This week one of my favorite TV shows calls it quits. “The Office” bids farewell after nine seasons.
Coincidentally, this week I’ll put the wraps on another long-running show, “The West Wing,” which aired from 1999 to 2006. I missed it back then, but thanks to Netflix, I’ve been able to watch every episode in order, commercial free, on my own schedule. Over the past few months I’ve watched one episode a day, almost without interruption.
That’s the magic of Netflix. Or is it? Is it possible to become attached to a show that lives as a body of work online, one that you can view in rapid succession?
I didn’t mature with “The West Wing.” I didn’t live the series for seven years. I didn’t chat about the latest episode with friends and colleagues the next day. I didn’t agonize over the summer about season-ending cliffhangers that wouldn’t be resolved for many months. Resolving them with Netflix takes about 10 seconds. Such instant gratification may seem appealing, but the lasting, tantalizing suspense only heightens the payoff.
By comparison, I’ve lived “The Office.” I’ve watched the characters evolve in real time. They’re nine years older, as am I. Waiting for Jim and Pam to hook up was agonizing, and although the outcome was somewhat predictable, it made it all the more satisfying when they did. When I watch reruns from the early seasons, I can picture where I was in my own life at that moment. Our journey has progressed mutually.
At the same time, the slow death march of “The Office” over the past few seasons—essentially since Steve Carell retired Michael Scott—has been equally agonizing. Most critics and fans agree that the show has been a shadow of its former self. Enduring this drawn-out Wicked Witch of the West meltdown has been excruciating. But faithful fans like me have stuck it out to the bitter, unfunny end.
Euthanizing a show on Netflix takes blessedly less time. Like “The Office,” “The West Wing” peaked a couple of years before it ended. The creative forces that made the first few seasons so memorable left, as did key characters. And the suspense built into the early story arc—will Bartlet be re-elected?—soon faded after he was, just as we lost interest in Jim and Pam after they became a couple. Watching the final couple of seasons over the span of a few weeks allows me to see my project through to completion while avoiding the sense that I’ve stuck with it far too long.
I’ll miss both shows, but for different reasons. “The West Wing” has been a self-indulgent obsession that Netflix has enabled me to chug down in huge gulps. “The Office” has been a longstanding mistress that has become less attractive over time. One affair was a quick burn; the other, a slow simmer. I’ll search Netflix for my next quickie, and I’ll hope to find another faithful companion on TV with which I can share a meaningful relationship.