Last weekend I finally polished off You season 3, and as the credits rolled (on the frankly preposterous finale) I was greeted with a message from Netflix “it’s official: another season is coming.” This brief statement, likely supposed to elicit excitement, almost reduced me to tears. You see, Netflix's You (starring Penn Badgley) has just gotten increasingly convoluted and hit a point where I'm rolling my eyes with each new twist and machination to keep him killing.
Of course, I don’t have to watch another 10 episodes of the outlandish thriller series (which Tom's Guide considers one of the best Netflix shows), I could call it quits and cut my losses now. Just leave the continued misadventures of obsessive serial killer Joe Goldberg forever unknown. Unfortunately, that’s not in my nature: I’m a completionist at heart. Once I start something, I have a nagging need to finish it. Be it a TV series, movie, video game, book, or article.
Unfortunately, that personality trait mixed with Netflix’s passion for running any series that gains traction into the ground with alarming regularity has proven to be a dangerous combination. Over the years, I’ve watched dozens of hours of lackluster Netflix content out of a sense of obligation rather than actual enjoyment. I’m starting to think it’s time to break the cycle.
The milking never stops
Netflix stretching its biggest hits well beyond their sell-by date isn’t a new phenomenon. The streamer’s very first original series (Lilyhammer doesn't count, it debuted elsewhere first), House of Cards, ran for half a dozen seasons which was about twice as long as the material warranted. It even persisted with a needless sixth season when Kevin Spacey stepped down from the show after sexual misconduct allegations.
Netflix’s next original show, Orange is the New Black, also overran coming in at seven seasons by the time it wrapped up in 2019. A needlessly long run for a show that ended up essentially relegating its original protagonist to a supporting character just to keep things fresh — a tactic that failed spectacularly.
Don’t think Netflix has dropped this habit in recent years either. Take recent smash hit Squid Game as a prime example. While I adored the first season, it always felt like a one-and-done show to me, even if the ending was fairly ambiguous. It seemed the show’s creator was at least initially hesitant to continue the story as well, saying he didn’t have a “well-developed plan for Squid Game 2” in an interview with Variety. But of course, just a few weeks Netflix confirmed that season 2 was greenlit. Authorial intent be damn, Netflix has shareholders to please!
Perhaps more egregiously Netflix has now taken things a step further than just producing shows beyond their sell-by date. The streamer now appears somewhat obsessed with trying to create spin-offs shows and features based on its biggest success stories. For example, while fans eagerly await Strangers Things 4, Netflix’s top brass, Ted Sarandos, is already hinting at a Millie Bobby Brown lead spin-off in the future — no thank you.
Furthermore, fantasy series The Witcher premiers its second season this month (on December 17 to be exact) but in the meantime, Netflix already pushed out an animated movie, Nightmare of the Wolf, and has a prequel series, Blood Origins, in a pipeline to boot. I considered myself a Witcher fan, but it’s already starting to feel like content overload.
Netflix is even worse when it comes to its popular reality-TV content. Guilty pleasure series Selling Sunset has a Florida-set spin-off, Selling Tampa, launching this month and a second supporting show, Selling the OC, coming in 2022. I assume this is a barrel that Netflix will keep drawing from until we get Selling Detroit. In fairness, I’d probably watch that.
Boom or bust is too binary a world
Curiously, Netflix's habit of milking its biggest hits stands in stark contrast to its ruthless culling of any show that doesn’t immediately find a substantial audience. This was again displayed this week when the live-action adaptation of anime Cowboy Bebop was ungracefully axed less than a month after its debut, the viewership numbers weren't strong, but it was one of Netflix’s most hyped offerings for 2021.
This year alone Netflix has canceled 18 shows, 12 of them being spiked after just a single season. That continues the trend from last year when the streamer canceled 20 shows. I’ve written before about how frustrating I find Netflix’s clear unwillingness to allow a show to find its feet.
Why is this so important? Many classic shows, such as The Office (U.S.) and Parks and Recreation, stumbled a little in their first series while finding their groove, Netflix could do with remembering that.
Couldn’t Netflix have taken some of the money it’s funneling into another unnecessary Witcher animated movie, or the Stranger Things spinoff that nobody is asking for, and allowed promising shows like I Am Not Okay With This a second chance to find an audience?
I suppose at Netflix, you either die a Jupiter's Legacy or you live long enough to become an Orange is the New Black. The days of three-seasons-and-done (goodbye GLOW) seem to be a thing of the past.
There must be a middle ground
I'm not dim. I get it that Netflix is looking to draw in the highest number of subscribers possible, so naturally, if a show is connecting with audiences it will get renewed until that audience goes away. Similarly, if a project flounders out of the gate, it’s hardly in Netflix’s best interest to throw more money at an underperforming show in the hopes the kinks will be ironed out during its sophomore year.
Nevertheless, there must be a middle ground somewhere. It doesn’t have to be either six seasons and a movie, or near-instant cancellation with seemingly no mercy. I’m not suggesting that popular Netflix shows shouldn’t be given a long run when the material warrants it, far from it. However, Netflix doesn’t need to jump between the two extremes as frequently as it currently does. It’s time that Netflix learns that sometimes less is more when it comes to giving audiences what they want.
Of course, there is every possibility that I’m misreading the room. The majority of The Witcher and Stranger Things fans may want to consume every ounce of those worlds possible, but I’ve definitely got a breaking point. Perhaps I need to begin acknowledging when I’ve reached it and walk away instead of soldering on in a pointless mission to see everything I start through to the bitter end.