Streamers’ Split Seasons Are Squeezing Already-Small Episode Counts To Death

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Streamers’ Split Seasons Are Squeezing Already-Small Episode Counts To Death

There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of splitting a season of television into two separate parts. The traditional structure of a network television season is proof enough of this, with the vast majority of 20-episode seasons taking an approximately six-week long break that falls over the winter holiday season. Minor storylines are able to get the screentime that they deserve, and in turn, are able to hold significant weight next to the major, season-long plotlines that take center stage. Mid-season finales and premieres mean that these smaller and shorter plotlines are given just as much space to grow. However, this deeply ingrained practice is never advertised as a Part-1-Part-2 situation, and that anyone who waits until an entire season of a show is finished to watch it is able to binge it unencumbered. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the very purposeful two-part seasons that we are seeing more and more often from streaming services.

Unlike network television, streaming services do not give their shows a chance at making a normal-length season with 20 or more episodes, instead opting to keep things small, regularly pushing out 8-13 episode seasons at a lower frequency than network and cable TV do. As of late, there have been multiple instances where these micro-seasons are being broken into even smaller sections. Bridgerton Season 3 is the latest example of this, with the second half premiering today after fans had to wait a month for the four concluding episodes of the season. With the two previous seasons being released all at once—as is standard practice with the binge model, particularly at Netflix—there was no precedent for this season to be cut down the middle. Despite Part 1’s almost-conclusion, it’s still easy enough to tell that the split was not planned before production was completed. Sure, there is a sense of finality to Episode 4, but the storylines themselves were not written in a way conducive to the weight that a mid-season finale commands. Mid-seasons breaks are supposed to be built towards throughout the first half of a season, and that makes sense when there are nine or 10 episodes that the writers room knows they need to use to make the audience care. Splitting up a season with only eight episodes is already a tight squeeze, but doing so after the episodes are already written and filmed is beyond ridiculous.

Season 2 of Invincible was the victim of a similar circumstance. Like Bridgerton, the season was split into two, four-episode parts, citing delays in production. The result was a season that took a sharp cutoff in the middle, and while the mid-season finale certainly packed a punch, the five-month break did more harm than good. Unlike Netflix, Prime Video at least had a reason to delay the back half of the season, but it is painfully obvious that the story would have benefitted from the entire season being delayed until March of this year instead. Invincible is released weekly (another good choice) and if Robert Kirkman really wanted to break the season into two parts to build up some anticipation, that could have been done with a one or two-week hiatus between Episodes 4 and 5. Or, alternatively, hard-hitting narrative beats don’t always command a make-’em-wait approach, and Invincible’s first season is more than proof of that fact. 

As with anything that annoys the general public, there are some situations where splitting a season that would otherwise be bingeable is acceptable. Manifest Season 4 was split into two 10-episode parts, and while Part 2 was a disappointment, Part 1 had enough episodes to set up something that could have been good. The Get Down was split into two parts, with each taking place in a separate year. With the news that Arcane is ending with its second season, one has to wonder whether marketing it as a Part 1 and Part 2 would have been a better fit. Saying a show only has two seasons feels like it is inherently incomplete, but saying that it has two parts implies that there are two halves of the same whole. Regardless of labeling shows in parts or seasons, there has to be enough story to justify a large enough number of episodes to then look at them all and decide to separate them into smaller acts. Any story that can be told in eight episodes is not a story with enough depth or material to ever consider splitting it in two. 

So, if critics hate it and the general public also has their qualms with this practice, why might streamers like Netflix sacrifice the integrity of their projects like this? Money, most likely. With their Standard Ad-Free subscription tier coming in at $15.49 a month, there are plenty of people who will pay for a single month of the service just to binge the latest season of their favorite show and then cancel once they are done. This doesn’t quite apply to Bridgerton this go around—Part 2 is releasing just under a month after Part 1—but Stranger Things released its fourth season in two parts, with Vol. 1 airing on May 27th and Vol. 2 releasing July 1st, just days after subscribers would be forced to renew to finish the season. If Netflix wants to milk their subscribers for everything they’re worth, that’s fine. Companies are not people, and they certainly are not our friends, but they can choose to exploit us in ways that are less annoying. Narrative breaks and being able to charge people for two months of a streaming service can find common ground in weekly release schedules. An eight-episode season will take 2 months to air, and weekly releases allow for each episode to stand on their own outside of the collective of the season. 

Really, a show should be released in whatever format is best for it. Some TV is better watched all at once, and if that’s the case, then it should continue to be released that way. Production delays are always a gamble, but at least they give us a reason as to why a show is chopped up. Invincible had an excuse, but Bridgerton does not, and hopefully we won’t be saddled with another eight-episode season that was never supposed to be severed at the waist when the series inevitably returns for more courtship in the future.

Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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