Look at Life: Box Sets

1st January 2016

Boxing Clever: taking control of your television viewing

By Lisa Botwright

Breaking Bad saved my marriage. Okay, perhaps that’s just a slight exaggeration for artistic licence, but for a year my husband and I were united in a common goal: to get the children to bed as soon as possible, so that we could sit down and watch this stupendously brilliant, American drama series as early as we could.

Generally, I spend my evenings making dinner, clearing away, doing the children’s homework with them, pleading with the teenager to please go to bed as ‘I can’t keep my eyes open’… the usual kind of thing. My husband does ‘man things’ like – ahem – sudoku on his phone. But for a while, a presence would appear faithfully and regularly by my side. “Can I help you with that?” he would say. We would move seamlessly and purposefully – me making tea, him bribing the children with sedatives (only joking) until that moment when we could sit down together and the credits would roll.

We became dinner party bores. “Have you seen Breaking Bad yet?” we would urge. Our friends split into two camps: those whom we managed to persuade and with whom we could therefore chat happily together about our one true dramatic love – and those who, well, stopped inviting us over really.

I remember reading a magazine article at the time, written by a woman whose boyfriend had raced ahead to watch the last episode of Breaking Bad without her. I was absolutely outraged on her behalf. Sorry, but that was worse than cheating, I declared. I may even have tweeted to share my support. My man would never do that to me; I thought… But then doubt set in; he was away on business at the time, so the opportunity was there. I phoned him, my voice shaky with emotion, to seek reassurance. I had to believe him.

Needless to say, when we had finished watching every episode, there was a big Breaking Bad whole in our lives: ‘the void’, as Idris Elba describes it in the Sky box set ads. Rather than seek therapy – and it was a close call – we went online and canvassed our (remaining) friends about what to choose next, thus launching our current Mad Men addiction.

Mad Men is set in the 1950s and follows the lives of a group of male and female colleagues working together in a New York advertising agency (‘Mad men’ is a historical abbreviation of Madison men). It brilliantly reflects the time when men had cocktail cabinets in their offices and women knew their place.

With this new drama in my sights, I no longer made tea before an episode; instead I mixed stiff gin and tonics from a tray on my sideboard (I even picked up a vintage ice bucket with silver tongs from a car boot sale) and my husband had serious (trilby) hat envy.

“I don’t have time for box sets,” said some of our friends. True, we’re all very busy – most of our friends are at that stage when children and work dominate our time. But that’s exactly what I love about the box set concept: the fact that the programme will wait for me, and I don’t have to be sitting down in front of the TV at any particular time.

An article in The Daily Telegraph agreed. ‘When it comes to bonding, middle-class style, the box set rules supreme,’ wrote Judith Woods. ‘Even the most time-starved professional or put-upon parent finds them impossible to resist.’ I couldn’t agree more.  

And neither, I venture, could the couples I overheard chatting at a recent Christmas party... “We can’t get enough,” said one couple to the other. “Well, we’re at it two or three times a night; we’re simply exhausted,” the other two nodded. The hostess looked at me with raised eyebrows, alarmed at where such a conversation was going and what secrets might be about to be revealed, but I knew exactly what they meant. “So…” I said, confidently… “How many episodes have you got left?”

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