Chances are that you mention that new TV show you're "really addicted to" a bit too often. You started watching it on a hungover Sunday morning and kept watching until late in the evening, all the while in bed. The next morning you overslept.
That doesn't mean you're addicted to watching TV shows. Bram, a 26-year-old student from the Netherlands, was. Bram and I met in secondary school, but when I left my hometown, I only saw him once every six months or so. A couple of years ago, during the summer holidays, I was hanging out with some old friends when they suggested paying a visit to Bram because he never left his house. In retrospect, what we did was more or less an intervention. At that point, Bram was watching up to eight hours of TV a day, following around 50 different shows simultaneously, and had lost track of his studies, family, friends, health and bills. I called Bram to ask about those days.
VICE: Hi Bram. Why on earth did you watch so much TV?
Bram: All my life I never really had to try my best for anything, until it was time to graduate from college. For the first time, I had to get my act together and actually work hard.
So instead of doing that, I kept postponing working on my graduation project by watching TV. At some point, I completely gave up and started to watch TV shows all day. A lot of shows – for a year or so. I watched so many that my friends had to break into my house and turn off my TV. How come you didn't choose to do something a bit more active – gaming, for instance?
Shows are easily accessible, free and above all passive. I played a round of FIFA every once in a while, but I preferred to watch TV shows because I could really lose myself in the storylines. Even when the plot was really weak and predictable. I liked that I didn't have to do anything.
So you watched shows you didn't even like?
Well, I would check the high-end series on IMDb's top 20 off my list pretty quickly, as well as great cartoons like South Park and The Simpsons. There are websites that constantly update the shows that are available or about to air. You can create profiles on those websites to receive automatic updates, so you don't even have to monitor the internet yourself. You just get notifications. That came in quite handy when I was following up to about 50 shows at once. Fiftyshows?
Yes, even old British detective series and bullshit like Teen Wolf. When one season ends, there are ten new different seasons of other shows beginning. Sometimes I was wondering what I was doing with my life, but I never tried to answer that question. I just watched more.
The last seasons of Dexter, Workaholics, House and The Mentalist kept on getting worse, but I watched them anyway because I invested a lot of time in the plot and in getting to know the characters.
What kind of effect did that have on your daily life?
I stopped paying my bills, never even looked in the letterbox and didn't pick up my phone. I kept telling myself that I was going to do something, but then I'd be like: "Okay, I'll start in an hour. In half an hour. Let's finish this episode first. After this spliff." That way I kept putting off the moment of actually taking action until after 6PM, when it's too late to reach anyone. Once the clock showed 6PM it always felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Procrastinating became the solution to anything I had to do. Plus, I was smoking a lot of weed at the time. Anyone who's ever smoked weed regularly knows it can work like kryptonite for procrastination.
Did you realise that you were just fooling yourself?
I thought shows were the perfect way to avoid reality and all the shit I had to do – I was literally hiding from debt collectors. The light in my room was always off, the television was out of sight and I'd hide in a dark corner of the room until they left. That also happened with friends sometimes.
Then your friends staged an intervention.
My friends knew that I was home and so they would ring the doorbell for ten minutes or more but I would be hiding. One day they went to my parents' to get the key to my front door. They came in, and it all became very emotional. I promised to turn things around, but kept on falling back into the exact same pattern.
Was that when you hit rock bottom?
That, and watching really shitty shows like The Nine Lives of Chloe King. Anyone can come up with an excuse for their teacher when they haven't finished their homework. But coming up with excuses for myself, that was the worst. When I got up to go to the bathroom and was "out of it" for a second, I'd immediately be gripped by guilt. But that would go away when I pressed "play" again. I'd sometimes go a night without sleeping and only watching shows, if I had managed to score some speed. The only healthy thing about my lifestyle was sleep, and when even that fell away, it was no longer a downward spiral but a free fall.
How did that end?
There was a second intervention – that's when I pulled the plug once and for all. I terminated my lease, and my parents let me move back in with them under strict conditions. They gave me a bedtime, for instance. I started running two times a day and stopped smoking weed. With the help of my parents, I paid all my outstanding bills, fines and tuition. My university gave me a second chance and I finished my degree. Then I found a job in healthcare.
Have you stopped watching shows completely?
No, but I watch them in moderation. Kind of like how you can drink one beer a day without getting completely wasted. After I quit weed, I re-watched some of the lame shows I used to watch, and I couldn't get through them. But without watching shows, smoking weed has also become incredibly boring to me.
Which shows did you actually enjoy and still watch?
Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Homeland and South Park. Shows that are no longer on but that I still think are great, are The Wire, Breaking Bad, OZ and Cosmos. Someone told me about Lost when I was already doing much better but I still don't dare to download that.
I asked Bram to calculate how many days of his life he has spent watching TV shows using the website tiii.me. When he got to 24 days, the site crashed.
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