Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Breaking Bad on the Boardwalk Empire for The Wire's Mad Men in Peaky Blinders

Latest piece in The Australian, in which I out myself as a decadent and depraved television binge-watcher. Yo McNutty! Omar strollin' ...

My name is Jason and I’m a television binge-watcher. It has been six hours since my last tumble down the fibre-optic wormhole: half of Game of Thrones, season two, since you ask.

When season one of Game of Thrones was released I devoured the entire thing in one slack-jawed sitting, eyes glazed and unblinking like Malcolm McDowell getting a spot of Ludovico’s technique in A Clockwork Orange. I was late for an important meeting the next day, a waste of space warming a chair, occasionally muttering “winter is coming”.

I knew I’d hit my rock bottom and things would have to change. Night after night I’d find myself up until 3am or 4am, sometimes later, jabbing at the remote occasionally to fast forward the credits, just another Netflix narco flicking at the lever that supplies the dose, a Boardwalk Empire bonobo with Roku raccoon eyes, victim of some nightmarish experiment, skulking into work with a blue-screen burnt-in hangover of plot lines, ever vigilant for the merest hint of a spoiler.

The rot set in with 24, the Kiefer Sutherland vehicle where the contrivance of things unfolding in real time across 24 hours led to concentric circles of plot holes and convoluted twists until each season collapsed in a black hole of silliness and viewers were left shaking, twitching and rubbing their eyes, wondering what just happened. But 24 was just an appetiser, a loosener, a gateway drug to harder hits. I got truly hooked on the glowing cathode crack pipe of The Wire, the gritty five-season trawl through decaying Baltimore and its urban blight, with its street-smart, note-perfect writing, penned by a former cop and a journalist.

The Wire - The Greatest Show Ever, taught at Harvard and Duke - was a risk for HBO, a truly groundbreaking idea that dispensed with the pat TV ending forever, and instead sprawled out over each season with novelistic story arcs, characters who would appear briefly and bob back up seasons later, where even a quick bathroom break could rob you of some rich detail or plot point.

A season in a night? Sometimes I did more. Soon, you stop talking like a normal human and begin to inhabit the world of your obsession. When I was deep into The Wire, starting the whole thing again for the third or fourth plough through all five seasons (I eventually watched the whole thing five times), I mainly conversed in terms like “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit”, “Yo McNutty”, “Snitching Bubs!”, “Omar strollin” and “po-po”. Just writing this brings the old urges back and I have to restrain myself from doing the old Snot Boogie once more.

The flip side to losing yourself in a new world is the gaping void when the credits sound for the last time, a crushing, soul-sucking emptiness as reality closes back in and the real world reasserts itself. So you move on to the next series.

After The Wire I simply had to delve into The Sopranos, the series that started it all for the confirmed binge watcher (four times — just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in). I mainlined Mad Men (three times, gorging on the drink porn and period costumes, the genius casting of an unknown Jon Hamm as Don Draper, the light glittering through cut-crystal decanters and glowing amber liquor), dreamt of Californication, and I broke bad for the nihilistic Breaking Bad, where you could vicariously get high on meth as you began your binge, a double-whammy for the incipient addict. Better call Saul.

Strange and deviant behaviours begin to set in. There are few things more depraved than a man or woman in the depths of a Peaky Blinders bender. The nanny state should institute lockdown laws for late-night sofa loiterers who are ruining their lives and spiralling ever deeper into trouble. Never mind the one-punch, HBO and Netflix are a donkey punch to the body politic, an insidious menace in our midst and doubtless responsible for more lost productivity and shifty sickies than all the crack in Hamsterdam.

Ironically, five years after The Wire premiered in 2002, HBO released a series called Addiction, marshalling some of the hottest documentary filmmakers of their day to tackle the subject. They delved into the world of crack, booze, meth, smack and sex addicts. But they roundly ignored the addiction they largely created and continue to fuel. 

My name is Jason and I’m a television binge watcher. Until my relapse, I hadn’t binge-watched for three years. Last night, I paid to stream Game of Thrones, seasons two through six. God help me.

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