Peter McKay: Spoiler alerts ruining TV binge-viewing for the rest of us

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Thanks to modern technology, it's now possible for Americans to abandon the broadcast schedule and binge watch TV at alarming rates. If you wanted, you could watch every single episode of "Lost," one a night, for 121 nights. You could spend an entire weekend glued to the couch, getting up only for tea, crumpets and breaks for the loo, finding out what all the fuss is about over "Downton Abbey." You could, like my teenage daughters, abandon all else until you get through all 208 episodes of "How I Met Your Mother."

The problem is, we're all binging at different rates. So if you don't want your show ruined for you, you have to be awful careful. You also have to avoid the Internet, because the very next day after an episode airs, there will be some link saying "So-in-so reacts to his character's shocking death last night!"

At work, you have to watch out to make sure you don't happen upon a conversation about your show. Slapping your hands over your ears and yodeling "Lalalalal!" has become the universal gesture for "I'm not that far along! Don't tell me!" This winter, I managed to watch "Breaking Bad" front to back over a period of a month, but only by avoiding all unnecessary contact with others for the duration.

The worst form of life these days is the spoiler. Most often found in an office environment, spoilers range from the obnoxious -- "Oh! You're almost to the episode where they find out ..." -- to the less obvious but just as annoying and cloying: "I'm not saying anything, but ...!" These folks then give you a self-satisfied smile that lets you know something worth knowing is coming up in the next episode. It's a lot of pressure and responsibility. You don't want to spoil anything for anybody else, and you sure don't want them to spoil something for you.

Part of the problem for me is that I grew up in a time before spoilers were even a "thing." In the good ol' 1970s, you had to wait until a show was being broadcast to actually see it, and if you missed it, you wanted somebody to tell you what happened because it wasn't going to be on again for years. Most importantly, there were no spoilers because it was an age when nothing actually ever happened on TV. Shows just chugged along with the same episode over and over again. It didn't make sense to say: "Hey, did you see the episode where the Waltons took turns slowly saying good night to each other and then John-Boy turned off the light?" or "Wait til you get to the episode where Fonzie hits the jukebox and says 'Heeeeey!' "

My biggest worry these days is the HBO series "Game of Thrones." If by some miracle you've missed it, it's basically a bunch of sweaty people carrying swords and tramping back and forth across a mystical world that looks a whole lot like England. There's a whole lot of cursing, occasionally people take their clothes off, and every 20 minutes somebody gets killed in a gruesome manner.

While you can't really binge watch "Game of Thrones," it's based off a series of books, and the people who've actually read the books are the worst. Having spent years lugging around insanely thick paperbacks and getting their wizard hats knocked off their heads at school, they feel as if they're the real fans, and the TV fans are the pretenders. So they manage to throw little spoilers into every conversation.

The other day at work, I was talking to a guy who had read all the books cover to cover, twice. He asked me if I had read them. I started the first one but got distracted after about 50 pages and gave up. Not wanting to seem illiterate, I said, "Well, not every single one."

Then he leaned forward and said, "The people who haven't read them are really going to be shocked when BLANK gets killed!" I stared at him in horror. In my world, BLANK is still very much alive. He's one of my favorite characters in fact.

I started to cover my ears and yodel, but it was too late. I stomped off, with him chasing me down the aisle, whimpering, "But, but, you said you'd read the books!"

The worst part is that from now on, every time my wife and I watch the show, I have to sit there every time BLANK comes on screen, trying not to blurt out, "I'm not saying anything, but ...!

Peter McKay, a longtime Ben Avon resident and syndicated columnist, can be reached at his website, www.peter-mckay.com.


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