One of the best TV critics around, Myles McNutt, has a poll up on his web site right now that will help him choose what series to catch up on via DVD here in the coming months.
Obviously, DVD has done wonders for television viewers. We can wait until a entire season — or series — ends before watching. And of course, that also allows us to avoid both the long wait between episodes and commercials. Even more benefits certainly exist.
But what happens to our enjoyment of the season, series or even individual episodes when we catch up later on DVD?
Like Myles, I tend to buy a lot of DVD season or series sets, in hopes of getting in to something I missed the first time around, whether because I was too young — hello, Freaks and Geeks, Buffy — or just uninterested — Sopranos — and with a recent purchase, I’m beginning to wonder what is going to happen during that viewing experience.
I didn’t watch Deadwood when it originally aired on HBO. But ever since I jumped head first into television and all the writings around it, I have heard nothing but good things about the David Milch-produced series. I can remember various pieces that talked about it being better than The Sopranos or just about any other much-praised cable drama. So I asked for the complete series on DVD and received it this past Christmas as a gift.
I plan to watch it this summer, and really have no idea what to expect. Well, except greatness. Like Myles notes in his post, I’ve done all I can to avoid spoilers, and have a loose, general outline of the series plot.
But isn’t my experience watching Deadwood going to be radically different than the experience of those who watched it live? Even though I have taken precaution in finding out significant information, will even the most general of knowledge affect how I view the series? Will my experience with the actors’ post-Deadwood work alter it (like Olyphant’s Justified)?
We’re always told that it’s impossible to detach ourselves from the culture around us and the historical context of, well, everything; I don’t see why television viewing via DVD would be much different. But I am concerned that the accessibility of more episodes will allow me to skip over the deep analysis and thought of individual episodes that the week between first-run efforts gives me. Sure, I could just stop after each episode and ponder it thoroughly, but with the WHOLE SET sitting right there, that’s going to be difficult.
Just the same, I’m concerned that the lack of discussion with other fans when I watch those episodes will also negatively influence my enjoyment with it. Writing about it for other people to read is one thing, but reading six new recaps or reviews each week is totally different. This makes me realize that we — or at least I — depend on the interactivity and discussion so much more than I think. I do not know where I would be without all those Lost or Mad Men posts each week during their original runs.
Finally, watching the series on DVD loses its context. Perhaps something was happening externally when the series was on, whether with the production itself or in culture as a whole. That can certainly shape or manipulate how a text makes us feel in that moment. Detaching oneself from that — especially with a series that’s been gone for a long while — might completely alter what the series means as a whole.
Thus, this could be just my hang up, but I am coming around to the fact that catching up on DVD is not always the best approach. Or at least there are a few cons out there to think about before celebrating the easy access and multiple viewings.