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Stranger Things season 2: to binge or not to binge?

Stranger Things season 2: to binge or not to binge?


Two writers duke out the best approach to watching a much-anticipated new TV release. Big gulps or small sips?

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Stranger Things

When Stranger Things debuted in 2016, it became an unexpected, massive hit that captivated legions of fans around the world. Now, with season 2 set to begin streaming on October 26th, it will be the end of a year of waiting to see what happens next. Netflix will make all nine season 2 episodes available at once, which means ambitious or addicted subscribers can take a day off work and get caught up with the entire story in a single day. But should they?

Andrew: When Stranger Things first hit, it seemed like it percolated for a couple of weeks before it really exploded in popularity. I picked up the show as this was happening, but ended up taking my time watching it. I purposefully only watched one episode a night, and by the end of the season, I feel like I got more out of it that way, rather than watching the entire thing in a sitting.

The first season only has eight episodes, so this wasn’t a long thing, but spacing out my viewing definitely let me process what was happening a bit more. It gave me some time to reflect on what had happened during the previous night’s episode. There’s a lot going on in the show: there’s a large cast of characters all working around the same plot, and taking my time with it helped their individual actions sink in a bit more.

spacing out my viewing let me process what was happening

I’m finding the same thing is happening with Star Trek: Discovery. CBS made the decision to release episodes in a traditional, weekly format, no doubt to keep people from signing up for the CBS All Access streaming service, binging the show, then canceling during their free trials. But letting each episode breathe for a week before diving into the next one is a refreshing change of pace. I definitely think I’m enjoying the show a bit more, as opposed to something like Game of Thrones, which I typically watch in a couple of sittings when the DVDs come out.

Tasha: I’m not going to advocate watching the entire season in a single nine-hour-plus-pee-breaks sitting, because deep-vein thrombosis is dangerous, and people need to get off the couch and Richard Simmons it up once in a while. But taking it in over the course of a weekend seems potentially doable. And if the second season is anything like the first, consuming it in one big batch seems entirely in keeping with the show’s influences, tone, and goals. Stranger Things’ first season was heavily modeled after the “kids encounter strange things” movies of the 1980s — E.T., Goonies, Firestarter and so on — and it’s constructed and directed like a single long story, rather than a series of episodic mini-stories. Just as I’d prefer to see a film in one sitting than to string it out over a month, I’d prefer to take in a longform single-arc TV story in bigger batches.

I’d rather see a film in one sitting, not string it out over a month

And Stranger Things is also strongly influenced by Stephen King’s novels, particularly Firestarter, The Tommyknockers, It, and Carrie. (Plus the novella The Body, which was adapted into the movie Stand By Me.) The series is meant to build dread and a slow-burn series of anticipation over time, like King’s work. I tend to read his novels in just a few sittings, even the massive ones. I read his last book, Gwendy’s Button Box, without even getting out of the car when I got home from picking it up. Maybe some people can spend a leisurely summer reading It, but I’m not that person. I love the way King’s books ramp up the threat and the stakes over time, and Stranger Things closely follows that model. But walking away from the show for days or weeks at a time blunts the impact and resets the stakes. I’d rather have the emotional intensity.

And regarding all those moving parts you mention: you get more impact out of letting each episode sit. I get more impact out of watching episodes close together, so the story parallels are clearer. Yes, there’s a big cast, and a lot going on. For me, bingeing a show makes it easier to keep track of the subplots, and feel the impact they have on each other. When characters or plotlines are sidelined for an episode or three, it’s easier to keep up on their importance if the last episode was two hours ago, instead of two weeks ago.

Andrew: There’s another advantage to watching it in a couple of sittings: you’ll reduce your changes of having someone accidentally spoil you on Facebook or Twitter. If the trailers are anything to go by, there are going to be a lot of WTF moments that people will be chatting about, which is a recipe for getting a vital moment spoiled. I kind of resent that that’s the viewing environment we exist in: watching defensively not out of enjoyment, but out of the need to keep up with everyone else.

fast watching reduces the chances of spoilers

Tasha: Wait, did you just switch sides and steal one of my arguments? Awesome, winning this debate will be easier than I thought. Here’s the more positive side of the same anti-spoiler argument, though, and it’s just as relevant to today’s viewing environment: the sooner you’re caught up, the sooner you can participate in the cultural conversation around Stranger Things season 2, without having to be one of those chowderheads clogging up comment boards with, “Well, I haven’t seen it yet, but I have loud, uninformed opinions I need to share anyway.” This is a water cooler conversation show that’s likely to stir up a lot of debate online, and if you dole out episodes to yourself slowly, as if Netflix was an advent calendar — and if you’re avoiding the conversation in the meantime to avoid spoilers — you’re going to miss out on the headiest days of that conversation, where the most dedicated fans are mulling over where the show has gone.

Andrew: I don’t know if I’ve switched sides, other than to recognize that if you want to stay spoiler-free, you’re sort of compelled to make sure you consume something at the same time or before anyone else. I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding spoilers (see my years of waiting for the Game of Thrones DVDs to come out before watching the show), so I’l probably space out my Stranger Things viewing over the weekend. That said, I’ll probably allow myself two or three episodes at a time, because as I’ve been watching season 1, I’ve been gulping it down.

Tasha: Well, speaking of waiting and watching on DVD, that’s how I watched Lost — by waiting for a box set to come out, then watching an entire season in a big weeklong binge. And that was absolutely the way to go with that show. There was so much online frustration about Lost’s cliffhangers and hiatuses, its repetition and teasing and stringing the audience along. But I was exposed to almost none of that because of the bingeing approach. Not every show is made for bingeing — The Leftovers, for instance, really needs significant digestion time — but longform mystery / action shows like Stranger Things seem tailor-made for it.

I tend to find that tearing through a show you really want to see helps smooth out its weak spots, and ease the impatience that comes from holes in the story. And if the show really warrants it, if you love it and want to linger in the mood, you can always go back and rewatch it at leisure. Or you can just revisit the parts you most enjoyed, or most need to unpack. There’s something to be said for a first pass to get the plot down and focus on the story, and a second pass to explore the aesthetics of something that proves worth it.

Mostly, I’m just impatient, like practically everyone else in the culture-loving community these days. Bring it on, Netflix. Stranger Things season 2 can’t arrive too soon.