Watching TV the old way…

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SUNDAY evening television has a pleasingly old-fashioned feel tonight as three dramas compete for attention in the middle of the evening.

This competitive clash recalls the days when programmes could only be seen at a certain time, or at best captured on video. Nowadays TV is faster and different, splintered and fractured – much like everything else in life.

Recently our middle son added us to his Netflix service. We have our own Ma and Pa logo. Click that and an endless, bottomless schedule opens up, a deep mineshaft of programmes you wouldn’t have watched before and probably shouldn’t bother watching now.

My favourite not-necessaries are Jessica Jones and Orange Is The New Black. Both are good in their way, but would I miss them – really miss them in the way I would once have missed not seeing, say, an episode of Morse? Certainly not.

On Netflix, as the more TV savvy will already be aware, when an episode ends, the next one can be watched immediately. If you don’t press ‘stop’ it will start anyway. This is a perfect invitation to binge viewing, and seems to be the way younger people watch TV, gulping down a series in a couple of sittings, TV as a friendly narcotic.

So far I have resisted, fearing the mind indigestion, when an acid mush of what’s been watched slops around the brain.

The luddite in me wants to wait, wants to sit down at the same time next week. Saying that I have been overdosing on Orange Is The New Black, watching daily at sandwich time. One day last week I told myself off and put Mozart’s Requiem on the CD player instead. Much more uplifting, I thought, then started wondering what was happening in that prison.

The three competing Sunday night dramas all began last week; two are new and one is a fixture. The returning programme is Endeavour, the only remaining Oxford crime drama in the Inspector Morse echo chamber, following the departure of Lewis. Shaun Evans is excellent as the young and already troubled Morse, although last week’s opener was a bit off-colour if you ask me. But a morsel of Morse is still worth sitting down.

In the week I caught up with the lavish and so-far excellent War And Peace on BBC1; and Channel 4’s grainy, fascinating and curiously sexy German-made cold war drama Deutschland 83. Both are well worth following, and after all those episodes unpeeling down the years, I can’t miss a Morse, of whatever variety. So all three will be watched again over the week.

This scheduling might seem daft in the era of having what you want when you want it. But the clash suggests transmission time still matters; and that the main channels are prepared to invest in good drama. Would anyone other than the BBC take Tolstoy’s weighty and difficult novel and turn it into a six-part period drama? Almost certainly not, so all praise to the Beeb for that – and for those astonishing battle scenes, too.

As for having what you want when you want it, sometimes you discover you didn’t really want it after all (here comes the slow burp of mind indigestion again). If you enjoy a drama and watch all the episodes in a rush, what do you have to look forward to? Nothing is the answer to that one. Although you can always fall down that Netflix mineshaft. All the episodes of the American take on House Of Cards still await for my attention, tempting me every time I peep into that deep pit of possibility.

Then there is Mad Men. I still haven’t seen the last two series – and that’s my just about my favourite TV drama ever. Sadly, it’s not on Netflix so I’ll just have to buy the DVDs. And try to limit myself one episode a week…

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