When Sir Anthony Hopkins wrote an endearing fan letter to actor Bryan Cranston late last year, he confessed to watching five seasons of Breaking Bad in "two weeks," calling the experience a "marathon" and "addictive." The acting legend is hardly alone in voracious viewing—when it comes to feeding on TV fare, we've all got a bit of Dr. Lecter in us these days. We may be reveling in a golden age of artistic television, free from the tyranny of being told where and when to watch by a spray-tanned exec who failed upward by greenlighting Cavemen, but that's made us a nation of insatiable binge-watchers, wantonly devouring episode after episode until our conscience or the sunrise puts a stop to things.
And yet there is the rare enlightened telephile who knows better than to gorge indiscriminately: He understands how to strategize his consumption—and sometimes (deep breaths, Netflix suits) opts out of the bender altogether. Take this month, when Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Veep, and critically adored underdog Orphan Black return and HBO's latest, Silicon Valley, the techie comedy from Office Space's Mike Judge, premieres. The cable cornucopia alone is undoubtedly overwhelming, but it's manageable if you follow a few simple rules.
1. Hold off on the upcoming network-TV finales. There's a reason people-pleasing hits like The Blacklist and Elementary, as well as the much-lauded Hannibal, see large swaths of their audience come from DVR views—most popcorn procedurals generate little more in the way of talking points than "Lucy Liu's still got it!" and can be banked until you need to nurse a sick day with Hulu. (Exceptions: The Good Wife and Scandal, once-underestimated series that now make people lose their minds on a weekly basis.)
2. Bingeing still has its place, especially when it comes to Netflix's high-concept soaps Orange Is the New Black, returning in June, and House of Cards. Released as full seasons, they're plotted to be inhaled at the same rapid-fire pace at which they're presented (plus, spoiler-filled recaps will be ever-present by morning).
3. Some series are "appointment television" that's meant to be watched on a schedule. The mind-fuck that is Mad Men, for instance, needs to percolate from week to week. There are recaps to read, insights to glean from coworkers, theories about Bob Benson to bandy about. Its thoughtfulness demands meditative focus, not manic consumption. Ditto for the twisted-in-a-good-way Bates Motel and unmerciful comedies like Veep and Silicon Valley. Half the fun of this TV renaissance is being able to put your two cents in around the watercooler. You can't do that if you're running out of your cubicle screaming, "Don't spoil me!" Or worse, wearing yesterday's boxers, still at home on the couch.
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