News Column

Chicago Tribune Steve Johnson column

August 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 29--Much of the talk in TV viewing lately has been about binge viewing, the consumption of 13- or 20-episode series in a single -- or, at most, a few -- sittings.

"Binge viewing" is now a buzz phrase, a programming strategy, and, I suppose, a genuine trend.

But TV is so vast, and modern viewing styles are so varied, that there is room for many more snappy phrases to describe the way we interact with our idiot boxes.

So let me propose the following, headed straight from this page into the vernacular:

Fringe viewing. A show you've watched just to be cool, even if you don't love it or even, really, like it. In my case, that would be "Flight of the Conchords," which stopped after two seasons on HBO. Alternately, it's the term for any HGTV series about home decor, especially the ones featuring a Southern host.

Hip-pocket series. When "Breaking Bad" debuted, I decided not to keep watching -- too harrowing for my mental state at the time, I imagine, and I was watching other things. But through its five-season run, I have taken comfort in knowing the show about a science teacher-turned-meth dealer is there, waiting for me in my figurative hip pocket. Other prominent hip-pocket series include "The Wire," "The Larry Sanders Show," and "Deadwood," all worth seeking out if you haven't seen them. But "Breaking Bad" may be the perfect one: It'll have 62 episodes by the time this, its final season, ends; it is, everyone agrees, excellent; and if, say, you are watching because being laid off has suddenly given you a lot of free time, it'll get you thinking about potential second careers.

Cringe viewing. There are shows that, for some reason, you keep on watching no matter how many times they make you wince. As I write this, I am thinking about the wooden, cliche-ridden dialogue and wooden, cliche-ridden acting of "Fallen Skies." I still watch because I always think that, this week, the show will finally start to deliver on its interesting science-fiction premise. It won't.

The drunk dial. This show, you know, will always be there for you whenever you need it, ready to respond to your tune-in. You don't love love it, but, really, it's been pretty good to you, and the watching ain't bad. This show is "Law and Order."

Big-screening. When you hold the little iPod Touch close to your face to make the picture appear large -- as I did when catching up with "True Blood" via the HBO Go app -- you are big-screening. Ditto for pulling your chair right up to the front of, say, a 27-inch TV to bring that sports-bar feeling into the comfort of your own living room.

Fleshcasting. Admit it, fellas (and, I presume, ladies): Sometimes you stick with a show or movie just because there is potential for a little shirtlessness or even nudity. Possibly this is the entire reason you still subscribe to Cinemax. I know it's why a lot of people started watching HBO's "Game of Thrones." Why this would still be the case in the Internet era is a question for psychology, rather than journalism. But, yes, it is the case.

Twinge viewing. Shows that are not quite guilty pleasures but do give you a twinge of guilt for watching them. To wit: "Two and a Half Men" reruns, anything with Guy Fieri, HD concerts featuring reunited classic-rock acts.

TiVo Zone. When you purposely avoid any media, from TV news to Twitter, or any people who might tell you the score of a game you've recorded and are planning to watch later, you are in the TiVo Zone.

Stealth bombing. Describes an absolutely appalling, completely awful show that you watch in private as avidly as you would deny watching it in public, except to your closest friends. Most likely to involve pregnant teens, grotesque ethnic stereotypes come to life or women who may be housewives but don't seem very real. "Last night I stealth bombed 'My Teen Is Pregnant & So Am I'" (an actual TLC show).

The duty watch. You don't want to, but you feel like you have to. Occasionally it's because a lot of your friends have been watching the show, or because it treats an "important" topic. But most often, you duty-watch when a dozen episodes of a series are hogging hard-drive space on your DVR. They need to be cleared out, but you can't bear to just delete them. See also: the forced march, the pressure watch, the gun-to-head.

The toxic boyfriend. This series, you recognize, is not, objectively, "good." Nor is it in any sense good for you. But still you keep coming back to it. You even look forward to seeing it again. When it is out of town -- or, in the show's case, between seasons -- you periodically wish that it would call (return to air). My example: "Californication," the David Duchovny showcase about a once-promising novelist who is dissipating, theatrically, in southern California. It doesn't return until 2014, plenty of time for me to work out my self-esteem issues.

The Deuce. ESPN wants this to be the nickname for ESPN2, but what it really means is "the second reality series you watch." Everybody, you see, is allowed to follow one reality show without sacrificing intellectual credibility or being suspected of frittering their lives away. That's just the way it is. But watching a second is something you're going to have to explain away: "Yeah, it's a Deuce, but only because my brother tried out for it once."

Inverse phantom limb syndrome. Not the catchiest phrase, I'll admit, but it nails the idea. There are shows you would swear are gone from TV, only to suddenly realize, with a jolt supplied by a promo for an upcoming episode, that they are still attached to the medium. Currently, "Grey's Anatomy" is that show. "Desperate Housewives" used to be that show. "ER" was that show in the '90s.

Watch-blocked. When the DVR stops recording your show before it actually ends -- usually because the network hasn't told the on-screen listing provider the show is running long. If you add an extra 10 minutes to the recordings of series you watch, an extra hour to sporting events, you can usually avoid being watch-blocked.

sajohnson@tribune.com

Twitter @StevenKJohnson

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