Jeff Kamin is here to absolve you of your guilt.
Only if you feel guilty, of course. But probably, sometimes, you do.
Kamin is a binge-watcher, a TV glutton, a guy who consumes a show’s season as an all-you-can-watch buffet.
“There were times when I felt guilty,” Kamin said, reciting abashedly: “ ‘I should have been reading.’ ”
“But now you can remove a little bit of the guilt of always having your face in a screen, because you’re going to be social with people: ‘I’m going to talk about it.’ ”
Kamin hosts Must Talk TV, a sort of watercooler for the digital age that reclaims a not-so-ancient time when friends could dissect last night’s show — because they’d all watched the same episode.
Now, though, it’s possible to watch at any time of day or night on a TV, phone, tablet or computer, with discussions held on yet more screens via online chats or Twitter feeds.
This 24/7 viewing life is cool, but not without its cost, according to the folks at Rewire, a new initiative from Twin Cities Public Television that addresses how much viewing habits have changed, and that presents Must Talk TV.
“We’re interested in playing a big role in any kind of smart, face-to-face conversation about any kind of TV content,” said Rewire director Andi McDaniel. “It’s sort of a book club for binge-watchers.”
The idea sprang from the success of Books & Bars, a monthly event that Kamin also hosts, which essentially takes book clubs from the usual wine and living rooms to martinis and bar stools. “We learned that people just love getting together and hooting and hollering around content,” McDaniel said.
But the idea also flows from how TV has changed within the past several years. After a stretch of reality shows that shifted from novelty to escapist pleasure to utter dreck, television series have again grown ambitious, McDaniel said.
“There’s suddenly a lot of good stuff on TV — more than you can possibly keep up with,” she said. “The explosion in plot form has elevated TV to a whole new level.”
Note the other series scheduled for discussion (and a heads-up so you can start bingeing now): “House of Cards” on Feb. 19, followed by “The Bletchley Circle” in March, “Game of Thrones” in April and “Mad Men” in May.
Five days, five seasons
Must Talk TV debuted last month at Republic, a bar in Minneapolis, by delving deep into “Downton Abbey” with about 60 fans.
Among them was Brian Sipprell of Minneapolis, who, a week earlier, queued up the first season of the British drama and began watching one episode, then another. And another. On Friday, he binge-watched the second season, then over the weekend went on to seasons three and four.
“It would be morning and I’d start watching, and then all of a sudden, it’s time for bed,” he said, smiling. He was bingeing with a purpose, wanting to be up-to-date before the Republic event.
While Kamin declared early on that there would be no spoilers, that only meant nothing beyond the current episode. Folks still watching the third season had to be prepared to learn that — spoiler alert! — Edith gets troubling news. (Oh, wait: She always does.)
Sipprell, who allowed that he was between jobs, said that binge-watching eliminated “the frustration of waiting from week to week, or season to season,” he said. “There was a lot of continuity.”
Still, the concentrated dose of dowagers infiltrated even his dreams, along with his usual replays from his curling team. “So I had these ‘Downton’ curling dreams,” he said. “Which was really bizarre.”
Sipprell more than held his own in a room of fans, some of whom confessed to suddenly saying “I shall” instead of “I will” after watching an episode.
Erin Vrieze Daniels of Richfield recalled how she first tuned in expecting a show about nuns in central London. “I’d heard the title as ‘downtown,’ ” she said. “And, well, abbey.”
Lisa Kotsonas of Edina said she liked how the show tracks the changes in the lives of the lower class. “In the first few seasons, the best you hoped for was to come off the farm and go into service,” she said. “Now it’s possible to pursue an education.” (Go, Daisy!) (Oops, spoiler alert.)
Fans shared news of “Downton Abbey” wine, cosmetics, a board game, even a Christmas album on which Elizabeth McGovern sings. (Spoiler … oh, never mind.)
Life as a small screen
Kamin, whose daylight identity is senior producer of performance programs for Minnesota Public Radio, talked about the role of television in our lives, musing about how kids often fantasize about growing up to be their favorite TV character — in his case, a stunt man like Lee Majors in “The Fall Guy.”
He led the crowd in a discussion that, as people grew more comfortable and a few more empty tumblers appeared on tables, was not so different from what you might have with co-workers the morning after any episode of an office favorite.
Matthew is missed, but not as much as you might think. No good can come from Lady Mary’s sketching getaway with Lord Gillingham, “and we know what ‘sketching’ is a euphemism for, right?” Kamin quipped.
There was dish about a possible American spinoff, about a sixth season but only a rumored seventh, about how Lady Mary has morphed from a spoiled daughter to the voice of women’s reproductive issues in the 1920s.
Kamin wondered if he was the only one who thought it was weird that, while the action began in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic and the fifth season begins in 1924, no one on the show looks to have aged 12 years.
The 90-minute discussion was spirited and funny, informed and impassioned.
Why does Thomas suddenly look so terrible? Who shoved Mr. Green to his death? Which character’s run on the show will come to an end?
No one, however, was worried about anything happening to Robert Crawley’s beloved dog, Isis. As Kamin put it: “That dog’s butt is the opening credits.”