April 21, 2021–I am a binge TV watcher.
For someone that hasn’t had broadcast or cable television since 1995, I feel like a hypocrite admitting this addiction. But I’m fairly selective in my choice of shows. I prefer the unimaginable future or the unrecoverable past.
For example, I have watched the entire arc of Star Treks, from the USS Enterprise to Voyager.
I only recently discovered Deep Space 9. I hadn’t seen it before because it started airing just when the FCC converted to digital broadcast and we lost our three snowy antenna-fed channels.
Now, thanks to online streaming, I am starting my third viewing through the entire seven seasons. It is an intriguing set of work that creates thought-provoking stories weaving together a shape-shifting constable, a Ferengi bar owner, and a self-aware hologram that croons Sinatra tunes in a 1960s Vegas showroom, all set at the entrance to a stable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant.
But my true indulgence lies as far from the Gamma Quadrant as possible–All Creatures Great and Small. It started innocently back in 1977 when I picked up a paperback of stories written by the Yorkshire vet with the pseudonym James Herriot. I was hooked from the very first sentence of the very first chapter (always the sign of a great writer):
“They didn’t say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back.”
It goes on to describe his struggles to deliver a calf while lying face down on a cobble floor in “a pool of nameless muck, my arm deep inside the straining cow.”
I still have that book, and every single book the man ever wrote, reading and re-reading them so often they now all have duct tape spines. Then I discovered that the British Broadcasting Corporation made a television series from the books around that same time. We of course couldn’t get BBC shows where I grew up, so it was long after the series left the air that I was able to buy the complete set.
The “programmes” were so well made they replaced my reading addiction. I began cycling through them one by one, sitting down to watch half an episode while I ate lunch, or enjoying a few scenes before bed. Every time I finished the 90th episode, I started over. I would be ashamed to admit how many times I’ve gone through them, even if I knew. Let me just say I’m glad that DVDs don’t wear out.
It doesn’t diminish the pleasure of viewing that I can recite every line from every scene in every episode. I don’t know why I, or any human, does this. It might be because streaming companies offer so many options we are simply overwhelmed trying to decide what to watch next. And then we are frequently disappointed.
Of course I read challenging books, view new films, and pursue interesting areas of study. That’s practically my job as a writer. But when the writing is done, it feels good to sink back into the company of old friends whose words we know before they say them.
We have comfort food. Why not comfort viewing?
Excuse me. James Herriot has a calf to deliver.