TV today requires a binge buddy

Who’s your binge buddy? It’s a necessity these days.

It wasn’t that long ago that popular, buzzed-about shows were described as “water cooler television,” the cliche being that everyone would gather around the water cooler at work the next day to discuss the latest episode.

But the audience is so fractured these days, everyone seems to be watching something different.

“The Voice” is a top 20 show this week with around 10 million viewers. Those numbers would have put it in danger of cancellation 20 years ago. And a show can be considered a hit today with an audience half that size, especially if it appeals to a demographic advertisers desire.

Even if we have friends and co-workers who watch the same things, we don’t watch them in the same way or at the same time.

The only broadcast network show I watch consistently when it first airs is NBC’s “This Is Us,” and we kept an eye on “The Voice” when Warren native Dennis Drummond was a contestant. Otherwise, it’s Hulu or on demand.

I’m a week behind on the current season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and I’ve only watched the first episode of HBO’s “The Deuce,” which just concluded its eight-episode first season on Sunday. I loved the second season of “Fargo” on FX but still haven’t watched the third, which wrapped months ago.

A head cold that kept me in the house all weekend made it possible for me to binge all nine episodes of season two of “Stranger Things” with my wife and older daughter in three days. But I can’t go writing about it or chatting about it with just anyone. Some are in the middle of season two. Some haven’t gotten around to season one yet, but really, really want to, so their attitude is, “No spoilers please.”

Here’s my spoiler-free review: At it’s worst, “Stranger Things” is fun, escapist entertainment that can be enjoyed either for its story or by picking out all of the references and homages to ’80s movies, music and television. But oftentimes, it’s better than that, affecting because of the natural performances of the young actors and not just because they remind viewers of older (better?) movies and shows.

I liked the second season more than first but am, at best, cautiously optimistic that they can keep it going much longer. Regardless, I’ll be ready to binge when Netflix delivers season three.

Even though television is passive entertainment, it’s always had an active, social component because viewers share opinions with others. Part of the fun of watching “Stranger Things” is being able to say, “Hey, did you catch that ‘E.T.’ reference when …”

That’s why you need a binge buddy, someone who is consuming the show at the same rate you are.

Of course, that creates a different set of problems. The four people in my house watch different shows in different configurations. My daughters watch all sorts of things together. Some of it is OK (“Riverdale” can be fun); some of it makes me question the value of their educations (“Mako Mermaids” on Netflix).

If my wife and younger daughter are home alone, there’s a good chance “Criminal Minds” is on the television (before that, it was “Bones”). If my older daughter and I are home, we’re probably watching a standup comedy special on Netflix (as much as I enjoyed “Stranger Things,” the best thing I saw on Netflix last week was Patton Oswalt’s standup special “Annihilation”).

After starting Amazon’s “Good Girls Revolt” around Christmas, we’re still only half way through it, because the younger daughter didn’t want us to watch it without her while she was away at college and the older daughter doesn’t like it and doesn’t want us to watch when she’s home.

And even though the wife and one daughter obviously love crime stories, the other daughter loves Jonathan Groff and I’ll watch anything with David Fincher’s name attached to it, we still haven’t started “Mindhunter” on Netflix because we haven’t found a time when all four of us could watch it and were in the mood to watch it.

But at least I’ll have some people to talk about it with when we do.

Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com

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