Step one in watching any great television series, logically, must start with finding it. Now, while you may think this might be simple, what with access to content never being easier (thank you Netflix Gods), this step is actually the hardest of the bunch. Why you ask? Well, because if like me you work a soul-crushing nine-hour day before returning home to cook, clean and contemplate life, you find you have just two to three measly hours to yourself. And most of that is spent either wallowing in self-pity, scrolling through Facebook or watching funny animal videos. So, devoting that precious time to a television show means it really needs to stack up. Like – will it be so awful that just five episodes in you’ll be wondering why you already want to hit your head against a wall (cough *Riverdale* cough)? Or will it be the diamond in the rough that goes on to top your favourites list for years to come (here’s looking at you Gilmore Girls). Unfortunately, at this stage it’s hard to tell which is which, so the only tools you’ll have will be a strange nagging feeling in your gut and maybe some hilarious Rotten Tomatoes reviews.
Okay, so you’ve found the latest binge-worthy epic, hilarious comedy or trashy romance to keep you hooked. Or at least you think you have. Now comes the part where you play it cool. Sometimes it’s because you don’t know how much you love the series yet and aren’t sure whether you should get attached to it. After all it could be a Grey’s Anatomy or a Game of Thrones, where it spans seventy-five seasons and multiple, tragic, all-consuming deaths. Or, sometimes the series has yet to get off its feet or earn a cult-following, so you aren’t sure whether there will be anyone to talk about it with. Or perhaps the show is simply on its very first season, meaning it could wind up axed two months in by network heads who couldn’t tell a good series from a flop if it was to hit them in the face. So, you keep it at arm’s length, watching an episode here and another there, trying not to become the clingy girlfriend. After all, you wound up in a dark hole the last time you watched something and you sure as hell won’t be making that mistake again…
This is officially the point of no return. And, like The Doctor, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry because it’s all downhill from here. You’ll know you’re here when you find yourself falling for the characters, smiling at the slick writing and wondering why on earth you didn’t watch the show sooner. Common side effects of stage three include girlish giggling when characters finally get together, sighs of relief when your ‘favourite’ character doesn’t die and screaming at the television when people do something unbelievably stupid. Try to hold onto this excitement as long as possible as you tell yourself ‘just one more episode’ until 3am or ‘I won’t click on those spoilers’ because you’ve declared yourself a true fan. Naivety is everything right now.
This is the part where it is all TV, all the time. It is often hard to tell the difference between stage three and four, mostly because they often occur simultaneously. Most of the time it starts without you really knowing it has – with a quick IMDB search of the actors or a perusal of an online article. Then it becomes about the endless behind the scenes videos or interviews where you gasp as you discover the actors are way too old to be playing teenagers or are actually Australian/British/Canadian/Insert non-American-nationality-here. And then there’s the gag reels that help get you through work when all you want is to be watching another damn episode. Eventually you start discussing the show in phone calls with your family and by that time it’s too late because you’re ready to drag everyone else down with you just so they can experience the same feels as you. Like House Stark you know that winter is coming and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it. So, store up your character ships like squirrels with their nuts because famine is coming. And it’s coming fast.
Okay, by now things are starting to crumble. There are cracks and resentments forming because you’ve realised that despite having five/seven/ten seasons left to watch nothing really lasts forever. You were so keen to see the characters reach #endgame, but you never thought it would happen quite so fast. 20 episodes is becoming 10 at an alarming rate and by now you can recall every word or note of the opening credits song as if conducting your own orchestra. But there’s still time, right? The main characters haven’t made up yet. The final climactic fight hasn’t happened. There’s a damn killer on the loose. There’s still a goddamn season to go! But any delight you had is short-lived because suddenly the finale is here. Shit is about to get real, feels are about to be had and you’ve made it to the culmination of hundreds of hours of viewing.
Your grief is overwhelming. You’ve entered a void and it can’t be filled. No more episodes, no Netflix mini-series and no talk off a spin-off. Your beloved characters have officially ridden off into the setting sun of your glowing television or computer screen and while you want to feel happy for them you just can’t. Because they’ve deserted you and left you with a thousand lingering questions. Your spiral is so deep that you start re-watching your favourite episodes for some glimmer of the happiness you felt but even that leaves you empty. Like Sherlock you start working the problem but there is no Moriarty to find. So, you become a mopey, gloomy, despondent shell of a person as you deal with the jet-lag of such a fantastic series.
Eventually you leave your apartment, stock up on real food and start talking to your friends about something other than the series. After indulging in a bit of reality television to cleanse your palette (and your brain) you might even – gasp – be ready to move on. And there you are – right back at step one and ready to embark on a new adventure. The circle never dies. The carousel never stops spinning. And like the Winchesters – nothing ever really dies. And strangely, you’re okay with that.