x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Watching Thrones from a seat in the sky

Binge-viewing an entire TV series can be as bad as binge-eating. Even on a plane.

Over the Christmas holidays, I had several long-haul plane trips to face, and my rule with airplane travel is pretty inflexible: when I'm paying for the ticket out of my pocket, my New England roots win out and parsimony rules the day.

In other words, on my dime I fly coach. If I'm flying on the studio's dime on the other hand, I expect to recline in a fully recumbent posture and dine off fine china.

This year, though, I was paying out of the private purse, so my flight from Los Angeles to Paris was in a tightly packed economy seat. I mitigated the discomfort somewhat by loading up the iPad with two seasons' worth of episodes of HBO's giant hit, Game of Thrones.

I came late to Game of Thrones, which is a weird thing to say about a television show. I say I "came late" to it like it's some kind of appointment I was supposed to keep, an obligation that I neglected, like finally cleaning out the garage, or "coming late" to paying my property taxes.

People have been talking about the show for at least two years, but I've been resisting it. It's set in a medieval-esque world - replete with kings and knights and courtly traditions - and I really don't like that stuff.

I'm easily bored by magical realms of elves and dwarfs and whatnot, and I have zero appetite for all of that nerdy sorcery nonsense. I watched all 46 hours of The Lord of the Rings trilogy - it wasn't actually 46 hours, but it certainly felt like it — but that was out of loyalty to a friend who worked on the movies.

In general, I don't do magical creatures fighting computer-generated monsters. At a certain point, no matter what the movie is, it's always basically about some dough-faced actor like Shia LaBoeuf getting attacked by something that looks like a giant Nespresso coffee machine.

Friends, however, wouldn't let up. Game of Thrones, they told me, was a terrific and not-in-the-least wizardly or Ringsy, and ultimately I was persuaded. So I downloaded the episodes, put them on my iPad, snuggled into my tiny coach seat for the 11-hour trip to Paris, and settled in to catch up.

The first thing I noticed was, there's a lot of pretty explicit stuff going on in that show, which gave the six-year-old boy across the aisle from me an eyeful.

The second thing I noticed was: I liked the show a lot. The first six episodes move along quickly with lots of killing and gratuitous violence, which is always useful to keep the viewer engaged. If given the choice between watching a scene with two people engaged in a witty and sparkling conversation and watching a scene where two people attack each other with broadswords, I'll always opt for the broadswords.

The third thing I noticed was, by episode seven, I was sort of done. Sitting in my airplane seat, I came over indifferent and slightly bored. "I get it, I get it," I said to myself. "Winter is coming. A lot of these characters are going to die. The little dwarf isn't so bad. Everybody's got an agenda. I get it!" I shouted to no one in particular.

What I really wanted was a Spoiler. I wanted someone to spoil the surprise for me and just tell me what happens in the next bunch of episodes. Because even though I paid for and downloaded the entire series, I knew I wasn't going to watch any more. I was burnt out.

There's something about the new way some of us watch television that after a while just doesn't really work - it doesn't work for the viewer and it doesn't work for the show.

When you watch five or six episodes in a row - without the benefit of a week's break between them - you start to notice that in most episodes, nothing happens. People make dramatic statements to each other and then leave a room inexplicably, there's a lot of inconsequential smouldering, but that's about it. And what's worse, after the third or fourth episode you start noticing how it's all constructed, how the cutaways work, how the little sub-stories keep inching forward.

In other words, you start seeing the strings. And that's not good.

So I'm on a Game of Thrones break. I still have a year's worth of episodes to watch, but I think I'm going to let them remain on my iPad untouched. And besides, there are other shows I'm coming late to, other shows I'll have to binge on and get sick of. There's a popular show about zombies on right now that everyone is talking about. What happens in that one? I may just go online and head right for the spoiler alerts.

I don't worry about spoiling the experience. I'm going to do that anyway on my next long-haul plane trip


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl