Finishing a great TV boxset is a lot like ending a relationship.
First, you feel only pain and bewilderment. You can’t get them out of your mind. You feel compelled to bore others by talking about them.
In time you start seeing other shows again – shows that aren’t as good, possibly, but they’re different, which is something – and the memory of your time together matures into something like nostalgia.
Before long, though, you come back to a nagging question. Did it end too soon? Should we give things another go? Would we even still like each other if we did?
The answer to how long you should wait before going back to a boxset is a measure – not of quality, exactly – but of each show’s unique rhythm and style.
Some you never should have stopped seeing in the first place. Others – well, others you have to accept were a one-time thing.
Playing the role of boxset relationship counsellor – a first for Esquire, if not mankind – we offer a rough guideline to this predicament when it comes to the classics of TV drama. But hey, whatever works for you both.
Part of the pleasure of watching Walt’s descent into criminality was biting your nails up to your elbows and wondering what on earth he was going to do next to keep his secret and stay alive. There are notable episodes where the tempo slows, of course, but generally speaking, unbearable tension was Heisenberg's special batch. Therefore, you probably need to wait until you’ve at least partially forgotten the plot twists. Around two years should do it.
…Depending on the state of American politics. Inspired by the Clinton administration, Aaron Sorkin’s White House drama became popular during the Bush years when it was a wet dream and escapist fantasy for everyone on the left. Best to save revisiting the idealism of President Bartlet – who, among other things, brings peace to the middle east by having a series of clever chats – until Obama, who unforgivably failed to become President Barlett, has gone and the political pendulum has swung back the other way.
For all The Wire was great TV drama – some would say the greatest ever, though not us – it was often a rather grim experience. The odd amusing character aside, its chief concern was to expose how bureaucracy and corruption strangle a city from the top down, protecting the powerful and trapping the weak in poverty. All of which may be a breathtaking example of social-realism – but nothing you need reminded of more than twice a decade. Life’s hard enough.
Surrendering yourself to Friday Night Lights felt great while it lasted. But looking back, getting misty-eyed at a group of chiseled, clean-living teenagers shouting “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” at each other without a trace of embarrassment was… well, a little embarrassing. You always knew deep down you were a bit too old for FNL, but you let yourself off because it was brilliantly made, genuinely heart-warming and you fancied half the cast. But watching it again? There’s a line you really don’t want to cross.
Following the same logic as Breaking Bad (see above), revisiting the increasingly farcical trials of Jack Bauer – enjoyment of which depends entirely on trying to guess what insane plot twist they’re going to dream up for the next episode – would require you to forget what happens completely, which for the average human should take at least two decades to dislodge, or significantly less if you watched the original stoned at University.
Band of Brothers is both short and powerful enough to mean you should make revisiting it into an annual tradition. Unlikely some of the more domesticated shows on this list, its scenes of wartime drama will never get boring and, particularly when you factor in the moving interviews with the surviving soldiers it depicts, reminding yourself of the story from time to time feels like a fitting tribute.
The thing with The Sopranos is that every time you watch it, it’s something different – comedy, family drama, cool mob story, ‘arthouse’ – depending on your mood and where you are in your own life. In addition, despite telling a continuous story over six seasons, each episode is tightly and smartly plotted enough to stand up on its own, dramatically and thematically. In other words – don’t despair when you get to the end of the greatest TV show ever, just start again or dip back in.