“The Last of Us?” asks Daniel from marketing as he passes rows and rows of desks at second-coffee-o’clock on a Tuesday morning. He points at each of his colleagues, repeating the question, his face falling in disappointment at every shaken head, his eyebrows rising hopefully again at every newcomer. “The Last of Us? The Last of Us?”
He finally reaches me, and I nod. “The Last —? Yes!”

As we launch into enthusiastic analysis of the characters (“Is Bella annoying, or do I just have no maternal empathy?”), the cinematography (so excellent and so creepy I had trouble falling asleep), and the cast (Pedro Pascal is the internet’s newest boyfriend, and also mine), other people drift towards us, catching snippets of conversation. Some cry out “No spoilers!” and smack their hands over their ears as they charge in the opposite direction. Some join in, aware of the show but waiting for an impassioned, even crazed recommendation from two colleagues procrastinating their busy work. Soon, Daniel and I are at the centre of a scrum, and a fan club is born. We’ll meet here again at the same time next week. This is, frankly, the only reason to return to the office.


It wrenches me back to my school days, when maths lessons were significantly less important than our recap of last night’s episode of The O.C. — this was way back before streaming existed, when you couldn’t complain about spoilers, and too bad if you missed the airing. You were out of the loop until your parents gave into your incessant whining and bought the DVD box set, and by then no one was interested in discussing the nuances of Seth and Summer’s fraught but adorable dynamic.

The streaming model changed this for a few years. Access to anything you want to watch, any time you want to watch it means that we are rarely plugged into the same fictional universe at any one time. Sure, you can mention that you are rewatching The Office and people will pipe in with their favourite episodes and jokes, but that’s not as much fun as running over every exhilarating detail, each of them fresh in your mind from only hours before.

A block of 10 or 20 episodes at a time, bingeable and just waiting for you to lose an entire weekend on your couch, doesn’t give you the same thrill as watching week-to-week. It doesn’t give you time to digest what you’ve seen, to hop onto message boards and work through crazy fan theories and subtextual threads you might have missed, to sit on the edge of your seat and squirm impatiently at a cliffhanger.

With entire slabs of world-class television ahead of you on Netflix, all you have to do is hit the button for the next episode and avoid eye contact with your dishevelled reflection, and the whole story unfolds for you, patience and suspense begone. Some stories are meant to be savoured.

Maybe Daniel and I need to get more fulfilling hobbies, but I’m not so quick to write us off.

The hive of Tuesday morning fans of The Last of Us isn’t unique: this happened with The White Lotus, and Succession before that. This steady trickle of must-watch television may not be new, but it is renewed. I thought perhaps these were flukes: products of post-lockdown boredom, nostalgia for the days of Game of Thrones, or attempts to keep the golden age of television alive a little longer, but it looks like water-cooler TV is here to stay. Thank God for that.

Maybe it’s the slightly sad reality of the mundanities of daily life that a single hour of television is worth looking forward to, making plans around, anchoring our dopamine receptors to. Maybe Daniel and I need to get more fulfilling hobbies, but I’m not so quick to write us off.

Fervently discussing last night’s episode of must-watch television is a cultural practice that goes back decades, but this legacy of storytelling, of sharing, of community bonding is so innately human that it predates even the concept of media. There is something uniquely heartening about standing in a circle and chatting with people who love the same thing as you.

In a world so otherwise divided, when we’re bombarded with opinions the minute we crack our eyes open and unlock our phones, when burnout is an epidemic and life is increasingly lonely, something as simple as swooning over Pedro Pascal with your colleagues can make you feel, however briefly, like you belong somewhere.

When we’ve run out of story to discuss, Daniel and I fade back to our desks. With our quotas for daily socialisation fulfilled, we go back to killing time until the next episode airs. The high we’ll get from next week’s viewing is, I’m learning, entirely worth the wait.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article