Stuck to the screen
is an Inquirer staff writer
I am going to assume that, like most of the otherwise sane and productive citizenry, you and everyone you know have succumbed to the latest 21st-century scourge.
Alone or in pairs, we have taken to our beds at all times of the day and night to feed a new and frighteningly powerful addiction: the binge watch.
Let's call it the way we see it.
We lay waste to massive portions of our lives burning through entire seasons of Luther, House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Breaking Bad, and Homeland.
Because these shows are so sophisticated, we tell ourselves that indulging allows us to carry on high-minded conversations once we tear ourselves away. But like any abused recreational drug, Crack TV's side effects leave us physically ravaged. We watch until our retinas melt, our neck muscles torque, we dehydrate and neglect to floss.
We are short-shrifting work, sleep, sex, and other more wholesome uses of time. And perhaps worse, we are suffering from the insidious impact heavy doses of these shows have had on our perceptions of morality.
Our intemperance has led to this:
We have lost our moral compass. Hopelessly. Irretrievably. Down a black hole deeper than Tywin Lannister's soul.
When I ripped through all five of the Game of Thrones novels in a month, I felt no guilt. Reading obsessively does not carry a stigma the way that watching the same stories played on the small screen does.
The shame, no doubt, is an echo from childhood - the endless parental warnings that too much TV will shrivel your brain until it looks and functions no better than a peach pit.
For decades, they had a point. (Petticoat Junction! My Mother the Car!)
But even the best of oldies television has nothing on the current bounty. The writers, actors, videographers, directors in every episode of too many shows are oh so virtuoso.
How do you not love Detective Chief Inspector John Luther?
Even though the star of the recently ended BBC series dangles men off balconies, punches through glass windows when he's had a bad day, and seeks comfort and advice from a psychopathic murderer. (And, oh yes, we love that ruby-lipped viper Alice, too.)
In various other shows we are rooting, too, for Piper Chapman (drug-money smuggler), Jesse Pinkman (meth dealer), Nicholas Brody (traitor, murderer), and Claire Underwood (conniving politico's wife, who might not be as cold-blooded as she seems).
We can't help ourselves, what with all the cruelty we have witnessed as our flawed protagonists lead us through cringingly dark and tortuous plots.
After watching criminals disembowel, strangle, stab, rape, burn, freeze, lynch, bludgeon, and blow the brains out of victims who, more often than not, have done nothing to deserve their grisly end, we surrender.
In the fight against uber-depravity, we forgive - even cheer for - our tainted heroes when they don't just bend the rules, they tie them into constrictor knots.
After all, given the extreme extenuating circumstances, what's the harm in delaying habeas corpus, pummeling a sadist into beet salad, or sleeping with an enemy in possession of useful information and excellent abs?
We do have our limit, though. And Walter White defines it.
At the beginning of Breaking Bad's epic 62-episode ride, Walt may have strangled a guy who was tied to a pole with a bike lock around his neck. But at least, back then, he was morally conflicted. He fed his victim a sandwich and apologized for having to murder him.
It took a lot to lose our compassion.
Lie to your wife, consort (and then supplant) international drug kingpins, put your brother-in-law in the crosshairs, order the execution of a gentle man who idolizes you, manipulate an emotionally deprived addict and give him more care and attention than your own sweet, trusting, disabled son.
But poison a little boy?
Now you've gone too far, Heisenberg.
Personally, I won't miss the guy when the series ends Sunday night, although I understand those who will. He kept us hooked.
No chance of going into withdrawal.
My fellow addicts are whispering. "Have you seen Ray Donovan? Broadchurch? The Good Wife?"
And meanwhile, Homeland has returned.
It will feel so good to see Carrie and Brody again.
In a bad, bad way.