The Mainline And The Drip : Monkey See On the virtues of watching TV the Slow Food way, and the different but considerable virtues of taking the scarf-it-all-now route.
NPR logo The Mainline And The Drip

The Mainline And The Drip

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

toggle caption

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?