Streaming Is Too Big for Its Own Good

By the time I finally got around to watching, and quickly falling in love with, Reservation Dogs—The ethereal dark comedy on FX about four rebellious Indigenous teens who stir up trouble on a small-town Oklahoma reservation — almost a year had passed since its 2021 premiere. My lingering wasn’t deliberate, but it did mean I had missed out on one of the more fulfilling aspects of what makes TV, especially a trinket of a show like Reservation Dogsall the more appointment-worthy in this piggish age of streaming: the opportunity to absorb its quirks while watching and arguing about it alongside everyone else on social media.

This has become a trend of late. I find myself unable to keep pace with the overflow of television and film offered across all the major streamers (I binged Reservation Dogs last month on Hulu, FX’s corporate partner), and on the network and cable outfits that have belatedly gotten with the times by generating cultural IP on various platforms. (Yes, I signed up for Paramount + ‘s free trial, and yes, I watched the precooked American version of Love Island without one morsel of embarrassment.) I only just completed The Gilded Age (10/10 recommend — it’s Housewives before Housewives) and have yet to start Station Eleventhe sophomore season of Successionand couldn’t even tell you where I left off on Ozark (actually I just checked; season 3, episode 1). Amidst all of this, I still had no time to watch the movies piling up in my ever expanding queues, including the dystopian thriller Mother / Android and the documentaries Ailey, High Scoreand Our Father.

Context, as always, is crucial. All of this has happened at a time — spring into summer, kinda-post-Covid but not quite — when streaming was, and still very much is, vomiting content at an unprecedented rate. In addition to playing catch-up, I also added to my treasure chest of streaming ephemera: I subscribed to Peacock in April (Bel-Air is the first reboot in a long time to trouble genre lines with real payoff) while watching, chronologically, all of what the animated DC universe had to offer on HBO Max (in terms of its animation slate, DC far outpaced Marvel). Such are the times. According to an analysis done by Vulture on spring programming, “streaming platforms and cable networks rolled out more than 50 new and returning high-profile series” over a 10-week period. One executive colored it bluntly: “It’s almost hurting consumers at this point. It’s just too much. ”

On top of this, creator-first apps, such as YouTube and TikTok, have slowly reengineered where we look for entertainment and escape. During the first year of the pandemic, Instagram Live became appointment TV, as users came together to watch the song-battle series Verzuz, or bonded over the eccentricities of influencers like Boman Martinez-Reid on TikTok. Video streaming, Neilsen reported, now accounts for 25 percent of TV consumption, an increase of 6 percent from the year before.

It doesn’t register as all bad. One immediate upside to the algorithmic glut of content clogging our attention is the delight in being introduced to a genre or series otherwise overlooked. Force-feeding, I can admit, has its advantages. Streamers like Netflix and Hulu that previously mishandled bringing international storylines stateside have since come around, with the rare surprise hit that seems to take hold of the culture in a roundabout fashion: an oddball series seems unfathomable until, all of a sudden, there’s fan fiction being written about it on message boards.

By the fourth week of its release, in October of last year, Squid Game—The South Korean Survivor-style drama about class hostility — had become the most-watched show on Netflix across all language groups, and the talk of social media. (According to the company, total hours viewed by the end of the first month totaled 1.65 billion.) With fluctuating results, other foreign series have found audiences in the US, including Netflix’s recent South African society soap, Savage Beauty.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the instinct of more, bigger, now has only exacerbated our worst impulses. The choice is either stay plugged in and up to date on everything or get ridiculed in the group chat for not catching any of the Keke Palmer references from the newest season of Legendary. What’s more, to the average consumer, streaming companies have been maneuvered with what appears to be only rapid growth and blind excess in mind. Sure, we reap the fruits of that near-impossible ethic, but is it what we want — or even need?

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