Can using Twitter while watching 'Breaking Bad' make the show even better?

Rob Walker
Yahoo NewsSeptember 16, 2013
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This image provided by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White in a scene from "Breaking Bad." More people are binge watching their favorite shows thanks to video streaming and On Demand services. For some, binging on TV shows and movies feels a whole lot like dating. (AP Photo/AMC, Ursula Coyote)

Last night’s episode of "Breaking Bad" was great. But would it have been even better if you were tweeting about it while you watched?

Tweeting while watching television has become a big part of what makes Twitter, the IPO-prepping social media service, potentially valuable; new rumors even have Twitter creating a special section of its app devoted entirely to live TV-related tweets and commentary.

In practice, though, does live-tweeting actually enhance the viewing experience? I seldom watch live television, and until last night I had never consulted Twitter while doing so. But my wife and I are "Breaking Bad" addicts, so we do watch episodes as they air. Last night, as an experiment, I decided to test whether paying attention to Twitter would somehow transform my "Breaking Bad" experience into a Breaking Great experience.

The answer, in this case, was no. Just before the show started, AMC prompted us viewers to get our social media on, y’all, with an announcement that actor Aaron Paul (Jesse on the show, @aaronpaul_8 on Twitter) would be live-tweeting, and reminding us to converge around #breakingbad.

Paul’s tweets, by and large, were a good example of value-free distraction from the main event. “Who’s loosing it right now?” he tweeted at one point; “Holy Fu#%ing shit,” he added later. Great, thanks for that.

I’m not picking on Paul: This is pretty consistent with the overwhelming majority of #breakingbad tweets I encountered. In general, people tweeted that the episode was harrowing and amazing and tense — which I knew, because I was, uh, watching it. My favorite subgenre involved people actually announcing that they had no insights to offer: “I don't even know what to say about the first 20 minutes of this episode.” “I have no words for this episode.” “This episode leaves me speechless.” Apparently not!

That said, other viewers clearly get something out of this practice — those Paul tweets racked up likes and retweets in the tens of thousands (Just imagine if he had tweeted something angry!). And on some abstract level, I get it: The idea is simply to communicate connection and shared experience, the digital equivalent of me blurting out “Aw, damn!” or just exchanging raised eyebrows with my wife in reaction to somebody getting spectacularly gunned down.

But particularly with a show like "Breaking Bad," which rewards close watching, I have to say that the fewer such distractions, the better.

Among people I personally follow, the primary #breakingbad tweeter last night was Ben Greenman (author, editor at the New Yorker and consistently funny tweeter at @bengreenman). Instead of commenting directly on the show, he in effect commented on the meta-phenomenon of Twittersphere spoilers — East Coast tweets that ruin the show for people watching in later time zones. “Fake Breaking Bad spoiler: I certainly didn't expect a special guest appearance by Scott Baio,” he tweeted; later: “Fake Breaking Bad spoiler: Everything works out great for everyone.”

Funny. But this morning, I had to ask him: What does he really get out of diverting his attention from a great show? Sometimes, he said, it’s about embracing “the opportunity for a joke,” sometimes it’s about community. “It almost certainly detracts from my own experience,” he conceded, “but I am always looking to ruin what I have.”

That kind of remark is exactly why I follow Ben on Twitter — he’s a restlessly creative person. And I suppose that is the key: On the rare occasion when I’m watching a live show these days, I am there to be immersed. If I were watching a bad show that I found appealing in some campy or ironic way, then perhaps the infinite peanut gallery would be fun. This explains the maelstrom of tweets surrounding the premiere of horror-camp phenomenon "Sharknado," and also my sincere regret that we didn’t have Twitter in the heyday of "Melrose Place."

But I don’t watch bad shows anymore, even ironically. So: Everyone else needs to shush!

Maybe that’s just me. Or maybe Twitter enhances some varieties of broadcast more than others. But at the moment, the company and plenty of observers seem to be betting that social media is the best thing to happen to TV since microwaved popcorn and a couch. All I know is, I’m looking forward to two more episodes of "Breaking Bad," totally Twitter-free.