But is the full season release a good method, or does it serve to diminish the impact of the show by subtly pressuring everyone to watch it so quickly? Fanpup writers Cody Olsen & Casey Hayden share their thoughts.
CO: So I don’t love the full season releases, I think it diminishes the social aspect of serialized TV. Traditionally everyone got to ruminate on individual episodes, discuss, speculate, etc and it built a fun camaraderie between fans. Whereas the full season releases kind of negate that, not everyone is experiencing each episode at the same time, and it feels like there’s this subtle pressure to watch all of it now, because you might get spoiled otherwise.
Having said that, I understand why Netflix does it that way (even if I don’t agree per se), they’re a service built on instant gratification, so pioneering this method of ‘watch as much of the season as you like’ fits in with their MO. And I should qualify that yes on many levels I do appreciate not having to wait a week in between episodes, but I think there’s maybe a better middle ground than everything all at once.
CH: I think there are more pros than cons to the full season release phenomenon. Not only do you get to set your own viewing pace but you can also get a better gauge on whether a show is good enough to be worth your time. You have the option of checking out the first couple of episodes in quick succession, and if you’re not hooked by then, just put it down and get back to streams of entertainment (or actual outside-the-living-room endeavors) that you prefer. Also, as long as you avoid spoilers, which sometimes does require the reflexes of a jungle cat, the general buzz you’re able to gather from co-workers who are further along that you or from the Twittersphere can also be helpful in determining if you should stick with the show. Case in point - a guy I know, his name might be Cody, blurted out into cyberspace how great Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show Master of None is and stated that the episodes just kept getting better. With a ringing endorsement like that, I bumped it up in my queue and was quite happy I did ‘cause that show was so good.
As for the loss in camaraderie during the intervening week between episodes, people have had diminished watercooler chats about TV ever since TiVo and DVRs became a thing. I will say though, that there is a flipside to the phenomenon, and that is when you get sucked into a less-than-stellar show just because that “play next episode” button is all too easy to push (of course now, you don’t even have to push anything to keep going). I’m talking about you, Hemlock Grove. My theory is that this happens most often on Saturday afternoons when you’re folding laundry. It seems like this release format allows for more risks to be taken on shows that wouldn’t likely get the greenlight on the major networks, and overall, we’ve seen that play out in mostly good ways.
CO: Well I’m glad you enjoyed Master of None, and hold my critical eye in high esteem! You’re right, having the ability to watch a few episodes in rapid succession is perhaps a better way to determine if you like a show, and tends to be the more gratifying way to watch serialized shows.
But I disagree with your claim that watercooler talk isn’t a factor since DVR, I think the supermajority of viewers still watch episodes close to the day they air, maybe the day after. Then they get to collectively ruminate on plot developments via twitter, message boards, etc. You have this cool phenomena of a large group experiencing an ongoing story at the same time, that just doesn’t happen with Netflix’s release schedule. To me, there’s something gratifying about getting to read reviews for specific episodes and really dig into what people liked or didn’t like about this week's Walking Dead for instance, whereas Netflix shows mostly get discussed in the context of the whole season, because by the time you can get a review up, your core audience has already watched the whole season. Only 3 days after House of Card’s 4th season was released major outlets were already putting entire season reviews up.
Another factor I want to bring up: if Netflix’s release schedule subtly encourages binging, is that unhealthy? Are we tacitly saying that it’s ok to stay in all weekend and do nothing but watch tv? I don’t want to say Netflix is at fault for someone watching too much tv, but I do think the release schedule maybe exacerbates an already existing problem in our society: over reliance on TV.
CH: That’s a good point. Shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones do still lend themselves to some shared weekly experiences. But I feel like it is harder to avoid spoilers for those shows, and you don’t know which day of the week someone is going to catch the episode. And then there’s those viewers who’ve also read the books, adding another layer of “don’t tell me” to the screen-related social engagement. I’m not very big on reading episode reviews; I prefer articles that delve into what makes a show work well, or not, without structuring that commentary toward the confines of a particular episode.
If TWD came out as a full season, it might apply pressure on the writers to not have the “filler episodes” that are often heavily criticized, as the pacing of the binge-ready shows seems to be more rapid fire and continuous since, which essentially allows them to be more serialized, which is not only more fun, but a major reason why people binge them. And then when you’ve just binged, you have a dopamine-inflated view of how good a show was and you feel like you accomplished something, so you want to tell people what you did and that they should do it too (insert: sound of a cash register).
I do think that today’s entertainment consumers are faced with too many options, and so many high quality options. It is very easy to let yourself fall into a spiral of the pursuit of happiness via the screen and its gems. And I’d agree that binging TV is contributing to that problem. When everything is “on demand” and it all makes your brain feel good, many people won’t muster the self-control to only view in moderation. Ultimately, I believe the responsibility lies with the viewer to set a proper and healthy pace, not with the provider. I wish there weren’t so many pieces of entertainment I wanted to enjoy, but that’s the world we live in today. If it’s not Netflix or Amazon, it’s Marvel Unlimited, YouTube, or Twitch, These providers are businesses, and we apparently haven’t hit “peak TV” yet.
CO: Ah, so you aren’t very interested in individual reviews. I’m a sucker for them, you could almost say I binge reviews more than I binge shows. Plenty of times I’ll pull up 3 or 4 reviews for one episode. Maybe I have a problem.
That’s a good point about the dreaded ‘filler episodes’ but I’d contest the release schedule is a non factor there, it’s that Netflix's 13 episode seasons are shorter than typical network or basic cable seasons. So The Walking Dead could be released all at once like you suggest and would still have the filler if they don’t cut the episode order down.
Bottom line: I think the full season releases make sense upon first glance, but maybe there’s a slightly more refined way to approach it. Here’s my proposal: what if Netflix didn’t release the whole season all at once, but instead dropped an episode a day for 13 days. I think that would strike a good balance between not waiting too long for content, while also allowing viewers time to breath and reflect on individual episodes a little. Plus there’d be a natural ‘viewing schedule’ everyone could collectively follow.
CH: I agree with your observation about filler episodes being cut out due to shorter seasons. So, we’re going to tell Netflix how to release their shows now, eh? Well, even though I said that it isn’t on the providers to avoid over-stuffing our faces with content, I do like the idea of an altered release schedule. But instead of one episode per day for 13 days which might keep people on the couch for 13 days in a row, I would like to see Netflix and other services try releasing the first half of a season at once, then waiting a bit and releasing the second half. I’m enjoying the mid-season finale device that The Walking Dead has been employing, as it usually gives us a cliffhanger and elevates the dramatic tension, and we don’t have to wait a full year for the next full season to begin. With this release schedule, everyone gets their cake (but don’t binge eat the cake) -- the skeptical new viewer gets to check out a few episodes; the bloggers could either summarize the half-season or go episode by episode since there’d only be about 6 out; a full binge would still leave you with one of two weekend days to get outside; and the disparity of where you and your co-workers are in the season might be lessened too.
CO: Oh I like that alternative as well, I was actually thinking about that last month when Daredevil broke their trailer down into two parts.
Anyway, we’re under no illusions that Netflix will be altering their release schedule anytime soon, but still it’s fun to consider how something that’s already a hit could be improved a little. Pleasure chatting with you Casey.