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Netflix just canceled its best new show — which ended on a cliffhanger

A scene from Archive 81 on Netflix showing the character Melody standing by a painting while holding a camcorder
(Image credit: Netflix)

Update: Netflix has taken a break from cancelation, saving one scrapped movie from the abyss of "what if" after Disney shut down production

Netflix cancels a lot of shows. Just a few months into 2022 and the streamer has already axed half a dozen original series; it's why subscribers know not to get too attached. But while there's usually a degree of inevitability about a Netflix cancelation, the latest show on the chopping block comes as quite a shock. 

Deadline (opens in new tab) reports that Netflix has canceled Archive 81 after just a single season. The supernatural horror series premiered on the streaming service in January, and ran for just eight episodes. Even worse for fans of the spooky series, its final episode ended on a cliffhanger that is now destined to remain forever unresolved. 

Archive 81 was based on a horror podcast of the same name and starred Mamoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi. It followed an archivist, Dan Turner (Athie), who takes on a job restoring a collection of videotapes from the 1990s. He quickly finds himself entangled in a deadly mystery involving a missing film-maker (Shihabi) and a demonic cult. The show was written and produced by Rebecca Sonnenshine. 

Netflix seems to cancel a new series almost every other week, but this one feels a little more out of left field. For starters, the show enjoyed a strong critical reception, scoring an impressive 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.  

We also loved it here at Tom's Guide, declaring it the one new Netflix show to watch in January and praising its "fresh, original feel" and the way it blended genres. We're finding this cancelation particularly tough to take as a result. 

Of course, good reviews and strong word of mouth are no shield from Netflix’s cancellation axe, though, and just a few weeks ago the streamer binned a show that had scored a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Netflix's cutthroat attitude to cancelations is clearly alive and well in 2022.  

Sonnenshine reacted to the news via Twitter (opens in new tab). The showrunner posted her thanks to everyone who had watched the series, but also expressed surprise that Netflix had decided not to move forward with a sophomore season of Archive 81. 

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When Netflix cancels a show it’s usually because that series failed to find an audience, but that didn’t seem to be the case with Archive 81. The show broke into the Netflix weekly top 10 ranking (opens in new tab), and was for a brief moment the number one show on the platform before the return of Ozark overshadowed it. It’s surprising that this level of viewership didn’t translate into a greenlight for a second season. 

There is plenty of behind-the-scenes data that Netflix doesn’t make public, and perhaps the reason for Archive 81’s cancelation can be found there. For instance, it's possible that the show had a viewer retention problem, with lots of subscribers starting it but few staying for the entire run. Unfortunately, just like the secrets of the videotapes Turner is restoring, we may never know the true answer. 

Analysis: This cancelation stings 

Another cancelation at Netflix shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, while we still rank it as one of the best streaming services currently available, it definitely deserves its reputation for trigger-happy cancelations. Nevertheless, this one still stings quite a bit. 

Archive 81 was an excellent original series that combined mystery and chills in all the right ways. It’s a real disappointment that just two months on from its debut it's already done. Even more frustrating, the show’s creators still had stories to share and presumably expected to be able to tell them, as the first season ends on an almighty cliffhanger.

Netflix has clearly done the cold-hard math and decided that the cost of continuing the show was not worth the expense when compared to its interest from viewers, but this one feels like a real missed opportunity. It leaves the first season of Archive 81 as a great piece of television that’s unfortunately now hard to recommend, as nobody likes an unresolved ending.  

This cancellation again raises the all too familiar question of whether watching a Netflix show at launch is a good idea. After all, if the streamer won't stop canceling shows, why should we bother starting them? There's nothing worse than getting invested in a show only for key plot points to be left unresolved after an unceremonious cancelation. Archive 81 is yet more proof, that sometimes Netflix doesn't give fantastic shows a proper chance to find an audience. 

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Next: Our guide to what to watch this weekend on Netflix, Disney, Apple and more. 

Rory Mellon

Rory is a Deals Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on deals, gaming and streaming. When he’s not scouring retailers for PS5 restock or writing hot takes on the latest gaming hardware and streaming shows, he can be found attending music festivals and being thoroughly disappointed by his terrible football team.