"What is happiness? It's a moment before you need more happiness.” - Don Draper, Mad Men. This is exactly how I feel when I finish binge-watching a program online. I cannot go through another messy break-up with my current visual affair so I’ve come up with my own plan on “How to Break up with a Box Set”.
During the pandemic I have fallen in love with Boardwalk Empire, Drive to Survive, Normal People, Peaky Blinders, Ozark, and even Paw Patrol (Season 4) along with countless other visual behemoths that have been streamed directly into my amygdala and have kept me sane and momentarily “happy” during lockdown. Only for them to leave me wanting more and asking myself, “What would Tommy Shelby do about something he loved being taken away from him so brutally?”
My problems begin when I finish a box set. I genuinely feel devastated to the point where my wife commented last week, “Are you close to finishing The Handmaid's Tale? If you are you better have something else lined up because I won’t put up with you being in a bad mood again.” As much as I denied this at the time, “Don’t be silly it's only a program”, she was spot on.
I get too emotionally involved with whatever I’m binging on. When it's over I feel there’s a genuine gap in my subconscious wellbeing an almost acute ephemeral loss. That gap can only be filled by injecting it with more content.
I actually cried the first time I finished all 201 episodes and nine seasons of The American Office. I watched it during a particularly difficult time in my life where I was struggling to find work. I felt such a connection with that program that I've since re-watched it again in its entirety four times over in the last few years. It's my visual security blanket my “go-to” when I’m feeling low.
Dr. Pamela Rutledge a Media Psychologist has written about this phenomenon, “watching the same entertainment piece multiple times reaffirms that there is order in the world and that it can create a sense of safety and comfort on a primal level”.
In relation to my American Office addiction, the length of the program plays an important role too. “Short programs also increase our perception of agency because they have a natural stopping point. Since society still views television and movies with moral condescension as if goofing off were a bad thing, half-hour programs have the psychological appeal of building self-esteem by virtue of being short.” (www.pamelarutledge.com)
For me, I always get too involved on a cathartic level with the characters in the shows I watch. For eight years while watching Game of Thrones I firmly believed I was Jon Snow. I even ordered my long birth cert to double-check that I was born in Laois and wasn’t a Targaryen.
So I have devised a theory on how to protect myself and hopefully other’s on the best way to break up with your current box set and move on.
Firstly, realise that it is a loss. You've had something special in your life that was filling the mundane gaps allowing you to escape to another world for a few hours and being able to mentally flee the current news cycle. I binge-watch in bed on my phone. I know this is not good practice but it's something I look forward to every night when the kids nod off. However, during my incessant night watching of Boardwalk Empire, I did have repeated dreams that involved me buying contraband liquor off my mother and reselling it to Al Capone. So don’t overdo it.
I know you are in love with The Crown right now but believe me, it will end so have a backup ready to go. Netflix and Prime will give you options based around your viewing habits. “You liked this … so watch this.” This does not work for me and just leaves me pining for what I had. There is no point in telling me to watch The Lion King because I watched The Tiger King.
Never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask a friend or relative for a recommendation. It will result in an awkward conversation when they ask you, “Well isn’t it amazing, did you love it?” Inevitably you won’t. That special connection you have with them is based on years of tears, laughter and experiences not on their obsession for Tiny House Nation.
Always keep a blockbuster in the back pocket just in case. I still haven’t watched Love/Hate, Breaking Bad or The Sopranos yet. If I can’t find something after a week I’ll crack one of them open.
It might sound romantic to watch a series in tandem with your partner to fill the void but don’t. It will only result in one of you falling behind after a few episodes and constantly asking, “So the art adviser was a Soviet spy?”
And finally, some say love is sweeter the second time around. This works for box sets but there needs to be a gap of at least five to seven years. Rewatching something you loved can bring you back to a time in your life when you had a relatively decent BMI score, more hair and a metabolism. I’m currently re-watching Mad Men to the bemusement of my wife. “Stop quoting Don Draper Bernard and for the last time empty the fecking dishwasher.”