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My Year of Streaming Dangerously

After years of pushing my night owl habit to unhealthy limits, I committed to sleeping a solid eight hours every night. It quickly turned into the most well-rested year of my adult life.

Then I got a Roku.

I wasn’t a binge-watcher at the time. All I wanted was the ability to keep up with the shows I heard my friends and the internet go on about. I didn’t feel like a pop culture writer who had never seen True Detective or Breaking Bad could call herself legit. I also wanted to revisit Friday Night Lights. Plus, House of Cards was about to begin, and I needed to watch Orange is the New Black.

I did not want to watch any of this on my computer. I work on the Internet; I already spend many hours every day staring at a smallish screen, and I didn’t want to move my TV-watching habits there too. I wanted to watch actual shows on actual television from my actual couch.

With one cable, the tiny Roku connected my TV to the internet and to an unlimited supply of web-based television shows and movies. The first time I scrolled around looking for something to watch, I was overwhelmed by the number of channels and volume of programming. I picked Law and Order SVU, a crime drama with more than 350 episodes in the can at the time. It was late at night, I was tired of thinking and this seemed like a solid choice.

Do you know how easy it is to let one episode of Detectives Benson and Stabler bleed into another one? How many perps lurk from Manhattan to the outer boroughs who need them (plus Ice T) to bring them to justice at 2 a.m. in my living room? Maybe you do because I know I am not alone̶ with my love for this show or any other. A year in and midway through the eighth of 17 seasons, SVU is still often the last thing I watch at night. I have a twisted concept of bedtime stories, I guess; it’s relatively predictable, a bit overwrought, often disturbing and completely riveting.

Do you know how easy it is to let one episode of Detectives Benson and Stabler bleed into another one? How many perps lurk from Manhattan to the outer boroughs who need them (plus Ice T) to bring them to justice at 2 a.m. in my living room?

But I haven’t had a consistent eight hours of sleep or a regular bedtime since I turned that Roku on.

Elliot and Olivia aren’t the only ones to blame for this. Like my documented issues with cupcakes and wine, once I started binge watching it has been difficult to stop. I can access my personal trio of streaming time suck — Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video — any time I want, which, as it turns out, is way too often. One episode of anything is rarely enough these days, and the universe keeps churning out great shows just to thwart my rest and productivity. I inhaled House of Cards. Orange is the New Black took one long gloriously unproductive weekend. I just cringed my way through all of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and applauded the second season of Transparent, plus the first two of The Newsroom.  I’m in the middle of season four of The Wire because I was apparently too busy living outside of Baltimore with no HBO in the early 2000s to catch it then. It’s so good that I only allow myself two episodes per sitting, like only eating two pieces of the good candy at a time instead of cramming the whole box in my mouth at once. I want it to last.

I’m also trying to manage my brain space. The sheer amount of potential entertainment available on streaming channels freaks me out a little because I’ve already got a long watch list, and it shows no signs of slowing down. I was a skilled couch potato until long after college, when the three or four basic channels we had available only provided so many options and most of those were reruns or game shows at any given time. I still managed to watch a lot of TV. Ask me anything about any episode of The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Facts of Life and, later on, NYPD Blue and ER. I cut way down in the mid-2000s until just last year, but with one tiny machine and a wireless connection, it has been way too easy to match and then surpass my capacity for consuming my stories.

I’m not so worried about becoming a live-streaming social recluse. I still leave the house on weekends at regular intervals. I more than fulfill my professional obligations, and I actually get too antsy to watch an entire season of anything in one sitting. My binges are medium-sized, at best.

I recently broke up with Olivia Benson for a few months, though, to pursue a relationship with adult choices and my remote control pause button, and, honestly, to see if I could. Resetting my night-time TV activity brain center has been more difficult than I like to admit. It’s just so easy to keep going, to let one episode roll over into another, just a few seconds later, and then I’m in for another hour, doing the alarm clock math that never seems to end well. So many crimes to solve and just not enough hours in the day.

I really need to sleep, though — for my health and productivity and for other priorities. But House of Cards and OITNB are back really soon, and I still haven’t started Breaking Bad. It’s a good thing I like naps.

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