Popular streaming giant Netflix recently announced that they were to start reducing the number of third party series and films on their online service, and would instead focus on populating their site with an increased amount of their own original content. Many were thrilled to hear this, as Netflix Originals have a reputation for being high in quality and far more cutting edge and modern than offline competition. But this change in business is far from a good thing – in fact, this huge increase in Netflix Originals being produced may very likely be a detriment to the excellence of the shows themselves.
Netflix Originals initially grew in popularity due to the quality of their original selection – shows like House of Cards and Narcos combined both well-written drama and skilful production. They also shied away from some of the features of offline television that audiences grew to hate, such as meaningless melodrama caused by channel’s desires to get ratings and constantly renew shows. The Netflix productions were restrained stories told well. It didn’t hurt that Netflix Original films were also pretty strong, with the likes of Beasts of No Nation gaining critical acclaim, but the film side to Netflix Originals has only recently begun to start gaining heat.
But the problem with having far more shows in production is that there is just no way to control the calibre of so many shows, and keep them in line with the high standards that have come to be expected. Netflix have already experimented by co-producing with other companies to offset work, and as Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and Frontier will attest, these don’t create very good shows. With so much programming to look after, the decline in quality is already apparent – from the forgotten The OA to the painfully unfunny The Ranch. Netflix seems to have lost the forward-thinking and experimental magic that brought us Stranger Things and BoJack Horseman. Instead they have resorted to trying and failing to wring popularity out of the Marvel audience in Iron Fist, knocking out hundreds of stand-up performances, and reviving old semi-forgotten franchises like Spy Kids or The Magic School Bus. Netflix Originals used to be rare gems that, when released, blessed us with their tension, intelligent drama and superb writing. Now when we see them in amongst all the other little rectangles in the Netflix menu, instead of immediately checking them out we scroll right past them. The Netflix Originals section of the menu has gone from the best collection of new series to a circus show of forced ideas.
Of course the shows we know and love still exist – Stranger Things series 2 will get released eventually, BoJack Horseman has been renewed again, and apparently there are some more seasons of Narcos in the works (about what, though, is dubious). But half of the magic with Netflix originals was the amazing ideas that they had for their series, and all the resources they provided for it, which made the shows just that much better. There used to be a time when it looked like Netflix would take over television. But when AMC has Better Call Saul, HBO has Game of Thrones, Adult Swim has Rick and Morty and Neflix airs something like Flaked, we feel stupid for ever thinking that Netflix could rule the future.