Every Episode Ever: Thoughts About TV Completism

Persons Unknown, NBC

My son and I liked NBC’s short-lived, suspenseful Persons Unknown so much, we had to watch the last two episodes online after NBC had given up on it, even when we hadn’t. The cast included Chadwick Boseman (42), Daisy Betts (Last Resort), and Alan Ruck (Bunheads!). Not pictured: Reggie Lee from Grimm.

In my childhood, seeing every episode of a TV series was next to impossible. Series were allowed to last for at least a full year, even multiple years — no instant cancellations after two failed airings — which meant you really had to maintain long-term dedication in order to catch a show in its entirety from pilot to finale. Syndicated reruns were kindly kept in chronological order but always skipped episodes. Woe betide the star-crossed younger viewers who found their viewing rituals disrupted by finicky parents who controlled the channel dial. Also, sometimes I liked playing outside with friends instead of keeping appointments with my favorite small-screen characters. No, really. That used to be a thing.

In this present age of DVD boxed sets, TV series completism is easier than it’s ever been in world history. Buy a complete-series set (or collect seasons one by one as funding permits); set aside multiple weekends for binge-viewing; repeat until you’ve become an authority on the series long after it departed the airwaves. Cable networks provide reruns of many series for your catch-up pleasure, if you’re patient enough to wait until the ones you missed take their turn. Even easier to complete are those fledgling upstarts that grab your attention, air two or three episodes, and find themselves axed by ill-tempered TV execs who’d rather be flooding the airwaves with cost-effective reality stunts instead.

I’m pretty sure my accomplishments in this area (so to speak) fall short compared to other folks who share my hobbies and interests, who likely prioritize their free time to accommodate TV as a major daily activity to a greater extent than I do. By my recollection, I’ve seen all episodes ever produced of the following series:

Batman Beyond
Batman: the Animated Series
Ben 10
(the original)
Ben 10: Alien Force
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Clerks: the Animated Series
Cowboy Bebop
Fawlty Towers
The Flash
Justice League
/ Justice League Unlimited
The Office
(original British version)
(original, short-lived 1990 version)
Persons Unknown
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Superman: the Animated Series
Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles
The Tick
V (the original 1980s version)
Veronica Mars
The Wire

The list doesn’t include any ongoing, non-canceled series I’m presently following (e.g., Mad Men, Once Upon a Time, Falling Skies) because I always reserve the right to jump ship at any time, no matter how many seasons along we are (as I’ve done with Chuck and Smallville, among many others that took wrong turns and lost my attention).

I can think of a few shows of which I think I only missed a few episodes — The Simpsons, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Wars: the Clone Wars (we had scheduling issues during the final season). It’s possible I may have coincidentally caught every episode of Three’s Company during my childhood without realizing it, but I can’t prove it. It certainly felt like it.

Why isn’t the list longer? I can think of three key events that whittled my TV fandom down from an hours-per-day habit in the 1980s to my current allotment of a handful of shows per week.

* August 29, 1988: The first day of my first job. At age 16 my free time became a prized commodity for the rest of my life.

* Fall 1993: Moved into my first apartment with zero planning, a pauper’s budget, and no TV for the first few months. Going cold turkey was hard for me, as I wound up unplugging from every series I’d been following for years. Even after acquiring a set, I lived without cable TV until 1998. Back then, it could be done. Believe it or not!

* May 1999: Obtained my first computer with viable Internet access. And TV’s role in my life diminished steadily ever after.

The subject is on my mind at the moment because I’ll be adding one series to the list next week, and possibly two more by the end of May. Next week is the series finale of The Office, one of the few series that everyone in our household watches, despite the steep drop in quality after Steve Carell’s exit. My other two Thursday night mainstays, the significantly hobbled Community and the underdog champion Parks and Recreation, have yet to be renewed for next season. Pundits joke that fans should rest easy because NBC might not be in a position to be choosy, but I can easily imagine the Powers That Be scrapping the entire lineup and replacing them with Son of the Voice or whatever.

I’ll be over here waiting for the official word while working through Downton Abbey with my wife, and while pacing back and forth till my son and I can finally finish Fringe for ourselves. Go ahead and do your worst, NBC. Cut off one of my TV shows, and two other shows on DVD shall rise up and take its place.

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