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Life's on hold: I'm binge-watching TV

?Last Tango in Halifax? is about late love,

?Last Tango in Halifax? is about late love, sexual discovery and, most likely, a murder, but be warned: Watching it can be addictive! Credit: PBS

This is the time of life when every minute counts. You don't want to linger too long at the front window looking for elephant shapes in cloud formations or get lost for hours in the workshop rearranging your collection of carpet tacks and wood screws.

In later years, we must be keenly aware of our earthly allotment and maximize every opportunity -- right? "Defer no time," said Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 1. "Delays have dangerous ends."

Dangerous? Boy, I'll say -- dangerous as in, kaput, adios, that's a wrap. You are out of time, bro, and how did you spend the last day and a half? You deferred, you delayed, you read old copies of Popular Mechanics that should have been recycled a decade ago. You took the Subaru to the car wash when a little Windex would have done the trick. And, yes, might as well admit it here at the end of the road, you binge-watched all six seasons of, "The Sopranos."

Of the above offenses, I fear the last -- television binge-watching -- is apt to bring the most dire punishment. Nothing in modern life allows for time to be consumed so easily and with so few results. "What do you mean it's 3 in the morning? Wasn't it just 8:30? Did we eat dinner yet?"

In my case, salvation may be out of reach. Most likely, I'm headed for a hereafter where Netflix is banned and the only entertainment is black-and-white kinescopes of Lawrence Welk. I am submitting an early petition for clemency.

How it all started was with a British series on Public Broadcasting called "Last Tango in Halifax." I'd recommend the show but then others would be hooked and risk the same eternal fate and, one way or the other, I'd get blamed for that, too. Let's just say "Last Tango" is about late love, sexual discovery, and, most likely, a murder. No, don't even think about watching.

Turns out "Last Tango" was a kind of gateway drug.

From it, I moved to foreign crime series like "The Fall," and "Spiral" and "Happy Valley" and "Wallander." I dabbled in "House of Cards." I caught up with "Homeland" and then, at the library, found "Prisoners of War," the Israeli program on which "Homeland" was based. I watched Bill Maher and John Oliver until I felt like they were brothers. My wife, Wink, and I enjoyed every installment of "Downton Abbey" on regular TV but, friends, the flesh is weak and, too often, the bingeing impulse irresistible. Unless somebody quickly hides the Blu-ray remote, or cancels my library card, I'll soon be taking tea again with Lord and Lady Grantham.

Leaving aside issues of wasted time -- and let's not kid ourselves, that's what we are discussing here -- binge-watching raises other concerns. cites work by three University of Texas at Austin researchers indicating that binge-watchers are, generally, not in great shape. "They found that the more lonely and depressed the study participants were, the more likely they were to binge-watch TV," said ScienceDaily. Also noted was that binge-o-maniacs were "unable to stop clicking 'Next' even when they were aware that they had other tasks to complete."

Yes, exactly. With a streaming service, one program is followed automatically and immediately by another unless the viewer takes charge, shuts the thing down and turns, at last, to those "other tasks" -- maybe taking out the garbage or washing the dishes or, for that matter going to bed. Sooner or later, there must be sleep.

Troubling, too, is that binge-watching now may be the norm. Fortune magazine noted a survey by the TiVo digital recording folks claiming that nine of 10 people binge watch at least three episodes of the same show in one day and that only 30 percent worry about a habit Fortune called "television gluttony."

It is small comfort, I can tell you, to find myself among the nation's bumper crop of couch potatoes. I hail from a working-class background where diligence was preached and practiced. My mother, Winnie, was a multitasker way before anyone thought of the term. On the phone, Mom would not just sit and talk. She would dust, she would iron, she would fold clothes or do a crossword. My father, Fred, delivered baked goods in Brooklyn. When he returned, Dad changed out of his Bond Bread uniform and started home repairs.

Binge watching back then was Milton Berle on Tuesday nights and the week's big event, Ed Sullivan, on Sunday. Gluttony was a deadly sin. Hard work would be rewarded. On the other hand, Mom and Dad weren't tempted by streaming reruns of "Mad Men" or "Downton Abbey." Just as well. I want to remember them as they were -- unplugged, heaven-bound.

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