James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

James Griffin: Return to binge-watching

James Griffin has been binge-watching 'Les Revenants' ('The Returned').
James Griffin has been binge-watching 'Les Revenants' ('The Returned').

Binge-watching is the term for it. It is the act of sitting down with the intention of watching a single episode of something, on DVD or Blu-Ray or stacked up on a PVR and, two days later, realising the weekend has gone and every available episode of the series has been consumed. While this is an awesome way to spend a weekend, it is not recommended if you want to also achieve things like housework, gardening and sleeping.

Recently the Beloved and I fell into the binge-watching trap, thanks to a French series called Les Revenants (or, in proper language, The Returned). The returnees of the title are dead people, who waft back into the town from whence they came, not realising that they were/are dead. Needless to say their return to the population causes lots of atmospheric unease and a distinctly French attempt to understand why this is happening.

French zombies are much cooler than actual zombies. Instead of the slobbering messes that are The Walking Dead zombies, French zombies are very photogenic and dress in stylish, smart-casual clothing and smoke cigarettes and ponder the universe.

They ponder the universe a lot - what it means to be dead; what it means to be alive; whether or not to have another cigarette. Many times the period of pondering ends with someone shrugging in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Being a French zombie is so cool that even some of the characters who aren't zombies start to think they are zombies in the hope of being cooler - and understanding the universe.

Binge-watching a series in a language you don't speak or understand carries with it a higher degree of difficulty than normal binge-watching because the biggest enemy of binge-watching is losing concentration. By the time you're into the fifth or sixth episode of the weekend, story fatigue is starting to set in so the ability to concentrate on the dialogue becomes important. Yes, subtitles help but only to the point where you can still focus on the teeny, tiny words on the screen, which is why only the truly experienced binge-watcher should attempt a series in another language. Bingers of moody Scandinavian crime series will tell you that the most difficult time is mid-series, when you can no longer read the credits and all the characters start to sound like the Swedish chef from The Muppets and you find yourself making repeated trips to the snack food.

Another of the many unforeseen (but yet entirely inevitable) side-effects of binge-watching is that your mind sometimes wanders to strange and unexpected places while you are meant to be watching. There was one time during my binge when I began to wonder if the British Royal family might actually be zombies, and that when Will and Kate come down here to visit, the other Royals refer to it as 'eating out'. Being a Royal would be the best cover ever for being a zombie.

There is a tipping point in binge-watching when it ceases to be about "shall we watch one more?" and it instead becomes a grim battle to the death: to watch that final episode, no matter what the time of day or night or how precarious your mental state. For only when you have watched the closing credits of the final episode, in silence, and then put the disc back in its box, can it be said that your job is done.

Being French, The Returned ultimately raised many questions and then declined to answer them in favour of being cool and enigmatic. But that is okay, in fact that matters not a jot, because ultimately the purpose of the binge is the journey, not the destination. Also not answering questions like "so why actually did they return?" and "what the %^$# did all that mean?" are offerings from the programme makers to the gods of TV for a second series.

Binge-watching is the way of today. In fact, it is the way today becomes Monday morning before you realise it. Yes, it is bad for productivity. And yes, it is undeniably bad for your physical and mental state of health. But sometimes bad things must be done in the name of the greater good and if it takes a bunch of chain-smoking French zombies to teach you this lesson, then so be it.

But the binge is done. The zombies have gone, never to return until the second series. It is time to return to the fulfilling tasks of living a normal life.

Except what is that, calling me from atop the entertainment centre? Justified: the Complete Fourth Season?

No, no, I must be strong. But surely one episode, just one episode, can't hurt.

- NZ Herald

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James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

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