This week saw the return for a third season of the TV show ‘Succession’, a brilliantly executed, dark and compelling King Lear story for the age of media conglomerates.
It’s the third series, and because of the delay caused to production schedules by the pandemic; I, and many people I know, have been anticipating it in a manner not far short of religious fanaticism, as if its release would be prefaced by an emergency press conference from Saqid Javid saying, “I’m surprised and pleased to tell you that the pandemic has officially gone away and will never come back.”
This is a fair bit for even a top-class comedy drama to carry on its shoulders, but the first episode was as viciously entertaining as ever. At the end, though, something happened which – in 2021 – seems odd. There was no option to flick through to the next one. The theme music did not kick in again. There was no opportunity to consume the entire series in one greedy draft. We are literally being made to wait for seven days. What is this? Are we at war? Have they brought rationing back?
Of course, I’m absolutely furious. How dare these people sit on a further eight hours of delicious entertainment and spoon-feed it to us a little at a time, as if we were infants in danger of overdosing on sugar?
But this isn’t the only time it’s happened recently. Most of Apple TV’s offerings, including flagship The Morning Show, work the same way: one Jennifer Aniston hit on Friday night and that’s your lot, just like we were at school.
Netflix had all but reprogrammed us to think that every moment of television available to humanity was available at the push of a button, just as Amazon has led us to believe that the gap between wanting a new dressing-gown and hanging it up in the bathroom should be a maximum of about 20 minutes. It’s quite a jolt being forced to wait for anything, these days. But in honesty, it’s a useful jolt to have.
Like it or not, a lot of television is best watched in brief, tantalising instalments with a gap in between them. There’s the joy of reacting to things together, in real time; the “did you just see that!?” moment, the WhatsApp group meltdown; which is lost if everyone is watching at a slightly different moment.
There’s the delight of a tease, of a cliffhanger: one of TV’s most enshrined traditions. It’s not quite the same thing if the character’s only hanging off her metaphorical cliff for 10 seconds before Netflix frog-marches you into the next helping and she’s cut down. We weren’t meant to hoover up six hours of drama in a day. We’re meant to be beguiled by just enough that we can’t wait to see these characters again.
But there’s a broader lesson, too: we also aren’t really meant to eat strawberries all the year round by getting them flown in from Egypt; or to order a book with such an urgent delivery slot that someone has to motorbike it over at 90 miles an hour and for less than a living wage.
The cost to our planet, and to the welfare of many of its workers, of our instant-gratification lust has been well documented. It isn’t easy to give up the pleasures of the app age, because we hate feeling like we’re giving anything up.
Perhaps the way to do it is to train yourself to actively enjoy the wait. Get back into the habit of thinking how much sweeter it’ll be when the treat finally arrives. It’s the sort of thing your puritanical granny used to say as she put the Coco Pops out of your reach for an entire calendar month, I admit. But sometimes that generation did have a point. We can’t have everything all the time.
I’ll be back in a week. And not a moment sooner than that.
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