Cancel that useless gym membership and stop wasting time with family - those box sets aren’t going to watch themselves
For this his New Year’s resolution, Seamas O'Reilly wants to orchestrate a grand and ambitious cultural catch-up
January is a time for taking stock of oneself, time for wiping the grease from your overstuffed mouth, gazing upon life’s wreckage with your bloodshot eyes and affecting grandiose and reckless commitments to improve.
You do so knowing that any positive changes you make will have the life-expectancy of Guinness Breo but, despite this, resolutions endure even among the most cynical. It’s quite a natty trick. We get the satisfying thrill of kind of believing in ourselves, but without having to worry about any of the effort or responsibility actual success would likely demand.
Much like the cast of Doctors at a TV awards show, an awareness of their meagre odds rendering them content to get extravagantly hammered, laughing and clapping like gentle-minded idiots each time the camera pans their way.
Of course, the classic new year’s resolutions are things like hitting the gym, quitting smoking, doing dry January, signing up for a charity run. All of these options are as popular as ever, but may risk becoming old hat. Nowadays, endurance running events have become so common that seemingly normal people sign up in their thousands to do ultra-endurance Tough Mudder- style races, the ones where you pay to get battered around a race track like a Catholic martyr, while wearing spandex togs and an Under Armour shirt.
I’ve never done one, but I believe the deal is that you spend a wet Saturday legging it through a muddy field, dodging landmines and minotaurs and masked men giving out Chinese burns. For this you pay money, and in return receive a certificate, scabby shins and a T-shirt you will use for all subsequent public exercise just in case strangers don’t know that you did one once.
You will also be given a photographic record of your achievement, but be warned; lean too hard on those pics on Facebook and your more sedentary friends will grow to resent you and, in extreme cases, submit the forms necessary to become one of those mysterious people dishing out the Chinese burns at your next event.
My resolutions this year have nothing to do with traditional betterment. My regrets are entirely cultural, and my life changes will attempt to counter an altogether lesser – but greatly more common – cause of shame and disappointment.
I merely want to orchestrate a grand and ambitious cultural catch-up. To be clear, I don’t mean brushing up on the greats of silent cinema, or pre-ordering that slim new volume of difficult Flemish verse; worthy pursuits both, but not really ones that will improve my quality of life.
I speak exclusively of box-set culture. I used to think I had some aptitude for compulsive binge-watching, but I’ve fallen behind, and the effects have been devastating.
If you’ve experienced the same, you’ll be familiar with the sting that now comes with having to confess this in polite society, that dinner-party pain of awkwardly mumbling that you haven’t seen Boardwalk Empire but hear it’s very good; that you love Breaking Bad, it’s just you’re still on the fourth series, and haven’t caught up with Better Caul Saul either. Faced with such an affront, your more tolerant friends force a smile as they spit out a curt reminder of your responsibilities. Others will openly scream at you for not having gotten through The Sopranos, The Wire or, God forbid, Love/Hate.
TV hasn't always been so difficult, or necessary, to keep up with. As late as the 1990s, every single human watched the same shows at the same time - and since all were equally awful, missing them seemed less of a big deal. Back then, televisual standards were so low, people would have bought a box-set of the Angelus had one been commercially available.
By 1998, audiences were so easily pleased that ministers could rescue underperforming speeches with a well-placed impression of the dancing baby from Ally McBeal. People would watch anything, but paradoxically, had almost nothing to watch.
This culminated in RTE getting to broadcast three whole series’ worth of the mirth-free lotto-win sitcom Upwardly Mobile; a harrowing ordeal for a a public that simply knew no better. It managed 44 chuckle- resistant episodes before being cancelled, presumably under pressure from the International Court of Human Rights.
How different it is now. Once good TV was invented (scientists place the date around 2002) it became the sworn, holy duty of every civilised person to watch about 12 hours of box sets each day, or else be driven out of their homes by an angry mob screaming “seriously, you have to watch Hannibal, it makes Fargo look like Kimmy Schmidt” before sighing and beating you afresh once it becomes clear you haven’t seen those two either.
I’ll admit to being unsure how my friends are capable of keeping up with all these shows, at least without feeding tubes, nappies and amphetamines. But I will make changes, not excuses. With the decadence of a Venetian orgy-master, I’ve accrued accounts with both Netflix and Amazon Prime, whistled through Daredevil and Jessica Jones and have even begun watching Agents of Shield, Gotham and The Flash (all of which appear to have 900 episodes but, I’m assured, get really good after the first 60).
My DVR is full-to-bursting with Scandie murder shows as sexy and compelling as their credits are unpronounceable, and I’ve given in my notice in London job, to get to know the city via Luther, Sherlock and London Spy.
I will cancel that wasteful gym membership and my weekly football game, reschedule those cowardly plans I’ve made with friends and family, wasted time I will now put to better use in finally putting down Love/Hate once and for all. I’m told the prison scenes make Oz look like Orange Is The New Black, whatever that means.