HAZEL COLLIE I’m completely addicted to television and I watch it all the time. In truth I’m beginning to feel uneasy about watching too much television in an academic climate where everyone else feels fretful about watching too little. How the hell am I managing to fit it in? What am I neglecting in order to feed my habit?
Despite the huge quantity of TV I’m exposed to, I’m not sure how much of it I actually watch. With two kids and work to do I’m a classic distracted female viewer (Lull, 1990), doing household chores or admin while it’s on. I also often cede to other household members’ television demands, and a lot of what I watch isn’t my own choice of viewing. There’s a lot more Mike the Knight, The Dumping Ground Kids and cycling programmes than would appear on my ideal television schedule. So it’s been a long time since I’ve found myself utterly immersed in a television series. The last time was probably HBO’s The Wire, which I watched in its entirety during my maternity leave just over four years ago. I greedily consumed as many as four episodes on some days and when the final episode drew to a close I felt strangely empty (quite a feat, considering I was nine and half months pregnant) and bereft.
The time since has often felt like four years of forcing myself to watch stuff that I feel I should be watching but haven’t particularly enjoyed, like Mad Men, The Killing and Breaking Bad, the last of which made me even more stressed than I was in my real life. That was not the escapism I was looking for. In fact, I was so busy watching things dutifully, that Game of Thrones, also made by HBO, somehow slipped under my radar. I don’t even recall what prompted me to watch the first episode of the first series a couple of months ago, and I certainly wasn’t hooked immediately. I’d heard people wax lyrical about the opening scene, but I found it oddly jarring. I often struggle with remembering character names, but the sheer number in the first episode was over-whelming and I found the three male characters of a similar age at Winterfell (the Stark heir, the Stark bastard and Lily Allen’s brother) almost impossible to distinguish between. The sections with the two blonde kids and the dragon eggs in the hot country were, to my mind, tedious. At the end I turned to my husband and said ‘well, I might come back to it, but it’s never going to be a favourite’.
Fast forward a few weeks to a weekend where I was by myself at home for two whole days. I don’t know why, but some force (let’s call it boredom) drew me back to the series. At 1am I realised that I had been sitting on the sofa for hours, shovelling crisps into my mouth as my eyes got wider and wider and that I had watched five whole episodes. It has since become a breathless affair of a viewing relationship. I squeeze watching into moments when the kids aren’t around. I lie to my husband about how many episodes I’ve watched. I read the books after I’ve watched a series for more detail and I’ve stalked the programme on the Internet. I secretly bought the Season 2 box set and watched it all in a week. I’ve kept up to date with the third series by watching it on a dirty, filthy streaming torrent, finally catching up with Season 3 as it was broadcast at the now infamous episode 9. It’s been intense and exciting, but now it’s over until Season 4 next year. I can already feel the addict in me jonesing for a hit. I’ve Googled casting rumours and I’ve finished the book that Season 3 was based on. Maybe if I just watch all three seasons again, maybe that will keep me going until Spring 2014.
I won’t go on and on about all the best things about Game of Thrones, because it’s been done here, here, here and, in fact, everywhere else already. What are my highlights? The opening titles, a sprawling map of the continents of Westeros and Essos where the various locations of the fantasy world unfold before us as a steam punk rendition of the march of civilisation. The narrative complexity, which I at first found so off-putting, is now one of my favourite things about it. The beautiful geographical sweep of each episode’s narrative from the dark sets of Winterfell, to the dappled golden light of Kings Landing, the whites and blues of The Wall and the scorched earth beyond the Narrow Sea, reminding us that this world is vast and diverse and that we have only just begun to explore it. I love the non-clichéd and constantly developing characters, its diverse depiction of strong women or, more accurately, its diverse depiction of humanity. Every brilliant Tyrion Lannister scene, every Brienne and Jamie moment, Arya Stark’s resourceful struggle for survival are all highlights. All the genuinely surprising moments which made me shout at the television even though I was watching alone. And finally, the very particular pleasure of watching such a huge, luscious production that is stuffed full with British actors. ‘Oh look, it’s him from off of Holby. No way, it’s Jerome from out of Robson and Jerome.’ I genuinely enjoy that. Please don’t judge me.
So it’s fairly clear that I love a lot of things about it it, but I think it’s also true to say that there is something about the manner in which I first got into it and continued to watch it that has contributed to my enjoyment. ITV’s Broadchurch has prompted recent attention to the pleasures of delayed gratification and weekly viewing of television. As much as I enjoy broadcast television, for a number of reasons I don’t often get to watch much that I want to watch within the ‘flow’ of TV as it’s broadcast. I completely missed Broadchurch as it was broadcast because I kept falling asleep on the sofa and I utterly failed to catch up with it on itvplayer because I kept forgetting. This piece in The Telegraph extols the virtues of watching box sets as a couple and how it can benefit a relationship. I can’t deny the pleasure of watching television with other people, but as a woman with ‘domestic responsibility’ I think that my enjoyment of box sets is now more likely to come from watching by myself. The space the format gives me to control how and when I watch it, the convenience of being available when I have time to watch and the physical presence of a ginormous DVD box to remind me that I have something that needs to be watched. I suspect that for the near future at least this is the way I’m going to get my TV jollies.