Is ‘Speed Watching’ TV Shows As Stupid As It Sounds?

Photo: Thomas M. Scheer/Getty Images

Yesterday, the New York Times published a story exploring speed watching and speed listening, the related practices of digitally accelerating video or audio playback in order to get through hours and hours of must-consume movies, TV shows, and podcasts just a little bit faster. Life may be short, but Game of Thrones is very, very long.

“While speed viewing does save time — devotees say it can save hours over the season of a series — others raise concerns that it undermines the rhythm of a production and can dilute some creative elements,” writes the Times.

I already watch what is an objectively unhealthy amount of television, but am nevertheless racked with guilt over everything I haven’t seen. Could speed watching be the antidote to peak TV that we’ve been waiting for?

I installed the Google Chrome extension Video Speed Controller and took seven television shows, all streaming on Netflix, for a faster-than-intended-by-their-creators test drive. Welcome to a new world, where time means nothing and every theme song sounds like an Alvin and the Chipmunks cover of the original.

Photo: The CW

Gilmore Girls
I recently watched all seven (pre-reboot) seasons of Gilmore Girls. Why? To paraphrase mountaineer George Mallory, because it was there. Let me tell you: I wish I’d had this extension for the arc when Rory dropped out of Yale and was living in her grandparents’ pool house, and also for every scene involving April Nardini.

I was surprisingly comfortable watching Gilmore Girls at 1.5 times the normal rate. Lauren Graham speaks so quickly that, believe it or not, speeding her dialogue up even more isn’t much of a distraction. If anything, it makes the number of cups of coffee that Lorelai drinks seem more grounded in reality. (Not only do closed captions come in handy for Gilmore Girls in its standard form, they’re a must under these circumstances.)

Photo: NBC

The Office
Whether I can’t sleep, have laundry to fold, or a project to “work” on in an adjacent window on my computer screen, The Office is a go-to comfort rewatch for me. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it in full, and even if I could, I wouldn’t, because that would be embarrassing.

I’m sorry to say I couldn’t stand watching The Office at anything faster than a meek 1.2 times — maybe because I’m so familiar with the original pacing that anything else would feel uncanny. Believe me when I tell you that all those charged silences shared between a not-yet-together Jim and Pam are decidedly less romantic in double time.

Photo: Tina Rowden/AMC/© 2016 AMC Film Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Halt and Catch Fire
I have never seen an episode of Halt and Catch Fire, but I’ve been meaning to get into it for quite a while. After some fiddling with the Chrome extension, I discovered that 1.4 times speed is the magic number: not so fast that the pilot necessarily seems like it’s been sped up, but fast enough that every character comes off as frantic, like there was just a little bit of meth laid out on the craft-services table that morning. Sure, this speed would save me close to 15 minutes per episode, but probably at the cost of raising my already non-negligible baseline-anxiety level.

Photo: Justina Mintz/AMC/© AMC Network Entertainment LLC and Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Mad Men
I loved Mad Men, but I’m not about to argue that it didn’t feel painfully slow sometimes. Then again, I quickly learned that speeding it up to even 1.3 times the normal speed robs the AMC series of much of its seductive polish. What about all the staring? The seething? The pining? The mourning? The lusting? Come on.

Photo: Alex Bailey/Netflix

The Crown
I’d already seen the first 20 minutes of the premiere of this big-budget Netflix period piece, but beautiful as it was to look at, I got so bored that I worried there might be serious medical consequences. Please do not judge me for this, but I may continue to watch The Crown at 2.0 times speed, which makes for a decidedly less ponderous viewing experience. Plus, thanks to Video Speed Controller, there’s the intoxicating sense that I can control the unraveling of history as we know it with the tap of a key.

Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC

30 Rock
I feel much the same way about 30 Rock as I do about The Office, but —maybe because it operates at a breakneck speed to begin with — I found it fairly easy to adjust to the already heightened reality of Liz Lemon and company as rendered at 1.5 times speed. But the problem is that I wish there were more episodes of 30 Rock, and more (not less!) time I could spend watching this show. To speed through it with such reckless abandon feels like sacrilege. And besides, are 30-minute sitcoms really where most viewers are looking to save time?

Photo: Michael Yarish/Netflix

Fuller House
… In this case, yes. If for some reason I had to watch Fuller House, a show that normally wouldn’t interest me in the slightest, this is exactly how I’d want to do it. I blazed through the season-two premiere at 2.0 times speed in less than 12 minutes and actually found it pretty entertaining. Added benefit: Kimmy Gibler’s sped-up, high-pitched voice somehow sounds more like her truest self than I ever thought possible.

So, is speed watching actually a good idea? Sometimes, maybe — I can definitely see the appeal of breezing through a weaker season of an otherwise compelling show. But I can’t imagine myself doing it more than very occasionally: Why settle for diet TV when the original formulation is so delicious? And besides, if keeping up with your favorite show is this much of a chore, are you sure you even like it in the first place?

Is ‘Speed Watching’ TV Shows As Stupid As It Sounds?