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Television

The rights and wrongs of box-set viewing

Dipping in should be outlawed, writes Angus Wolfe Murray

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

Admit it. Say it!

‘My name is Blah and I am a boxaholic.’

Life on hold, marriage in bits, job swinging from a rusty nail, the box-set fanatic grabs every available minute to feed an addiction. I mean, you can’t leave, can’t breathe until you find out whether Jesse and Walter make it up before someone else gets killed in Breaking Bad, or how on earth Jack can keep his daughter safe in 24.

Box sets are not movies. They have a different time scale. What can you say in two hours that can’t be said better in 400? Relationships change, grow, collapse, move on. Fear is faster, immediate, for ever present. Plots range from incredible to intimate with the same intensity. Battlestar Galactica may be sci-fi and beyond belief but it has a heart that beats like a whiplash in the silence of space.

Dipping should be outlawed.

‘I watched a bit of The Wire the other night. What’s that about? It’s rubbish!’

You have to start at the beginning and move with the story in the style of the piece, allowing layers of character development to evolve in their own sweet way.


‘I saw the third episode of Sherlock and couldn’t stand all that tricksy camera stuff. What’s the big deal with Cummerbund, anyway? He’s an Old Harrovian, I understand, and that’s bad enough, but I can tell you this for free — CD will be cartwheeling in his grave.’

Don’t dip. Ease yourself into a series with humility, not preconceptions (‘Hugh Laurie an American doctor? You CANNOT be serious!’), nor a critic’s prejudice (‘The Hollywood thriller has become insulated from British viewers who don’t have a degree in US political science. Try making sense of Homeland, or House of Cards — the KS version’).

Box sets will rule your life. Let’s be clear about that. Heroin? It can be controlled with professional help. Prison Break? No chance. Sit down, stay down, all the way. People have died on sofas not knowing whether Harry Pearce survived at the end of Spooks.

Watching on TV is not the same. ‘Cancel all calls, invites, meals, conversation, loo breaks on Saturday from nine — it’s The Bridge.’ Take it in a box and you control your appetite. Also, it’s there. All of it. You can mainline, or drip-feed.

‘How many eps tonight, darling?’

‘Shut up! I’ve made dinner.’

What’s that when Tony Soprano is having a meeting in the strip joint and you’re desperate to eavesdrop?

Don’t talk to me about Deadwood. They cancelled it after three seasons because its creator wanted to go off and make that sick vamp thing, True Blood, leaving us gasping like goldfish on the carpet. Cold turkey cannot be eased with a shot of Top of the Lake. Tough, but Kiwi tough. Different vibe.

Somewhere, in the faraway distance, real life limps from financial crisis to emotional mayhem. Here, in the safety of the box, Season 3 of Glee is starting. Who cares if it’s a high-school musical (sort of) and funny as a kitten on ice. Secret pleasures!

Never say sorry. Order the second series of Endeavour, the Inspector Morse prequel, before you forget. There’s always something to look forward to.

Meanwhile, I lent my copy of Cardiac Arrest to a House enthusiast and want it back.

Dream on! Box sets don’t travel. They stay locked in hearts and minds, or someone else’s desk drawer.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


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