Did you watch all the good shows this year?
Ha, ha, ha. Trick question. In 2016, there were an estimated 1,200 scripted and unscripted shows on American TV.
EW Morning Live! host Jessica Shaw and writer Touré haven’t seen all 1,200 of those shows—nobody is that bored or that into the Real Housewives universe—but they have almost certainly watched more TV this year than you have. They watch four to five new shows a week and talk about them on Bingeworthy, a half-hour series about what to devour and what to delete. The weekly talk show is a free stream on People.com and on the PEN streaming app.
For their year-end special, which went live earlier today and covered an impressive 12 titles ranging from Black Mirror to Beverly Hills: 90210, Shaw and Touré connected with Playboy to mull over a very good year of TV.
What does “binging” mean for you?
SHAW: We’re in such an interesting world right now. There are some shows on Netflix or Amazon that are made to be binged. When I watched Stranger Things, which was one of the great binge TV stories of the year, I watched the whole thing in two sittings. But then there are other shows on broadcast or cable where you have to choose if you’re going to let some episodes go by so you can watch them in one sitting.
TOURÉ: You binge when you watch something or you’re compelled to watch in one sitting. If you watch three episodes in one sitting, that’s binging. Two maybe, but three for sure. When my wife and I first watched House of Cards, we put the kids to bed and watched the first episode. Next thing you know, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning.
That model has made shows difficult to talk about because there’s no break. People are finishing 10-episode seasons in a weekend.
TOURÉ: When Netflix got into original programming, I didn’t think the concept of binging would work. Part of television is the communal experience. We all watched Dallas at the same time and talked about it the next day. Binging disrupts that.
Do you watch many comedies that way?
SHAW: Sometimes lighter shows don’t lend themselves to a binging experience, but we both binged Mozart in the Jungle and loved it.
TOURÉ: That show takes you into a world, and you have to like the world to binge a show. I wanted to hang out in the Cheers bar. I wanted to hang out in Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment. Binging allows you to live in that world for hours and hours.
How much are you watching for Bingeworthy?
TOURÉ: Oh, we’re watching four or five new shows a week every week.
SHAW: There’s so much on right now, and so much of it is really good. I love that we’re able to focus on four or five shows a week that people are talking about and watching right now.
I wanted to hang out in the Cheers bar. I wanted to hang out in Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment. Binging allows you to live in that world.
Has the social media around Bingeworthy been more directed at the shows you talk about or the two of you?
SHAW: They’re all about Touré’s drink choices! [He drinks red wine during the episodes; she drinks scotch.]
TOURÉ: People want to talk about the shows that we’re discussing. We’re having arguments about these shows, and it makes other people want to say, “Well, here’s my opinion,” which I find interesting.
SHAW: The show works because we both feel strongly about TV. We’re both passionate people, and if we love a show we love it, with every cell in our bodies, and sometimes we don’t love it.
Last year, What Happened, Miss Simone? got both Oscar and Emmy nominations, and that’s almost certainly going to happen this year with O.J.: Made in America. Do you see documentaries as the first genre where people have stopped distinguishing film from TV?
TOURÉ: I think this is the worst year for movies in many, many years—maybe the worst of any year in the last 20 years—and television is having its golden age with filmic, Hollywood shows with Hollywood people in them. The line is blurring on a professional and creative level to where a Hollywood star can do an HBO show and still maintain Hollywood status.
SHAW: Julia Roberts is going to be in a TV adaptation of Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different. To me, O.J.: Made in America was the ultimate binge experience. I watched the first three in a row and loved it, and making it Oscar eligible gives it that patina of film. It’s a brilliant documentary and should be rewarded, and The 13th, Ava DuVernay’s documentary, was one of the best things I saw this year, and it was a Netflix premiere that’s Oscar eligible. TV has been a really good way to bring documentaries to a bigger audience that doesn’t get to see them in theaters.
How well do you think High Maintenance made the transition from quarter-hour episodes on Vimeo to half-hour episodes on HBO?
TOURÉ: Jessica and I disagree on this. I think the show made a smooth transition. It’s still not really a half-hour show; it’s usually two 15-minute episodes that usually aren’t related, and I think it’s become a little more interesting on HBO.
SHAW: For me, that’s a show that completely lost its magic when it moved to a traditional TV format. What made that show special was the fact that the episodes could be anywhere from five to 15 minutes. Formatting it for TV made some of the episodes too thin and some of them too bloated. I was a huge fan of the Vimeo series and don’t like the HBO episodes at all.
TOURÉ: The dog episode, with Yael Stone, was an amazing episode of television. It’s a really smart show and not really about marijuana. The web show was more about that, and the HBO show is more about the humanity with the marijuana dealer as a connector.
As you’re watching shows from the four major food groups—broadcast, cable, premium cable and streaming—have you found yourself more willing to take a chance on streaming shows?
TOURÉ: Yeah. We’re watching a lot on Netflix. We’re going to do a show from Seeso. There are still some good shows on network, but cable, premium and Netflix have shown far more artistic willingness. Network is not dealing with the harsher parts of the world. AMC, FX, HBO, Showtime and Netflix are dealing with realer stuff. Tony Soprano was a mafioso in therapy. Creatively, I don’t see where network is keeping up with that.
SHAW: On network, I stand by NBC’s This is Us as a flawed but wonderful show, and ABC’s American Housewives is a really smart comedy. We’re watching a show on Crackle. Stranger Things on Netflix was one of the best TV stories of the year because it came out of nowhere. No one was anticipating it, and then a week later everyone was watching it.
Watch the year-end special here. New episodes of Bingeworthy are available every Tuesday on People.com and on the PEN streaming app for Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and other devices.