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Picture this: it’s a Friday night, and you’re in between shows. The show that’s captured the internet’s attention this month is on a service you don’t subscribe to, so you begrudgingly open Netflix and start to browse. After wading through the several dozen shows that are always on your recommended, but you’re never quite in the mood for, you pick something you remember seeing positive buzz about a while back. You settle into your couch to watch. Fast-forward to a week later, and you’re obsessed. The show is great! Why haven’t you heard more people talking about it? And that cliffhanger ending has you desperate for Season 2! You grab your phone and immediately search for when you can expect the next season to come out, only to be met with headlines that fill you with a familiar dread. Netflix cancelled your new favorite show.
These days it’s impossible to browse Netflix for long without bumping into the wealth of cancelled and abandoned shows sitting right next to their ongoing and completed series. Netflix’s catalog has become a minefield of unfinished television shows just waiting for some unsuspecting viewer to stumble across them. All it takes is an interesting thumbnail or preview clip to suck them in and then six to thirteen hours later all they’re left with is the crushing disappointment that there’s nothing more. Sure, all that information is out there on the internet if you’re willing to take the time and look. But is it really an efficient use of your time to Google every show you might want to watch to make sure Netflix didn’t end it prematurely? Or is it worth the risk that a quick search could majorly spoil the show? And why should you have to put in the work to fix Netflix’s mess?
Netflix Needs To Warn Us Before We Start a Cancelled Show
This whole situation is made worse by the fact that a lot of television these days is heavily serialized. So many shows are built to have overarching narratives that span multiple seasons, often planned out several seasons in advance. Many shows haven’t told a complete story by the time they’ve finished their first or even second season, leaving multiple storylines unresolved if they’re cancelled. It’s the equivalent of a major film studio filming the first act of a movie and putting that into theaters to see if there’s enough interest in acts two and three for them to bother making them. Sure, there are a lot of differences between making television shows and making movies. But the difference isn’t as significant as it used to be. In the age of massive serialized blockbusters like The Mandalorian, House of the Dragon, and The Last of Us, television isn’t being made the way it used to be. Netflix’s business decisions show that it either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about this fact and so it continues to green-light dozens of first acts that will never get to tell the rest of their stories.
The constant threat of cancellation has exacerbated this issue, as shows struggle to find ways to up their chances of renewal. Some have resorted to cliffhanger endings in hopes that the need for resolution will create enough interest that the show gets brought back for another season. But all this does is make it hurt worse when they get cancelled, making the inevitable experience of stumbling upon it later without knowing what you’re getting into even more devastating. Cancellation hurts that much worse when the story is smack in the middle of a scene or beat explicitly designed to get you excited for something you’ll never get to see. And unless you’re willing to Google every Netflix show you ever watch before you click play, there’s no way to know.
Netflix Is Cancelling Shows, But That Doesn’t Mean People Will Stop Discovering Them
If Netflix is going to keep up this Draconian management of its own original content, it needs to do better in other ways. For example, why not make a tiny change to its user interface that lets viewers see when a show is cancelled? Perhaps a label on the thumbnail or on the information page (or both!) and a disclaimer to run before the first episode. Something to the effect of, “The following show was cancelled for not living up to our unrealistic and esoteric standards. You should probably just go watch Stranger Things instead.” That way, whenever an unsuspecting Netflix subscriber comes across the corpse of a once-promising show, they can make an informed decision about what they’re about to watch rather than stumble into yet another television heartbreak. It’s not remotely the same as, you know, not cancelling any show that’s not as big a hit as Wednesday or Stranger Things or even giving more shows soft cancellations that give them one last (possibly shortened) season to wrap things up. But Netflix is showing no signs of slowing down its cancellation spree anytime soon, so we’re stuck asking for the smallest amount of responsibility for managing their catalog in a user-friendly way.
Stepping off the soapbox for a moment, this whole mess isn’t entirely Netflix’s fault. COVID-19 threw a wrench into the industry, and the cancellation of shows like GLOW or I Am Not Okay With This had more to do with the financial difficulties of filming during the pandemic than the quality or viewership of either show. And sometimes shows are just bad and don’t pick up the viewership they need to keep going. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. That’s not a problem Netflix has control over.
What is a problem Netflix can control is when it cancels a show merely a month and a half after its initial release, citing a lower viewership than expected, and then just leaves it there. In a few years, once the initial sting has passed and the world has moved on to whatever new show has captured our attention, someone might stumble onto 1899 or I Am Not Okay With This completely unaware of the fate that befell them. Both of those shows end with exciting and game-changing reveals that promise to take both shows in fascinating new directions. But anyone who watches them now is destined for disappointment rather than excitement. Netflix is creating an environment where it’s safer to simply not watch anything on Netflix if you’re hoping for a fulfilling narrative because the chances you won’t get one are only increasing with every new cancellation. The least Netflix could do is warn us before it breaks our hearts again.