When House of Cards landed on Netflix with a thud just under a decade ago, it felt like a paradigm shift for television: not only because it heralded Netflix’s arrival as a major, able to coax A-list actors and creators into the world of streaming, but also because of what it meant for the way we watched TV itself. An entire series that came out all at once, could be swallowed up all at once? Who could argue with that! Soon, Netflix was dumping an absurd number of shows onto its platform in the same way. Other streamers soon followed suit, and then even traditional broadcasters. The era of binge-watching had arrived. There was no turning back.
Well, uh, about that… Fast forward nine years later (skipping the intro along the way, naturally), and the binge-watching model is in retirement. We’re back to a place where 2022’s must-have shows — like Yellowjackets, Severance, The Dropout, Moon Knight, Winning Time — are adopting the good old-fashioned weekly model. Most streamers have either abandoned the all-in-one approach (Amazon) or only try it periodically (BBC iPlayer, which sometimes drops full sets, depending on the show, and never for their massive sets that rely on overnight ratings), or never adopted it in the first place (Disney+, Apple TV+, and of course networks like HBO). Only Netflix, the creators of the binge-watch model, are holding their own, and as you may have heard, they’re in a bit of a pickle right now.
So why are we cold at binge-watching? Arguably, the model’s fatal flaw, as many have pointed out, is its inability to replicate the “water cooler” feel of weekly appointment TV. I first noticed this when Netflix released the much-maligned fourth season of Arrested Development in 2013, and my friends were watching the show at completely different speeds. Any proper discussion of the show had to wait until the slowest of our group finally arrived at the end of the season, weeks after the rest of us. It all felt anti-climactic (much like the season itself). It’s a stark contrast to, say, Severance, whose weekly airing schedule allowed viewers’ excitement to build in unison towards that sensational season finale (sorry, but I’ll do not stop talking about that final).
Of course, the flip side is that when it comes to avoiding spoilers, you have to be as fast as the fastest viewer. Chris Ryan, host of a great pop culture podcast The watch, lamented this fact during a recent episode of the pod. He’d burned through the final episodes of Ozark in a weekend to avoid the inevitable thought-provoking headlines and social media chatter that would inevitably rage across the internet, but in doing so he’d deprived himself of a part of the fun that comes with watching a show’s climax. Compare that to something like Breaking Bad, whose jaw-dropping final episodes were delivered in preemptive weekly doses, and I know which model I’d go for.
But the main reason I think binge-watching is such a shutdown in 2022 is because of the sheer amount of TV on TV right now. I can’t remember a time like this, when so many top shows are broadcast at the same time. It’s pretty overwhelming, and the idea of them all happening at once is even more intimidating. In this context, the weekly drip of shows feels like a blessing. When it comes to the age of advanced television, sometimes less is more.
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