Before starting this project, I had seen exactly 9 episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It is only 10 episodes. That should be easy to blow through. I thought when I started this project that surely at some point during the 31-day project, I would get around to this last hour of content. I did not.
Before starting this project, I’d seen 4 episodes of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a show about an alternate universe where the Axis Powers won WWII. I remember finding it interesting and intriguing and beautifully shot, but always having trouble getting past those four episodes. I still have not.
And then there’s Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. I got into that one around three years ago, when there were only two seasons out. I considered it one of my favorite shows at the time, so much so that I started re-watching from episode 1 in preparation for the release of Season 5 in June of 2017. To this day, I still haven’t finished Season 5.
Oftentimes, I stop watching a show not because I made a deliberate decision that the show was crap and not worth watching anymore, but simply because other content distracted me. Anytime you go on a streaming website’s homepage, you’re told what content is similar to what you watch, and it’s just one click away. There’s endless temptation to say “well, just one episode for something different. I can always go back to my regular show if I don’t like it.”
But after a certain point, it gets to be a pain in the ass to go back to that other show. I honestly feel like I would probably have to start The Handmaid’s Tale all over again because I don’t trust myself to remember the first 9 episodes well enough. And so queues become to-do lists that are just as hard to prioritize as more productive to-do lists.
One part of this phenomenon is that sometimes I find myself impulsively clicking on stuff that I never meant to watch at all. A few nights back I tried Netflix’s Easy just because it showed up on my homepage and I was in the mood for something different. At one point, outside of this project, I watched Freeform’s The Bold Type just because a fb ad told me to, without ever putting it on my to-watch list first.
Just as in the rest of my life, the choices I make in the here are now can vary dramatically from the choices I say I’ll make sometime eventually. And when it comes to tv, I almost always judge shows partially by their ability to give me that must-watch-right-now feeling. I am always going to consider a show that doesn’t demand my time to be somewhat inferior to a show that does, even if it might have the more interesting premise on paper. Some of my favorite shows are the ones I randomly clicked on because some inexplicable impulse told me to whereas the ones that hordes of people told me to watch I try and leave unfinished.
I’m not sure if this sort of thing happened before the age of streaming or not but I can’t help but think streaming exacerbates it. When we can actively choose a new show at any moment, including ones that went off the air decades ago, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s something better out there, even if you don’t hate the current show you’re digging. So-so content that may very well have been the best thing on Thursday nights between 1998 and 2005 might not be enough to hold your attention if every time you go to watch, a website is bombarding you with other choices.
Maybe I will finish A Handmaid’s Tale, The Man in the High Castle, and Orange is the New Black someday. But when new content is being thrown on the internet every week, and friends are constantly telling you about what they’re watching, it makes it that much harder to actually finish a show when you aren’t head over heels in love with it.