Binging TV shows and Netflix is fun, you just sort of disappear into something for a while. It’s especially great when you’re sick and need a distraction.
What is frustrating is how shallow it can be. The plot twists and surprises come fast to keep you watching, but little of it sticks in the long run. I really enjoyed The Punisher and Mindhunter on Netflix, but I don’t remember much about it. It’s like a casino floor-plan, it’s designed to keep you in and hard to get out. But what do you have left when you finally find the exit?
TV shows are great, and some really stick with me. (The Wire, Black Mirror and The Simpsons are shows that I can vividly remember, for example). But movies have a much more powerful effect. They are more condensed, with less false climaxes and less surprises. They aren’t trying to hold your attention for 10+ hours, but sustain something over 1 sitting.
I’m haunted by Ladybird and the enigmatic mother, who is kind to others but cruel to her daughter. When Ladybird asks her mom if she likes her, the mother never answers – it sticks in a permanent way. How does one become that kind of parent? The Post is so terrific in its honest portrayal of the first female publisher of a major newspaper. Meryl Streep is anxious and afraid in this all-male world – who wouldn’t be, as a woman who has been belittled and marginalized her whole life, who inherited the newspaper with no prior experience? But she finds a strength to step out and trust her moral compass. You know how it’s going to end, but the movie still creates an incredible suspense as you agonize with the characters. I want to watch things that will stay with me, not things that disappear quickly like a bag of Doritos.
The trick is the time it takes to discern. If you’re willing to follow the lead of others, then you can take recommendations from newspapers, magazines, and friends. If you want to trailblaze, then you simply have to devote a lot of time to watching a lot of things, knowing that 80% of it is forgettable. The effort is for that magical 20%, the minority of things that are worth the time and attention, and there’s nothing like finding an unknown gem.