The clock strikes midnight. We gather on the couch. For once, my mother does not fall asleep. For once, my brother comes down from his room. We turn the TV on, eagerly anticipating another installment of our ten-week-old ritual. We’re watching Showtime’s latest series, Yellowjackets.
The show centers on a girls’ high school soccer team stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash. Take The Lord of the Flies, dive into the complex world of female friendship, survival, and trauma, then spice it up with time jumps and addictive cliffhangers. Riddled with gore and secrets, it’s both tantalizing and riveting, each episode feeding us breadcrumbs only to leave us even hungrier.
I think what I love and hate the most is the mystery of it all. The intrigue. The slow-burn. The drawn-out, weekly suspense. My family and I are reluctant to let any episode end, always savoring the previews for the next. I find myself on Reddit, scrolling through the app hoping to prolong my hour-long midnight high, and our theories erupt into dinner-table discourse: Is Jackie still alive? Can we trust Taissa? Who’s the pit girl? Who do we think is the Antler Queen? If I wasn’t restricted by Showtime’s weekly releases, then perhaps I’d keep watching and neglect to relish the suspense. Perhaps the family ritual wouldn’t exist at all.
Generally speaking, I (and many others out there) have absolutely zero self-control when it comes to watching television. I will most certainly let whatever streaming service I’m using automatically play the next episode. It’s often to my detriment: my butt permanently dents the couch, my eyes are screen-fatigued the next morning, and the whole season feels like a fever dream. The worst was when COVID-19 first hit: from The Queen’s Gambit to Tiger King and even a return to old TV hits like New Girl or Avatar: The Last Airbender, I indulged in a steady stream of comfort and distraction.
The pandemic has been an isolating experience, and binging has been a surefire way to pass the lonely time. But beyond the occasional Twitter meme or Netflix party, perhaps somewhere along the way we’ve lost sight of TV culture, of communal viewership and anticipatory waiting times. Perhaps we’ve been all too charmed by the allure of instant gratification, our answers and endings just around the corner. I’m fully a part of the Netflix generation, so waiting a week for each episode feels like a crime.
But something about waiting works. And in many cases, it’s making a resurgence.
Take Disney+’s WandaVision, for example. As an ode to the many pre-streaming decades of television, the show’s weekly format was a success. The series’s mysteries fueled conversations week after week, fans buzzing with their own theories and ideas. The wait solidified WandaVision’s place in the social sphere. Since then, Marvel has doubled down with several other weekly-release shows: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye.
Other streaming giants have recently followed in Disney+'s footsteps. Amazon Prime’s The Boys released a weekly second season, and now the fourth season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will release two episodes a week. Hulu has used its own modified version of a weekly release schedule with shows such as Only Murders in the Building and, more recently, Pam & Tommy. HBO’s Euphoria, the epitome of our generation’s zeitgeist, also comes to mind. Waiting for a new episode of the second season to air every Sunday makes the memes that come in between even funnier, and the Cassie-Nate plot even more frustrating.
Though there is certainly a case to be made for binging, all of this is to say, in essence, that we are slowly seeing the medium go full circle. As friends and families from far and wide resume weekly rituals in front of the TV, they can watch and discuss onscreen events as they unfold. Maybe this is something that we’ve forgotten—that TV can be enjoyed in pieces rather than all at once, that many of our favorite series can be shared rather than solo experiences. Fanbases become revitalized, the bonds between people become stronger, and TV becomes an experience. An event.
I didn’t exactly realize what “event” I was missing out on until I watched Yellowjackets. This was the first time in a long time all four of us were able to congregate on an agreed schedule, in equal anticipation for the questions and answers awaiting.
Yellowjackets rekindled a love I hadn’t realized needed rekindling.
And so as we watch, there are brief moments when my mind drifts back to the early stages of the pandemic. Each day and episode blending into the next as both my sense of time and personhood slip away. My butt leaving its imprint on the couch, my legs melting into the cushion. My shouts at the TV screen as my parents, working from home, tell me to stay quiet because they’re on a call.
I return my attention to the screen in front of me. The opening credits play. Grainy, grungy, 90s-inspired with an aptly angsty theme song, it’s a sequence of VHS-type scenes, many of which come from episodes we have not yet seen. They serve as teasers, reminders that as viewers we must be patient before these answers become revealed to us.
As the credits come to a close, I look at my mom, dad, and brother crowded on the sofa around me, their eyes fixated in a single direction. And I smile.