fandom in a vacuum // 07 Jan 2005

Thanks to the glory of NetFlix, over the past month or so we've become fans of  Alias.  Based on a recommendation from a friend, we queued up the 18 discs that comprise seasons 1-3, and have been making our way through them... 

This is the first television series I've watched this way -- binging on one episode after another, without having seen them before.  I'm finding three things kind of odd... First, episodic television is designed to create addiction, week to week and season to season.  When we finished season two (when Sydney discovers she has no memory of the past two years of her life), we just popped in the first disc of season three to see what the hell happened.  Second, episodic television is also written with the first-time viewer in mind; it's amazing how much dialog is used to fill in the uninitiated on back story plot lines ("I was married to your mother for 18 years without realizing that she was a Russian spy...").

Third, watching the shows on DVD like this kills the water cooler effect.  There's no one to talk to about what you're watching.  My friends who are long-time Alias fans are most likely tiring of my emails to them asking about particular plot twists or characters -- depending on what episode I'm watching, we're two or three years out of sync.  They're having trouble just remembering the episode, much less the scene that spurs the question.

I wonder if there's an opportunity here for subscription services like NetFlix or TiVo or for retail outlets like Amazon or Blockbuster to create micro-communities of episodic entertainment viewers.  Folks who aren't watching the shows "as they happen," but who are catching up.  Netflix knows who else is watching Alias Season Three; could those users be connected for some watercooler conversation?  Because I'm dying to talk with someone -- anyone -- about Sydney's missing two years, while season four piles up on the TiVo...