By Iona Holloway
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Chandler strolls into Central Perk, a belly-bulge hanging over his brown belt as the nasal sound of Phoebe warbling about smelly cats, prostitution, and her dead mom rudely assault his eardrums. A strangely stretched-foreheaded, pumped-lipped Monica, unfazed that two hours ago she looked five years older and her husband was a slim-Jim, greets her fat-boy with a kiss. I stare at the wonky scene through the glazed eyes of a sitcom-marathon addict. Something’s off—like milk on the turn.

Then realization hits me: I’m the problem. Or, more accurately, my modern internet-based television habits are. Watching back-to-back-to-sore-back-from-spending-all-day-in-bed Friends episodes is corrupting the characters, plotlines and believability, of conventional television shows.

From shit-kicking political fixer to egotistical, villainous floozy.

From shit-kicking political fixer to egotistical, villainous floozy.

Once upon a time, traditional television schedules were more powerful than Spanx. You sat down once a week, and they forgave a multitude of sins—like inconceivably ridiculous storylines, fluctuating script quality, and ballooning/shrinking/inexplicably absent/psychologically ill-when-they’re-not-supposed-to-be characters. The week-long vacation from Central Perk shenanigans proved just long enough for Chandler’s inconsistent belly and chin to aggregate into a typical male weight and Phoebe’s tendency to believe her dead gran was a cat she found on the sidewalk to mellow into a believable personality.

Netflix, Hulu and their gutter-dwelling illegal downloading cousins have a lot to answer for. Their narrative-altering powers generalize far beyond Cenral Perk as well. The making of characters in television used to be a season-long, six-month scheduled process. But when a season like ABC’s Scandal, starring Kerry Washington as shit-kicking political fixer Olivia Pope, is eaten as a single meal, Pope’s intoxicating, badass personality morphs into that of an egotistical, villainous floozy.

Breakdown #57: Crazy Eyes Edition

Breakdown #57: Crazy Eyes Edition

Investing a day instead of an hour-a-week in a show is like comparing having a baby to looking after your next-door neighbor’s dog. Expectations of the show warp from “treat time” to a dull slog. When you fall asleep to the screams accompanying Dexter cling-filming and executing his nineteenth victim of the night, you can’t taste the blood anymore. It’s okay to clean dog poop up once in a while but Carrie Mathison’s ninth bipolar breakdown on Homeland is as banal as puke on your shoulder after months of diaper changes. And downright boredom displaces pupil-pinned incredulity at the implausibility of vegetarian Phoebe eating a bloody steak because her brother’s triplets in her belly need it like a hole in the head.

There’s no end to the unscheduled TV marathon, excluding subscription cancellation—and addicts don’t quit that easy. So unless I can unlearn my bad habits, and revert to scheduled hour-long bites of unctuous drama, the joy of buying into great television plots will positively correlate with the degeneration of Olivia Pope’s morality. Am I sad? Kind of. Will I stop? No.

Credit: Flickr user Thalita V. Used with a Creative Commons license.