Netflix has again made headlines this week for canceling another four shows, firmly solidifying its reputation for being trigger-happy and pulling the plug on original content before viewers are ready.
In the high-stakes streaming wars, Netflix is clearly looking for as many Stranger Things or The Witcher-level smash hit as possible. Nevertheless, the platform’s penchant for terminating original series that are still finding their feet is really grating on me.
Granted even in the days before streaming, networks weren’t afraid to snuff out underperforming shows regardless of unresolved plot points or a dedicated following (#JusticeforJericho). That said, the churnable nature of streamed content has only exacerbated this issue.
New shows are no longer given the chance to find their footing and slowly grow an audience. Instead, it’s either an immediate pop-culture phenomenon that drives subscriptions or its one season then straight onto the bowels of Netflix’s content library never to be seen on the homepage again.
I may love Netflix as a distributor for original movies, but that's about it right now. I’m rapidly losing interest in giving the service’s newest long-form content a chance for fear that the minute I get invested is when the axe will swing.
So many canceled shows
In 2020 alone, Netflix canceled more than 20 original series (opens in new tab). In the same year, roughly 45 Netflix-branded programs premiered (opens in new tab) (that number includes animated shows), so the service is hardly posting a great success rate, stopping much of its upcoming content from getting another run.
Sure some of these programs canceled last year were of questionable quality (was anyone sad to see October Faction go?) but also on the list were promising programs such as I Am Not Okay With This and Teenage Bounty Hunters.
Regardless of Netflix's reasons, that’s 20 different fandoms who were disappointed to see a show they enjoyed brought to an early conclusion.
Plus, Netflix isn't slowing down in 2021 either. The streamer pulled the trigger on The Last Kingdom, The Irregulars, and The Duchess earlier this year, and that was just the beginning of a tidal wave of cancellations.
Last month it was confirmed that neither #blackAF nor Grand Army would be returning for a second season. Then in a surprising turn big-budget superhero series Jupiter's Legacy was canceled just a month after its first season dropped — though the universe will still be explored further thanks to a planned anime spinoff.
If all those cancellations weren't already frustrating enough, four more shows have just been axed by the streaming giant. The Crew, Mr. Iglesias, Bonding, and Country Comfort were all placed on the chopping block this week. Clearly displaying that Netflix has no intention of putting the brakes on its rapid-fire cancellation spree just yet.
Not given a chance to develop
While some of the shows canceled in the past year and a half like GLOW and The Last Kingdom were multiple seasons deep (three and five seasons respectively), most frustratingly around two-thirds of the shows that Netflix has canceled since 2020 only got a single season on the platform.
That’s an awful lot of stories that will forever be left untold. Many of these canceled shows, such as Messiah and Altered Carbon, ended on cliffhangers or feature unresolved plot points. Also, when you consider that in the world of television it’s hardly a rarity for a show to get off to a rocky start before finding its feet in subsequent seasons, it feels like these shows were barely given a chance before being chalked off.
Hell, if Netflix had produced The Office it would have probably nixed it after its lukewarm first collection of episodes. Though Space Force got its second season, so maybe Netflix will trust anything led by Steve Carrell.
I don't have time for heartbreaking cancellations
Does Netflix not realize that watching even a single season of a television show can be a pretty significant time commitment?
My free time has never been more valuable or scarce. Between full-time employment, a regular fitness routine, my desire to play basically every video game under the sun, and watching endless teenage drama shows at my partner’s behest (currently we’re binging Dawson’s Creek), I only have so much time to give to trying new shows.
If I’m going to commit to watching a full season of a show, I’d like to be confident that doing so will not ultimately lead to nothing but loose narrative threads and a cliffhanger that has to be resolved by the show’s creator in an interview post-cancelation.
While getting in on a television show early doors has always come with the risk of premature cancelation - not to mention disappointment if the finale doesn’t live up to expectations. When it comes to Netflix original content, the odds of a show continuing beyond a season or two feel pretty low.
It didn’t used to be this way
Arguably my favorite Netflix original series of all time is Love. I wouldn’t be shocked if you’ve never heard of it. The show ran for three seasons between 2016 and 2018 and followed two dysfunctional twenty-somethings trying to navigate the choppy waters of romance while also dealing with their own baggage. You should absolutely watch it.
I bring the show up because I’m fairly confident in saying that if Love had premiered in 2020 then it probably would have been among the lengthy list of series culled. It was never a ratings smash by all accounts, received little mainstream attention, and the first season is pretty uneven overall.
Yet in its second and third seasons, the show flourished, and for its small (but dedicated) army of fans, we got to see the show reach a fairly natural conclusion. There was probably room for a fourth season, but let’s not be greedy. What a shame it would have been if creators Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust hadn’t been given the chance to tell the full story.
Don’t forget Netflix is the platform that gave House of Cards six seasons and allowed Orange is the New Black to run for seven. Sure those shows were its first attempts at original programming, so were given a fairly gracious runway, but the point is Netflix used to let shows run even beyond their natural conclusions.
We used to actually get sick of Netflix shows, now they’re usually finished before we’ve even had the chance to decide if we even want to commit to watching on.
The impact of Netflix’s reputation
The real problem with Netflix’s developing this reputation for hastily canceling shows is that it’s creating a vicious cycle.
I’m now so convinced that every Netflix show I start that isn’t one of its chosen behemoths (you know the ones that get all the marketing dollars) is going to wind up getting canceled after just a single season, that I rarely bother starting any. I seem to be far from the only person with this concern, which in turn leads to lower ratings and therefore more cancelations.
In fact in 2021, I have yet to begin a single new Netflix series. Instead, I’ve turned to competitors like Disney Plus and Prime Video for my original content fix in the television space. Until Netflix can prove that it’s willing to give series a chance to find their audience, and won’t be so quick to press the cancelation button I’ll be sticking to using the streaming service for watching movies and reruns.
How Netflix can right its wrongs
Now I’m not naive to the business realities of the situation. With many of these curtained series, it made absolute sense for Netflix to cancel them due to the cost of production outweighing the value the show was bringing to the platform. I totally understand that fact.
I’m not advocating for every small screen auteur to be given an unlimited budget and an infinite number of seasons to fulfill whatever creative vision they deem worthy of exploration. But it would be appreciated if Netflix would maybe greenlight fewer shows and instead fully explored the series already under its belt.
In fact, Netflix could take a leaf out of HBO Max’s book, which has just announced new movies for classic Adult Swim animated shows (The Venture Bros., Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Metalocalypse). If Netflix greenlit more movies to resolve some of these canceled series (as it did with Sense8) — it could wrap up any cliffhangers and dangling plot points.
This would require a much smaller investment than a whole new season and would allow fans of the respective series a sense of closure, not to mention giving the creative team behind the camera the ability to tie a neat bow on things. I’d be much more willing to give the latest Netflix original a chance if I knew that the story wasn’t going to be left hanging even if it ultimately ends up on the chopping block after just a handful of episodes.
When Netflix first launched, they raged about the networks doing the exact same thing. Now that they are part of a comfortable oligarchy, they can engage in all the hypocrisy they want.
Their desire to create a “hit” leaves the most annoying of tropes, the season ending cliffhanger. If show creators, and by extension Netflix producers, created encapsulated seasons, we wouldn’t have this problem. If a show is a hit but doesn’t have that cliffhanger, the creators can always find a new story to tell.
Bridgerton is a great example of this. Netflix is the perfect medium for long-format movies, not serials. Once producers get their heads around this, there will be far less disappointment and much greater experimentation and risk for both creators and viewers.