“You’ve never seen an episode of Girls?” a friend asked, in the kind of tone that you might use to ask someone if they’d never seen a cloud, or a dog; as if the very concept were utterly ridiculous in and of itself. It’s true, though; I haven’t. There are reasons for that, which essentially come down to “I don’t have HBO and I didn’t really dig Tiny Furniture enough to search it out,” but that didn’t wash with the friend. It was, instead, a sign of pop cultural weakness.
But it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, even now (and this is almost embarrassing to admit, especially here, on this website, but l find myself doing it nonetheless), I’m still barely into Breaking Bad.
It’s not that I haven’t seen that show at all — I have, and enjoyed what little I have seen — it’s that I’ve not managed to make as much progress as I would have liked. My Netflix list is all primed and ready for me to watch as Walter White beats cancer and realizes that this whole drug thing really isn’t for him after all — I mean, that is what happens, right? I’ve tried my best to stay away from spoilers, but it just seems the only way things could go after watching that first episode the other day. I mean, look at the sweaters he wears and that whole folding the pants thing. He’s clearly not cut out for the criminal life — but… I just haven’t managed to get there yet.
There’s a lot to be said for accidentally missing the boat on critically-acclaimed shows like this. I did the same thing with Friday Night Lights, a show that I skipped due to my lack of interest in football and then found via Parenthood, so that before too long the very idea of not bingewatching the series in multiple-episode sessions seemed barbaric. I became retroactively concerned for everyone who’d watched when it was airing on NBC and DirecTV: How could anyone deal with just one episode at a time? Wasn’t limiting Buddy to just one hour (with ads) per week just too cruel?
The chance to create your own viewing schedule isn’t the only appeal of being a latecomer; there’s also the removal of a certain level of uncertainty. When you’re watching a show live, even a show that you find yourself utterly, head-over-heels in love with and devoted to, there’s always this strange, nagging worry that, all of a sudden, it might let you down. I remember with something between nostalgia and upset the growing sense of unease I felt with the final season of Battlestar Galactica as I realized that, just maybe, it was going off the rails. I did the same thing with that final Lost episode; as it aired, I was telling myself, Hey, this is bold all too often to rationalize my disappointment. When you come to something late, even if you’ve tried to stay pretty much unspoiled for specific plot developments, it’s still likely that you’ll pick up some vague spoilers for what lies ahead — that the second season of Friday Night Lights will disappoint, but stick with the show anyway, or that Dexter goes entirely off the rails in its final seasons.
There are drawbacks to waiting, of course (most obviously, for those with little patience, the waiting itself). One runs the risk of getting entirely spoiled on whatever big surprises or shocks may be in store, especially in this age of social media. It’s also lonely; when you do finally see something that evokes a strong response, it’s tough to find someone to share it with. Nonetheless, it’s reassuring to know ahead of time that shows only gets better as they go on, and it’s nice to look forward to getting to the point where I can join in with the communal hatred of particular characters or concern over the nudity of others.
I may be late, but I’m excited about Breaking Bad — and maybe one day that’ll be true about Girls as well. The primary pleasure of being late is, after all, catching up.