I was listening to the post-Last of Us podcast hosted by Troy Baker, with co-showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann. It’s quite a fascinating look at adapting a game to a TV show, explaining his thought process behind many decisions, what was changed, what stayed the same, and why.
One interesting thing they talked about this week was the difference between a game and a show in terms of the ability to have episodes. While games may have “levels” and certain specific segments of time, there is nothing to stop a player from playing as long as they want. But that’s not the case with the show here, and they talk about how that allows them specific start and end points. It allows them to do things like the introduction of Jakarta from episode 2, as Mazin says is his favorite opening tactic to “disorient” viewers at the beginning of an episode.
However, the more they talked about how a game is fluid gameplay with no limits and episodes have hard breaks, the more I thought about how this is also actually a direct comparison to Netflix, and their binge downloading episode. model.
For a long time, the criticism against Netflix binge-watching has been the fact that by downloading all the episodes of even a good show in a single day, the conversation about that show usually ends by the end of the weekend, unless some sort of a Stranger Things/Squid Game level mega-hit. There’s something to be said for HBO’s “wait for Sunday night” philosophy, whether it’s for The Last of Us, before The White Lotus, before House of the Dragon, and the conversations that happen around an episode. specific the next day.
I’ve argued in the past that the binge model has wiped out weeks or months of potential conversations about Netflix shows, but what Mazin mentions here is the other factor. because the episodes is it so almost always released all at once, it feels like the video game Mazin describes, one without any real interruptions. Yes, there is it so individual episodes, but the way they’re consumed, with autoplay just skipping to the next instantly, often feels like a long 6-10 hour experience. And half the time because of the way the episodes flow, you stop right in the middle of one to do something else and come back to it.
So what happens is that the showrunners and writers and directors know this, so they don’t really bother filming consistent starts and stops in the episodes, making them feel like overly long movies, or if do try, those moments don’t really land why everyone can get together. Do you think anyone would be talking about things like Jakarta’s intro or Tess’s kiss if we’d gotten every episode of The Last of Us last Sunday? No way.
I know that for convenience, most viewers prefer Netflix’s binge-watching approach. But in terms of making quality television that lands, I think that model really holds Netflix series back, not just because of the “cooler conversation” aspect, but in terms of how episodes are shot, written and received without a actual beginning or endings like the ones Mazin describes here. It articulates something I’ve felt about Netflix shows for a while, but haven’t been able to put my finger on.
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