The Netflix giveth and the Netflix taketh away. Without any warning whatsoever as it turns out. One minute you’re watching season 12 of ‘English Pantries and Cupboards’, moments from learning who’ll take out the ultimate title of ‘Lord Cupboard Sorter’ and the grand prize of a week’s caravanning in Devon before the whole series disappears. Abducted, never to be seen again. Without so much as a goodbye note, it vanishes from your ‘continue watching’ list. It’s gaslighting, pure and simple.
A series, once yanked from the platform, leaves no trace that it was ever there at all until you begin to question your own sanity. Did I imagine devoting one hundred and thirty hours – much of them in a single weekend – to watching a lifestyle show about tidying your cupboards? Was it a dream? Surely not! Instead, our shows are stolen from us, right when we need them most. How is it that we allowed ourselves to be at the mercy of this unfeeling, insensitive streaming overlord?
How dare you, Netflix! One minute I’m enjoying myself thoroughly, the next I’ve been cruelly cut off without so much as a five-minute warning. For shame! Had I known you were about to yank the rug out from under me, I’d have redoubled my efforts, lest I should be stranded; hapless and flailing, without any clue as to how the series might end. I feel so….unresolved.
It’s all so incredibly arbitrary. Things appear and disappear as they please. When I was a kid, I took piano lessons. In the waiting room, there was a small pile of religious pamphlets that were very keen on the idea of an imminent ‘rapture’. For those unfamiliar with it, ‘the rapture’ was the moment when God’s servants would be called to heaven and would disappear from the face of the earth. It was quite the concept; one that I hoped would manifest immediately before my year 10 Maths B exam, to no avail. Having things vanish from your watch list; it’s as though the rapture has suddenly called your favourite television shows to heaven.
It’s made worse by how loudly Netflix will trumpet the shows arriving on its platform. I am constantly barraged by unsolicited emails telling me about programs that I would only ever watch at gunpoint and, even then, probably not. If that sounds like a drastic and melodramatic overstatement, then let me simply say ‘Goop’. Enough said. Netflix will go to great lengths to talk up these shows, most of which will inevitably be complete duds, whilst saying nothing about those that are about to be moved on. Imagine if someone you worked with left and there wasn’t a farewell card? It’d be a scandal.
It’s made worse by the nature of television these days. Once, TV shows were episodic in nature and each episode was largely self-contained. You can start watching ‘The Fall Guy’ or ‘The A-Team’ or even ‘Magnum P.I.’ mid-season and you’ll know exactly what’s going on. These shows went to great lengths to explain themselves, often in the opening theme song. Now, however, television shows have story arcs that last the best part of a decade and blinking at the wrong time means that you’ll have missed some subtle but essential clue that becomes a vital part of understanding episode twelve in season twenty seven.
These shows require commitment. They demand hours of your time for weeks, if not months on end, until they dominate your life. Television shows have a much bigger canvas than movies and are more likely to take their sweet time in getting to the point. It’s common to be told that a particular series is fabulous ‘once you get past the first six seasons’. It’s a lot to ask. But, having made that commitment, to have the series removed is an act of unfathomable cruelty.
Technology companies are funny like that. On the one hand, they present themselves as being at the centre of everything that’s good and wonderful about contemporary culture. They portray themselves as offering consumer choice and promise the freedom to watch what you want, when you want. Which they kind of do right up until the moment they rip the rug out from under you.
Why is transparency so difficult for these mega-tech titans? It’s as though they’re afraid of what we might say if they told us the truth, so they go to great lengths to tell us as little as possible. It’s a sleight of hand. A dirty hustle by bloated corporate entities, fuelled by algorithms at the expense of human emotion. It leaves me with no choice – I’ll have to write my own ending. It’s not the first time.
I was mid-way through series seven of ‘Mad Men’ when Netflix dumped it. Using Lego pieces, I filmed an ending on my phone in which Don Draper quit advertising to become a professional hotdog vendor in Omaha. He settles down and ends up incredibly contented before lighting up the dance floor when disco rolls around. Then aliens attacked. Don Draper defended the entire planet using nothing but a small, flimsy Lego sword with only his wits and plastic hair for protection. It’s not much of an ending, but at least it’s mine. Take that, Netflix.