I Take Back Every Single Thing I’ve Ever Said About Netflix Shows Being Too Long
The first thing I do when I start a new Netflix show is stop it.
Then I immediately scroll my mouse over to the bottom right corner of the streaming interface and click the icon that looks like a bunch of stacked cards. I’m looking for the answer to one question: “Before I commit, how long is this show?”
For years, the answer was almost always the same. “Too long.” All the way back in 2015, I wrote about how Netflix, which helped popularize binge-watching, was shifting to a model that emphasized massive, season-long serialized storylines over addictive individual episodes. I bemoaned the line we’ve all heard — and maybe even used ourselves — when describing a Netflix original: “You have to stick with it. The first six episodes are really slow. But if you stick with it, it gets good.”
In 2018, I compared Netflix’s business model for film production to the episode of The Simpsons where the a demon force-feeds Homer all the donuts in the world. It wasn’t that Netflix didn’t care about quality; the company has made exceptional films and shows. It’s just that they also care a lot (or maybe more) about quantity, pumping out as much content as possible to bring in new monthly customers and keep the ones the already have subscribed with an endless parade of viewing options.
Coronavirus has turned the entire world upside down — including this mental calculus. In the days since I’ve begun isolating with my family at home, I’ve watched several things on Netflix and other streaming services. Each time I start a new show, I still return to my routine; I pause and check how many episodes I’m in for. But now instead of “Ugh, how much time will this take me to watch?” I find myself asking “Ugh, why isn’t this longer?”
This week, for example, I watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, a brand-new true-crime documentary series about a strange cast of characters connected to the world of big cats and exotic animals. Directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin spent years following a sprawling web of rivalries, love affairs, and possible murder plots. Their eccentric stars include a redneck mulleted zoo owner from Oklahoma named Joe Exotic, and Carole Baskin, the head of a rival organization that wants to shut down Joe’s business in the name of protecting wildlife. Joe repeatedly alleges that Carole murdered her husband in order to inherit his money. And it appears that Joe may have tried to hire someone to kill Carole.
Tiger King runs seven episodes of about 45 to 50 minutes. The actual “crime” at the center of the story is not that large. There are enough supporting characters and bizarre twists — like Joe Exotic’s doomed 2016 Presidential campaign — to sustain the series, but if you really wanted to, you probably could boil Tiger King down to a concise two-hour film. And I can imagine, under normal circumstances, thinking that Tiger King would benefit from that sort of editing. Just a few weeks ago, I came to a similar conclusion about HBO’s true-crime doc series McMillions, which chronicled another surreal underworld plot, namely the rigging of McDonald’s famous Monopoly promotional game. McMillions was six episodes — and watching it weekly, I was ready for the show to wind down by the time it hit Episode 4.
A few weeks later, I wish there were four more McMillions episodes, and I’m grateful for every single minute of distraction that Tiger King provided. Its messy drama, its rambling structure, and outlandish interviews make it ideal viewing in the age of coronavirus. Every single subplot, no matter how theoretically superfluous, was welcome. (All the stuff about zoo owner Bhagavan “Doc” Antle and his curious hiring practices and private life? 100 chef kiss emoji.) Now that Tiger King’s over, I’m looking for other big binges I can use to take my mind off the outside world for a few (or hopefully more than a few) hours.
It is astonishing how fast and how totally my standard value judgments, built and solidified over a period of years and even decades, have been upended. It’s also astonishing how perfectly positioned Netflix is during this time of social isolation. For years, Netflix pumped more films and shows into its customers accounts than they could ever know what to do with. No one — not even journalists assigned to cover Netflix’s slate — could possibly consume it all.
Every week, it felt like tons of well-made stuff was falling through the cracks. Today, something that was recently so frustrating is now a resource, and even a source of comfort. Remember a few months ago when the entire world was kvetching that The Irishman was too long at 209 minutes? What would you give for another 209 minutes of The Irishman right now?
So consider this my apology to Netflix and to any other streaming content providers who have treated their customers like the kid from UHF Stanley Spadowski sprays with the fire hose. I take it all back. Long shows are good. Longer shows are better. Some day in the future, my tastes may shift again. For now, my feelings can be summed up in two words: More please.
Gallery — The Best Shows You Haven’t Watched on Netflix: