Let’s take, for example, Lost. The smash-hit mystery box TV show first aired in 2004, when streaming was still a thing of the future, and every week people got more clues, stories, and questions to unravel. There were forums and fanboards dedicated to wild speculation and theorizing, and season finales regularly spurred on watch parties. What many people loved about Lost was the opportunity to try to figure it out, getting more information every week. It remains cited as one of the best television shows ever.
This is in huge contrast to Stranger Things. After the first season, Season 2 and Season 3 benefitted from a years’ worth of speculation, but the impact of any episode, individually speaking, was relatively insignificant to the theorizing that took the whole season into account. Each season drop was a big event, and then the excitement simmered on the backburner until the next season started teasing its cast, posters, and trailers. Now, with five weeks built into the release schedule between Volumes, I have to ask… why not just release Stranger Things weekly?
Netflix has resisted this format for a long time, but with Arcane’s multi-episode bloc release schedule, it felt like something was turning around. This announcement, however, makes it seem like Netflix is experimenting with ways to stay in the nerd-news cycle for as long as possible, rather than delivering a cohesive and exciting television experience. So instead of a more formulaic television series, we’re getting a series of films that are being described as television, simply because they exist in the same Volume. At what point, however, does streaming eliminate the difference between television and a cinematic universe?
This schedule feels like a lot of effort to circumvent a perfectly good weekly (or even bi-weekly) release schedule, which would achieve the same goals as this split release, allowing people time to speculate, invest, and set aside evenings to watch the show. If this split-release was the plan all along, why not release more episodes over more volumes? Why chonkify the medium, which is inherently meant for drop in-drop out viewing?
I know, I’m rehashing the same arguments that were brought to the table when Black Mirror announced their 90-minute episodes. And while I do think there’s some difference between a narrative television series and an anthology series, I won’t harp too much on the extrinsic definitions of television as a medium–it’s not that interesting of an argument, and less to my point, which is that I don’t think that Netflix needed to produce three movies to wrap up a television series.
As streaming breaks down the differences and definitions of film as a medium, I don’t want a longer series or more episodes. Above all, I want effective, tight, cohesive storytelling supported by a fun and exciting fandom. I want what the audience of Lost had. For a while, I thought Stranger Things would deliver… and for two seasons it sort-of did. But now? I’m disappointed I’m not going to be able to easily dip in and out of a marathon watch of Season 4, that the Stranger Things series has turned into a massive franchise (complete with comics, video games, a Dungeons & Dragons tie-in, and novels), and that I’m going to have to hear about Stranger Things theories for five weeks without any new content. I might be alone here, but I just want to watch a television series without having to sit through three movies to do it.
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