Last year I was commissioned to write something about binge-watching TV. I don't watch a lot of TV, and I've never binge-watched anything in my life. The point of the article was going to be: what's binge-watching really like? After taking advice from friends, I chose to binge on series one of The Wire. These are the notes I made while I binged. These were supposed to be turned into an article of some kind, but for various reasons that never happened.
Dammit I can't hear it. Let me just up the volume a bit, tap tap tap tap. Still can't hear it. What? Hey it's that guy from The Hour! Now that was a TV series I actually enjoyed. He sounds odd with an American accent, but then so does Damien Lewis, and he's married to Helen McCrory.
Wait - oh it was iTunes' volume that was turned down. I see, iTunes has its own volume control that is entirely unconnected with the computer's volume controls. Thanks Apple! Tap tap tap tap tap. Draaaaaag. Now I can hear it, and the guy from the Hour (I need to Google his name, but I don't know it so I Google "the guy from the hour" and I get a link to a gay forum, ok) is talking about a dead kid, must be the dead kid I was seeing while trying to work out the volume thing.
I am 50 seconds into episode 1 of season 1 of The Wire, on my first ever binge TV session in my whole life ever.
Things are not going well so far.
The Wire? What? That's from years ago!
I know. But I never watched it.
I never watched Lost. Or 24. Or Battlestar Galactica. Or House. I've watched very little telly since the mid-1990s, which was when I got bored of it and looked for something else to do.
I'm not a TV fundamentalist. I don't think less of people who do watch TV. I just struggle to maintain my interest in most shows.
Ten minutes in. Wait, 10 minutes just went by. OK.
Everything looks old on this show. Old phones. A typewriter. I thought this was more recent than that. But then, the guy from The Hour looks a lot younger. Dominic West, that's him. Yeah much younger. This must be older than I thought. There must be more TV I've not watched than I thought.
Why are the police guys arguing with each other all the time?
I feel like I need to know how US police departments are arranged. I need an org chart. Does anyone have an org chart?
I pause and Google for "Baltimore police org chart" and I get this, which doesn't help me much.
They all have pagers. Ha! Pagers. I had a pager once, back in London, back when I worked for The Man. It didn't bleep often.
The first episode is over. Some drugs happened. Some police happened. Actually I did get into it a bit. And at the end, when the guy walked away from the murder scene, I felt a little sorry for him.
That's how they want you to feel.
A promise is a promise, and a deadline was a deadline. More Wire, now. Wait, first I'll just check Twitter.
I'm sitting in my office watching this one. Three quarters of the way through episode 2, and something's happening: I'm interested.
Now episode 2 is done and I can't let myself stop. I'd quite like to check some email, I'd quite like to get out of the house for some air. It's cloudy but fresh outside.
But straight into part 3. No waiting. Click play.
There's a none-too-subtle scene where one drug dealer teaches two younger, less experienced drug dealers how to play chess.
"Look," the scene says. "This series like chess. Look. These guys are like pawns. Look. See? It's like chess. See?"
I see. Thank you for the note.
If I try reading email while the show's on, shit gets fucked up. I can't read the email properly, and I can't concentrate on the show either.
And I'm starting to feel like I want to concentrate on it, because there might be a little detail I don't want to miss.
Three characters just swapped meaningful looks. Just short glances. Something you'd miss if you were reading email. But those looks cast a new light on everything I've seen so far. That's a good bit of storytelling there, a nice little sprinkling of extra suspense.
I'm cold. I need to sit somewhere warmer.
It turns out I've spent the last few minutes clicking furiously at the clicker on top of a cheap pen. My wife's sitting here next to me, and since I'm watching with headphones on, all she can hear is click click click click click
"THAT'S REALLY ANNOYING," she just shouted. She's right. The tension's getting to her too, and she's not even watching.
There's another twist at the end of Part 3.
Thinking about the screenwriting process, I find myself wondering: once they've decided what it will be about, maybe the next step is coming up with 12 twists, one for each episode. Then when you have the twists, you fill in the plot lines that lead up to each one.
Part 4. I'm still cold, so I hit pause and get up to find a blanket. It's all this sitting still.
Looking up, I see it's a beautiful sunny day. Dammit. We get very few of those around here, I should be outside in it, soaking up some Vitamin Sunshine.
This must be the life of professional TV reviewers. Condemned so spend hours watching stuff they've never heard of, stuff they have no interest in, missing out on the sunshine for the sake of the stuff that fills the gaps between ad breaks.
Two detectives are in a car. The sound recording is authentic, like it was recorded in a car. Sounds matter too.
The blanket's helping a bit. I still wish I was out in the sunshine.
It's raining. Not here, but on the TV show.
When I was a kid, watching Starsky and Hutch and Hill Street Blues, it never rained. I grew up thinking America was sun-drenched all over, not just the Florida parts. But here it is: rain in Baltimore. Who knew?
My arms hurt. My ears are hot from wearing the headphones for so long. How many hours have I been sitting here? My neck aches. When I look up and out through the window, it takes a moment for my eyes to refocus at a distance. There are trees out there, blowing in the wind and glistening in the sunshine.
The cops on the TV are still arguing with one another. Is this what real cops are like? Why do they argue so much?
They're talking about someone giving someone else the humps. What does that mean?
I need a wiki.
Nearly through part 4 now. The tension isn't rising, but it's not lessening either. The sensation of cat versus mouse has been established.
But my whole body feels weird.
My neck, in particular, feels like it wants to stretch outwards with my head still attached, like that spider head thing from The Thing. Remember that? Ugh.
My legs have those aches in them like you get when you have the flu. Maybe I do have the flu. Maybe I've been watching too long.
At the end of this one, I'm taking a break. Otherwise I'll die of TV.
I Google "death by TV" and I get a public health article warning me that "your television viewing may be slowly killing you".
It's lunchtime. I'm not even halfway through.
I've made a sandwich and sat back down. If I'm honest, it's starting to feel like a chore. I have to get through this whole season of shows today, no matter how much it hurts.
To one side of me, our kittens are having a play fight. I'm neglecting them today.
More great soundscapes. Outdoors, late at night, a baby screaming its head off in a nearby building as the bad guys - I mean the bad guys who're being portrayed as especially bad, the bad bad guys - walk out to their truck.
The headphones make all the sounds so much more intense.
My son will be home from school in less than an hour. All I've done all day is watch this stuff.
I feel ashamed.
My bum's gone numb.
I can't feel my legs.
Battery down to 32%.
The cats have been fighting almost the whole time. It's like they're making a point.
"Look how active we can be. Look at us running and jumping and fighting. Look at you sitting there like a chump. Look."
Some other part of me feels sore but I can't tell which part it is.
There are some men on the screen swearing about something.
As my boss likes to say, onwards. My mouth is dry.
I've picked up the laptop so I can watch the show standing up.
I do stretches during the first half of Part 5. Or is it Part 4 or Part 6? I have no idea. The police people are still doing a huge amount of arguing. It's a wonder anyone ever gets arrested for anything.
Stretch out. Stretch up. Stretch out. Stretch up. This is ridiculous.
I want a beer.
It's past 4pm and part 6 - it was part 6 - is finished. I'm tired. My boy just came home from school and I promised to go out on a bike ride with him later. I must be out of my mind.
Part of me is thinking "Don't click play on part 7."
There are 13 to get through.
I can't do it all in one day.
But if I don't, I'll have it hanging over me all week. I have to go on.
Part 7. Click play.
The show's still playing but I'm hitting Command+Tab and watching the app icons on my screen dance.
It's nearly 5pm. It's nearly evening. Before I know it, supper then bed. I haven't taken the boy for that bike ride yet. My day's nearly gone.
I feel like I've wasted it.
That's probably why I offered him the bike ride in the first place, the moment he walked through the door. It was me that wanted something else to do. He's been at school all day, having his mind challenged and pushed. He's very happy to crash out and watch TV.
I don't ever want to watch TV again.
The show just made me smile. The judge guy pulled rank on some policeman who'd been pulling rank on some other policemen and it made a difference and he said "Who's your daddy now?" and I smiled.
It's now 9.50pm. We did the bike ride, we made some food and ate it up, the offspring went to bed. In theory this is perfect TV watching time but I'm on my seventh or eighth hour of it today and to be perfectly honest, I'm struggling.
That's why the smile was so welcome. Thanks for the laugh, The Wire.
10.15. I really want to go to bed now.
There are five more parts to go.
Should I click play?
I have to be up early for work tomorrow.
I have to sleep. I've watched nine hours of TV today, and my brain and everything is so fucked.
My eyes have turned to slime. They ache, they actually ache.
The story is burned into me. I'm thinking about those guys in Baltimore the whole time. I'm thinking about Dominic West's American accent every time he opens his mouth. I can barely type.
Four more episodes to go.
I can't wait. And I can't wait for it to be over.
I didn't finish. There were about four episodes left by the time I rubbed my eyes, stretched my legs one more time, and made a mental decision not to click Play any more.
I'm no exercise fanatic, but I can't stand the thought of being stationary for so long. And I get bored of watching telly. I struggle to maintain my interest in arguments, which is what so much telly seems to be about.
I do want to know what happens, though. I'm keen to follow it through to the end. But at my own pace, at a reasonable pace - about one episode per week would be just right.
Old fashioned telly. Old man's telly. Middle-aged telly.
(17th February 2014)