thank the gods of television that there was no stream of The Benny Hill Show within the reach of my addiction-addled remote-control finger.

My rationalization for this obsession pivoted on a vague notion that I was not only being entertained but engaging in a cultural connection that might help me better understand the world around me. This was art, right? Art matters. Well, that theory began to fray somewhat when I found myself slogging through the saccharine of Parenthood or the infuriating silliness of Lost. It was during one particular low point, when I contemplated binge-watching Gilmore Girls — the story of a scrappy teen, her sassy single mom, and their new life in a mythical Connecticut town — that I realized I might be wrestling with an affliction beyond my control. I’d hit rock bottom. No one in a healthy mental state could possibly find Connecticut compelling for seven seasons. Of this, I was certain.

Perhaps it was even worse than I imagined. A recent study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin claims that my binge-watching — which is most often defined as viewing between two and six episodes of the same TV show in a single sitting — means that I’ve succumbed to something called “extreme-viewing behavior.” This is a disorder tied to something else called “self-regulation deficiency,” which is the biggest predictor of binge-watching behavior. This means I have an inability to resist my desire to watch show after show because not watching might trigger feelings of guilt in me — something comparable to the guilt a responsible adult may experience when missing church or not going to the gym. Apparently, my affliction is also associated with loneliness and depression (which, admittedly, I do feel whenever a good series comes to an end). This can oftentimes lead to physical fatigue and problems like obesity and heart disease.

Potentially worse, researchers suggest that when binge-watching becomes rampant in our lives, we will soon begin neglecting our children, our spouses, and our friends. Fortunately, I’ve not yet detected any such problems. As far as I know my kid breezed through fourth or fifth grade without any nagging from me.

So while I may have overdone it, I make no apologies. The real reason I can’t stop watching television is that television happens to be fantastic these days. Imaginative. Fun. Thought-provoking. Most often, these shows are far better than mainstream movies and far more compelling than most novels. Not all of them, but a lot. This is the richest and deepest form of entertainment we now have available to a mass audience. My generation came home from school and watched Tom and Jerry or Gilligan’s Island in a perpetual loop and it was, without question, a monumental waste of time — the idiot box, indeed. It’s no longer so.

Moreover, binge-watching provides a more emotionally fulfilling experience than waiting around a week to move forward on these gripping narratives. I will rarely even watch a show when it is first released. Technological advances allow us to dispense with the antiquated notion of a cliffhanger. We can watch whenever we want in whatever time frame suits us. As Seneca — or maybe it was Walter White, for all I know — once said, “You must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.” In judicious amounts and in discerning fashion, a person can calibrate his entertainment to meet his needs. This is why I binge. All you need is a modicum of self-control and one — or, preferably, all — of the available streaming services.

– Mr. Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

A Hand Withheld

It’s rare for a president to conclude a State of the Union address with a long passage noting that his presidency “hasn’t delivered” on one of its central promises. President ...


Politics & Policy

Foreign Policy by Map

George W. Bush left office with his activist foreign policy in disrepute. Fast-forward six years: President Barack Obama has pursued, in some respects, the opposite approach, and yet he has ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Midcentury Mores

Edward Mendelson is one of our mandarin humanistic intellectuals — Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities at Columbia, literary executor of the estate of W. H. Auden, an expert on ...
Politics & Policy

Bloody Crossroads Redux

There have been two great political wars this Oscar season, and both have involved American liberals’ complex relationship with the movies. What makes this relationship complicated is that liberals have ...
City Desk

The City, from Afar

The road follows the right angles of everything out here, farms, townships, counties, states. On either side, fields showing stubble. Thick gnarly trees mark homesteads and cemeteries. Where the land ...


Politics & Policy


Contraception, Continued Robert VerBruggen agues that pro-lifers should support the promotion of contraceptives that sometimes may act as abortifacients (“On a LARC,” December 31). The death rate for unimplanted embryos is ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Vaccines seem to do strange things to the mind — at least for politicians. ‐ Wisconsin governor Scott Walker took an early, if narrow, lead in a poll of Iowa Republicans. ...

Lifespan Liberalism

There’s no shortage of studies that attempt to show how liberals and conservatives are different species who happen to share hominid form. Liberals are conveniently revealed by Cold Science to ...
Politics & Policy


THE MESSENGER This blind matter troubleth my wit.                                                              Everyman We waited for the messenger all night, A mixed report though certainly it shocks, When summoning what little souls we have He drums them like dumb echoes ...

Most Popular


Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More
PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More