It all began very innocuously.
I was dining with my friend Paul when he mentioned a TV show he had liked he thought I might also possibly enjoy.
It was a murder mystery “procedural”, which is normally right up my alley. However, aware of my delicate sensibilities, Paul alerted me to the multiple “prison scenes” which he explained sometimes got kind of rough.
What Paul was talking about was a limited (8 episode, almost nine-hour long) HBO series called The Night Of, based on a 2009 English limited series called Criminal Justice – another element in its favor, since, along with Law & Order reruns, English “procedurals” are my general “go-to” form of entertainment.
These admitted pluses were, however, offset seriously by Paul’s intimation of ugly shenanigans during the prison scenes, giving me immediate visions of a man standing obliviously in the shower as, accompanied by tense and ominous music, the camera creeps in threateningly behind him, which, in fact, occurred more than once during episodes of The Night Of. (And it never gets easier to watch.)
But I am getting ahead of myself. Which is at least better than getting behind myself, an arrangement tedious to write and irritating to read.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
You see what I mean?
I return home after our dinner, I click on my TV and I navigate skillfully to HBO ON DEMAND, The Night Of having completed its original run, so if I wanted to see it, that was the process I was obligated to follow.
Fortunately, I am technically aware of how to do that. As opposed to accessing Netflix, which I once knew how to do but have subsequently forgotten. I remember hearing that an action becomes habitual after a certain number of repetitions. Whatever number that is, my Netflix experience fell unhelpfully short of that, and now I am as ignorant… I was going to say “as a four year-old”, but my step-grandson Milo is four and I’ll bet, for him, managing Netflix is like breathing. (In fact, if any four year-old is available, there’s a shiny nickel in it if you retrain me.)
I watch 27 minutes of the opening (73-minute) episode, and it goes relatively okay. Then, a policewoman begins patting the suspect whom I know has the bloodstained “Murder Knife” secreted on his person down, the discovery of which will lead to all hell breaking loose, including his immediate incarceration in – uh-oh! – prison. The suspense is more than I can handle, and I turn the thing off.
Eight episodes in the series. I make it through 27 minutes of “Episode One.”
And yet, shockingly and surprisingly… I find something drawing me back. Later that night, I actually complete the first episode. And watch the second episode as well.
I cannot explain why. I can only report this:
The next day, I watched three more episodes.
I was unequivocally “hooked.”
Why “unequivocally”? Consider the evidence:
I race through a delicious home-cooked dinner – Don’t ask me what it was; my mind is robotically elsewhere – so I can consume yet another episode of The Night Of.
I cut short my daily exercise program so I can slip in a few minutes of viewing before getting down to work.
And speaking of work… Lord forgive me for this one…
I can barely bring myself to admit this. By rights, I should be shot for “Dereliction of Duty.” As unforgivable as this was, I forewent a final “perfectionizing pass” of the day’s blog post so I could hurry back to the show, in whose seductive hands I was irresistibly putty.
I was pathetic; I admit it. Every spare moment, I raced back to the show. The time’s too brief for extended viewing? I watch a 30-second preview of the following episode. A revitalizing “hit.” That’s all I require. But without it, get out of my way!
I feel a stranger to my uncharacteristic behavior, my reliable resistance a wall of penetrable Jell-O. I am unable to stop. Sleep. Food. Interpersonal connection. Nothing can compete with the word screaming inexorably in my brain:
I gobble the entire series in three days. When they announced the verdict, I find myself up and nervously dancing, a fictional miniseries triggering O.J. Simpson-like reactions.
When it’s done, I am still not entirely out the woods. For days after my inexplicable “Binge Fever”, I slip back to watch random snippets, just to see if it’s still there. Even this morning, as I prepared for this post, I watched the series “Trailer”, pleasures and memories flooding back to my mind like revisiting snapshots of a treasured experience.
The unglamorous ambiance of every element in this series.
The visually nondescript casting, consummate actors, showcasing faces and body types of regular subway passengers.
The prison “Power Broker” taking the “newbie” under his wing, not for sexual defilement but because he senses an “intellectual brother” who is spiritually pure. (I’m not sure how often that happens in actual penitentiaries.)
The deceptively brilliant prosecuting attorney who, after the announcement of the verdict, exchanges her professional “Trial Shoes” for more comfortable tennis shoes before padding gingerly out of the courtroom.
The lead character’s losing battle with eczema, and the improbable (but who knows?) struggling “Eczema Support Group.”
There were questionabilities in the storytelling, the actual plot an ultimately secondary concern. The English series title was more tellingly accurate here:
Which seems irretrievably broken to pieces.
Truth be told, it was fun being caught up and then it was over. Making it barely an obsession at all.
Although, man! – Did it feel like one at the time!