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Big Gulp TV

By RD Heldenfels Published: June 30, 2006

Right now I'm watching the 11th episode of the Showtime series ''Brotherhood,'' which premieres on July 9. The 11th is the last of the show's inaugural season and yes, I have watched the 10 preceding it, the TV on my desk running while I went through papers, organized press releases, answered e-mails and planned some projects.

Sitting on my desk is a packet with seven episodes of the fourth season of HBO's ''The Wire,'' which begins in September. Since I've already received some other episodes, I'll be able to sit down and watch the entire fourth season before a press conference about the show during the upcoming TCA press tour.

This is one of the great things about doing what I do -- the advance screening writ large.

And in the era of serialized storytelling, it's good to have a complete season, to see where a show is going, to avoid the long wait. It also reflects the way a lot of people watch TV shows now -- waiting for an entire season on DVD, or stockpiling episodes on the DVR so they can all be watched at once. I think some shows are actually improved that way -- that the craziness of ''24,'' to use the most obvious example, is more forgivable when you're watching it all at once than when you have a week to think about how nutty the previous episode was.

But the Big Gulp approach to TV watching has its drawbacks -- and not just the time demand that comes with a season-long set of episodes. For one thing, you can't talk to people who haven't seen what you've seen, restricting conversations, especially when folks are chewing on some plot twist that you know the outcome of. (Of course, that's a risk even when I'm an episode or two ahead, as happened when I got mixed up about which episodes of ''Rescue Me'' were televised in a recent post.) And I like talking to people about TV, to see what their reactions are to an episode or a scene, to find out if their reactions match mine, and if they have better reasons for their reaction than I did for mine.

And it doesn't even have to be about a big plot twist. I can't wait for people to see Paul Haggis's upcoming role -- as himself -- on ''Entourage.'' If you thought James Cameron had fun ''being'' himself on that show, wait until you see what Haggis does. (The episode airs on July 9.)

Beyond that, too, the Big Gulp takes a weekly ritual out of your life -- the whole thing of knowing that on a given night, you have an hour set aside to watch a show you love, often with family and friends sharing the experience.

But it's tough to wait when you're caught up in a show's plot, and the next episode is right in front of you.

So my question for all you commenters is, what's the best way to watch a TV show -- week to week or in large quantities?

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