Saturday, August 24, 2013

Submitted from Twitter: On Binge Eating and Binge Watching aka My Life...

Earlier this week, as I was rewriting my original television pilot The It Couple for the short-form web format, it dawned on me that the two biggest and most passionate ideas I've had for television shows have not really been my stories to tell. I wasn't stealing them, but I was certainly re-imagining them from things that happened to friends of mine. And that kind of halted me in my tracks. Maybe there's a reason nothing has ever come of them: I didn't exactly ask these people for their blessings in sharing their stories (even if I changed enough about them for my own loglines and arcs). So it really made me rethink a lot of things. And that sank me into a writer's block of sorts in general, suddenly zapping my creativity. In order to combat that, I took to Twitter, not to waste time clicking on random BuzzFeed lists or looking at celebrity Instagrams, but for renewed inspiration. I asked my followers to throw some topics at me-- anything, everything, whatever came to mind, improv style. I said I would write about whatever was pitched my way to exercise my muscles. 
As I'm sure you've already noticed, these are stream of conscious. And so I present to you the next in the series, fromwho posed "when binge eating and binge TV watching intersect - very blurred lines :-)" I pretty much could have turned a camera on myself for a few hours one day and given you that as a weird performance art cautionary tale PSA, but I stuck to the challenge and dove...well, not too deep...for something a little more in line with my usual writing style.

(this is not me, but I think it pretty accurately represents me)

Nothing in Moderation, That's the American Way!

When The Biggest Loser is on, I gain a good five pounds. There's just something about kicking back on my couch after a long day of...watching other TV and cracking open a fresh pint of Ben & Jerrys while watching Jillian Michaels scream in the face of people trying not to throw up, let alone hold onto the sides, as they run on the treadmill for what may be the first time in their lives. Something similar could be said during The Real Housewives of [insert whatever city you want here-- except Miami. Unlike what Mindy Lahiri and Danny Castellano think, Miami is lame]. Whether you eat to celebrate the victories accomplished on-screen (often by fictional people, always by people you don't know personally and therefore really have no business celebrating anyway) or out of stress, to swallow your feelings during the intense times, or even just to give yourself something with which to occupy yourself during moments that fail to entertain as fully as they should, snacking while consuming media is an age-old past time. Hell, before ticket prices were jacked to $20, movie theaters made all of their money on concession items. But there's no concession stand or cashier in your own home, so when you want to settle in with something on your own television, there's no guilt or gaping hole in your wallet to stop you. And that's where the danger comes in. Lay's potato chips has made a whole slogan on being unable to stop with just one, but you could often justify eating a lunchbox size bag while watching one episode of something. It's a few extra calories, a few extra minutes on the couch, but then you're back to your regularly scheduled day. But what happens when your regularly scheduled day is all about sitting on the couch, watching TV, and eating? 

More and more, at least with my circle of friends, weekends become less about getting a group together to go out to dinner and a movie and more about lounging around the house with a DVR or DVD full of episodes of a hot new show or a hot old show that so-and-so is just now getting around to checking out/catching up on. Sometimes we'll do that in pairs or larger groups (I call it "marathoning" then, and when you consider that our asses are firmly planted on my leather couch for the better part of the night, getting up only when our queso needs reheating or we want to swap pizza, chips, and dip for cookie dough and ice cream, we're really bastardizing that word), but more often than not I am content to just do it alone. It's all the great things about what I remember from my childhood sick days without actually having to be sick: fluffy comforter dragged into the living room, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot chocolate by the mugful, a whole box of cookies to myself, take-out menus strewn all around... But the fascinating thing is that it's always done with a show I don't have to pay attention to. Not a mindless piece of programming (I don't give those more than two episodes before calling it quits), but something that I've seen a million times and can quote verbatim (oddly, it's usually comedy-- Friends, Happy Endings, Community, Parks and Recreation, The New Adventures of Old Christine, etc), and therefore am just the right amount of distracted enough to focus on baking, and then eating, cookies at the same time as watching. Binge eating should go hand-in-hand with re-binge watching. But not the first time around. Not if the content is quality anyway.

Showtime and FX are networks that send episodes of their shows for review in chunks. For example, the first four episodes of this final season of Dexter showed up at once, weeks before the premiere, for coverage planning. Now, admittedly I am deeply, deeply obsessed with that show (one of the publicists there lovingly tells me I have a problem all the time), so it should be no surprised that when I sit down to watch it, I Sit. Down. To. Watch. It. That means I don't want anything interrupting me or dragging my eyes from the screen-- not my dog needing his pee pad changed, not an incoming email, not having to reach across the coffee table to take a bite of whatever it is I'm currently eating. But that is an attitude I don't reserve just for the top of my list of favorite programming. In truth, I try to start anything new that way, and I first took notice of this odd phenomenon back in May while binge watching the Netflix season of Arrested Development.

Now, let me paint you a little picture of what May looks like. What used to be my favorite time of year (school winding down, weather warming up, etc) has quickly become the busiest for me. Not the most loathed, since I love to be busy and feel like I have much more of a purpose when I'm constantly working, but still. From season finales to upfronts, it's a lot of long ass days that start at five a.m., when I drag my laptop into bed because I'm too tired-- and it's too dark in my apartment-- to migrate to the other room. I spend about 14 hours hunched over my laptop, writing, writing, writing, not having time for food breaks, and then it's primetime, when I have a good six or so hours-- per night-- to make sure I don't fall behind on. Lather, rinse, repeat for at least a week. So the day Arrested Development launched, when all of that madness was behind me, should have been a day I slowed, heard my stomach growling, and devoured as much food as I did programming. Except the opposite happened. I knew all of these characters so well, but I didn't know their new situations or format, so I found myself mostly just focused on watching everything unfold, not wanting to distract with the Chinese delivery guy dropping off food or heating up quiche or spinach dip in the microwave. And in fact, in the moments I focused more on wanting to snack rather than watch, those were the moments I knew the show was losing me a little.

Similarly, I didn't eat one thing while watching the first six episodes of Orange is the New Black, which Netflix had sent in a bundle, weeks before the launch, for review. I didn't even eat at the OITNB junket; instead wanting to focus all my energy on learning as much as possible about my new favorite show. When July 11 finally rolled around and I could watch the next seven episodes, I had breakfast first and set up a sandwich on my coffee table so I wouldn't have to get up or press pause at all, but even that I don't remember eating until right before the penultimate episode when I had to take a break because another work thing had popped up anyway. That's how engrossing television writers and producers should aspire to make their programming; if it doesn't pass the distraction test (food is just the tip of the iceberg but texts, Twitter, emails, etc all fall in line there these days, too) they'll just have zombies zoning out in front of it, and who wants that? 

... Okay, maybe NBC.

I'm sure this attitude is rare and unique. I know most of the reason movie theaters' concession stands are so lucrative are because people just want to shovel food in their mouths, not thinking, while watching something they're equally not thinking about. It's more a ritual than a desire to quell any hunger-- real or creative. But that has never been how I've approached food or content. I eat all the time when I'm bored, but if I'm bored while I'm binge watching, shouldn't I turn off whatever it is I have on and reach for something richer? Actually, shouldn't we all?

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