Television

The Mainline And The Drip

Dominic West and Wendell Pierce of 'The Wire'

The Wire: Jimmy (Dominic West) and Bunk (Wendell Pierce) help make it a perfect show for The Mainline. HBO hide caption

itoggle caption HBO

For me, there are two ways to watch TV shows: The Mainline and The Drip.

I mainlined The Wire. I waited for it to be done on HBO and then I watched all 60 episodes over the course of a couple of weeks. Immersing myself in the world of Baltimore's cops and drug dealers was even more intense because I watched the whole thing so quickly. I felt like Omar and Bunk and all the other great characters were living in my head for those few weeks of mainlining.

I'm watching Mad Men on The Drip: one episode at a time, as it airs, every Sunday. I'm waiting with anticipation all week for a new show. My wife and I take six days to dissect every important moment of the last episode — the sexual politics, the historical details, the mysterious backstories — as we wait for a new show.

Both ways of watching shows are fantastic. The Drip creates this incredible tension and anticipation. The first show I remember loving this way was ER. Remember when ER was The Show to Watch on TV 15 years ago? We'd watch every Thursday, all the way through the promo for the next week's show and then we'd collapse back on the couch, barely able to contain ourselves. I went into labor with my son on a Thursday in 1999 and I said, "Let's just watch the end of ER and then we'll go to the hospital."

But back then, The Drip was the only way to watch a show. It was only when it became a big thing to release TV shows on DVD that we got to experience The Mainline.

The first show I mainlined was Sports Night, the sitcom Aaron Sorkin created before The West Wing. It's about a fictionalized sports-news show (think SportsCenter). I was staying with my friend Tom, and we watched both seasons in a week.

Later, my wife and I mainlined Arrested Development together. Like Sports Night, it was densely written and self-referential; mainlining made both shows funnier than they would have been on The Drip. The running joke about Tobias wanting to be in the Blue Man Group compounded itself in an even more absurd way on The Mainline.

The Drip makes it more fun to talk about a show, because there's that week in between episodes to mull things over. My wife and I have multiple conversations about Mad Men in a given week. I can check the TV blogs and message boards to see what other fans are saying. When I mainline a show, on the other hand, I tend not to talk about it; I loved The Wire, and I know lots of other people who saw it, but because I saw it at my own pace there wasn't anyone who was experiencing it with me to talk to.

I recently mainlined the first two seasons of Big Love and I'm planning to watch the rest of it on The Drip. I watch my guilty pleasure, Stargate Atlantis, on The Drip. Do you have a favorite way to watch shows? Or do you do both, like me? Are there other ways you watch shows — and if so, what's different about the experience?

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I also mainlined The Wire (although it took me a few months to get through the whole series). I think the denseness and complexity of the season-arc plotting are the main reason The Wire is best enjoyed in bulk. Spoilers are tough to avoid when mainlining, however. I remain unreasonably proud of my succes in avoiding even the merest whif of a Wire-realted spoiler before finishing the final episode. Go me!

Sent by Joel | 11:12 AM | 9-23-2008

I'm so impatient that I usually want to mainline everything, especially shows like "Lost" that have mysteries stretching out over the entire season (or seasons). It's hard for me to wait to learn more each week.

The last show I mainlined was "Damages." I bought the DVD a couple months ago and figured I would watch a couple episodes a day until I was finished. Yeah, it only took me two days.

Sent by Jenn | 11:30 AM | 9-23-2008

OK, after I wrote this I realized that the first show I mainlined was The Mary Tyler Moore Show. There was a marathon of it on Nick at Nite in 1992 and I stayed up until 3am with my friend Andy watching more and more of it. It was like a bag of potato chips. We just couldn't stop.

Sent by Sara Sarasohhn | 12:18 PM | 9-23-2008

I mainlined Battlestar Galactica a few months ago. Now I'm caught up, and have to wait for the drip.

Sent by Ryan | 12:58 AM | 9-24-2008

The Wire really is the perfect show to mainline, because it's really all one storyline - I can't even really think of it in terms of episodes, just plots.

Sent by Rachel | 9:26 AM | 9-24-2008

We are about to start mainlining The Wire and I'm very excited about it. We mainlined the first season of Mad Men and are watching season 2 on The Drip. And yes, we can't wait. (We actually need to hit up iTunes because we've missed a few episodes due to Ike power/cable outages.)

And I disagree about Arrested Development- I found that watching it Mainline was too much. I LOVE that show but after 4 episodes in a row, I don't laugh as much. Like eating expensive chocolate truffles. After 4 or 5 in a row, they're just not as special.

Sent by la_florecita | 10:45 AM | 9-25-2008

The interesting thing is if you mainline a show and then try to drip it I think it can lose some appeal. Two shows that this happened for me were Heroes and 24.

On the other hand I was OK switching from mainlining to dripping Lost. It just wasn't as intense.

The Wire is great either way IMO.

Sent by Dustin | 4:11 PM | 9-25-2008

I never saw an episode of Lost on broadcast TV until last season. It would come out on DVD around Christmas so I'd spend Christmas break staying up until all hours watching "One More Episide". No repeats, no long pauses - awesome.

Sent by rockhpi | 9:29 AM | 9-26-2008