When streaming first hit the market, there was an unprecedented gold rush. Everyone knew that they had to find a way to lure customers into subscribing to the new medium. Cable TV and network television were still very much the norm, and they had amazing content--the kind that people would drool over. People weren't just going to hand over their credit cards for nothing. The industry's solution was to open their wallets as wide as possible. They poured billions into writers, big-name directors, and CGI artists, giving customers something that they could really sink their teeth into. It worked. Cable is dead. Network TV has gone the way of the landline, and streaming is the new norm. Things went on that way for several years, until Netflix announced their first drop in subscribers in more than a decade.
Investors are skittish in general. The second someone mentions a loss, they run around like chickens with their heads cut off, shouting that the sky is going to crash down and kill us all any minute. They started calling it a streaming recession. If it could happen to Netflix, it could happen to all of the platforms, and everyone was convinced that it would. When this mindset takes hold, the market slumps. The stock market is very much a subjective entity. It's all based on popular outlook. Money stopped flowing. Shows were canceled left and right, and customers were left hanging. Real art--masterpieces, some the product of decades of planning--were completely abandoned, and it sucked.
The biggest issue was HBO Max. Early in 2022, it was announced that Warner Bros, which owned the platform would be merging with Discovery Inc. It scared a lot of people both inside and outside the industry. The new CEO David Zaslav painted himself as a sort of fiscal guru. HBO Max had more than $23 billion worth of debt, and he was claiming that he could turn that into a $3 billion surplus. He knew all the right things to say to convince investors. They're a predictable bunch. They like pragmatism, lower budgets, and a sense of security--which always seems to be missing. He was a rockstar, and as soon as he took over he began doing away with the some of the network's best series. More than a hundred have been removed from the platform. That includes Westworld, one of their most popular series, and Raised by Wolves, which was known for bringing the HBO Max to life. It was everyone worst nightmare. People have been speaking out left and right, and they're not being heard. Cliffhangers are being left open. Loose ends were left alone. It's still happening too, and this mindset is still quite popular in Hollywood. They've convinced themselves that the gold rush is over, so it is, and now we have to be a lot pickier about what we watch. It's a crying shame.
Not everyone is handling the manufactured streaming recession the same way. Many platforms are holding on to their content and avoiding mass cancellations. Amazon funded The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, the most expensive production in history, and Hulu and Disney+ don't seem to have reacted at all to the news. Even AMC+, which has yet to gain the success found on other platforms, has been putting a considerable amount of money into releasing new shows based on Anne Rice's Immortal Universe. Not all of these tactics have worked. Rings of Power was a massive flop, which came along with a contract requiring five seasons, and the reception to Interview with the Vampire was mixed at best. But it's proof that platforms are still willing to put in the effort, and that does not mean they are sinking their own stocks or putting people on the streets. In fact, Netflix has released two hit series in the past 12 months, and their stock has almost recovered since they announced that they were losing subscribers.
Zaslav, on the other hand, isn't doing so well. The cringey butcher recently announced that HBO's stock was cut in half, something nobody on Wall Street expected. All of that talk about slashing budgets and smart investments turned out to be one of the worst mistakes on the market last year, and he's completely alienated the platform's base. Fans initially started complaining that their favorite series had ended without a new season announcement. Many of these shows, like Raised by Wolves, ended in a cliffhanger. They had a massively loyal following, spread across various social media platforms. At any given time, there were tens of thousands of fans all discussing them at once. When they realized that their shows weren't just canceled but gone from the platforms, they sounded the alarm. They were furious. How do you keep people from watching Westworld? Entertainment influencers and journalists chimed in, spreading the news in articles, vlogs, podcasts, and posts. Ask any hardcore fan of a canceled series, and they will tell you that they know exactly who David Zaslav is, and they want him gone. It was a serious miscalculation on his part. Now people are saying that he going to do away with scripted shows altogether, replacing them with drunken Housewife knockoffs and blasphemous gameshows. If that happens, the platform will die. But fear not, we have better options.
Netflix is killing it. They've already renewed both Sandman and Wednesday for a second season. Disney+'s Star Wars spin-off, Andor, has been hailed as a masterpiece--employing some of the best writers in the industry. Amazon has shown zero sign of cutting back. They own 80% of the internet and the most popular online retailer in the world, so they don't have to. Their series Peripheral has received heavy acclaim. Streaming is still very much alive. We can even point to HBO's The Last of Us. Quality programming is not going anywhere. But platforms have been cutting major corners. There's bad writing and even worse CGI--acting so deplorable it'll make you sick. It's important to research a series and really delve into the reviews before you waste a giant chunk of time. You should also wait for a season 2 announcement before you get attached to a series. You might find yourself facing an open-ended cliffhanger or a mess of loose ends. In the case of HBO Max, it would be prudent to wait and see. They have made several second-season announcements and canceled a series anyway. They're too unpredictable to rely on. Until Zaslav finally gets voted out and switches tactics, we can basically expect anything we love except for House of the Dragon to be pulled off the platform.
When judging the quality of a series, there are a few things to remember. Reviews are mostly subjective. We see a show as either good, mediocre, or bad. But it really depends on the person watching. Some people will like the series, and some people will think it's the dumbest thing they've ever seen. That's because all series are written to market. That means that they're designed for a specific demographic and fans of a specific genre. The location, gender, race, and age, are all taken into account, along with a person's interests--whether they prefer science fiction, fantasies, or dramas. A Discovery of Witches--a paranormal romance about a vampire and a witch--was written mostly for women a specific age, often in the Southern region of the United States. Halo might have broad appeal, but it's mostly for men. That might sound insulting and somewhat cheap, but that is how fiction works, and it's how you succeed. People have different tastes and those categories closely match those tastes--quite predictably, in fact. In order to get a show funded, you have to prove that you can appeal to your target demographic. So you're always going to find one attached to a series.
Not everything depends on personal tastes, though. There are a few objective indicators that you can look at when you're judging a series. Budget is a great example of this. If the studio cut corners, people will often notice. They'll talk about the CGI, the sets, and the costumes. But there is a way to hide all of those things. Some of the best series of the decade found ways to hide their lack of funding. The Handmaid's Tale is a perfect example of this. They mostly stick to their Canadian filming locations, and viewers haven't said one word about it. So when we talk about budget, we'll talk about whether or not it shows. Some series will film scenes that look corny or fake. That takes away from the narrative, which is of supreme importance. That's why acting is so important. Our characters need to be believable. We should feel the emotion. If someone is just reciting their lines with no feeling or passion, it makes it difficult to dive into the plot, and we're less likely to build an emotional connection with events onscreen. Another objective indicator is profit and views. But that can be very deceptive. Some companies will pour massive amounts of cash into marketing; we saw this with M3gan, for example. People who had no desire to see the film were seeing her face everywhere online. This is great for profits. It will get them the views they want, the headlines, and the fanfare, but it doesn't determine quality. People often forget that. It's easy to look at a blockbuster hit and assume it's good; quite often it's not. Really dive into the online reviews before you invest in a 12-hour series, especially if it's popular. As you'll see below, there a few hits that had no business taking off.
Fan reception can be both telling and deceptive depending on where you go. IMDB is known for being stingy about their ratings. The people that go there are connoisseurs. They know quality when they see it. But you can't always trust them. Sometimes fans flood their pages, and it can skew the numbers. Rotten Tomatoes isn't reliable. They tend to be more forgiving. Shows that have been universally panned by both fans and critics will often walk away with a high score. If you are using Rotten Tomatoes, look for something you can really pin down. If it says the show uses catchphrases or corny dialogue, for example, it might be a good idea to skip it. But don't trust everything they say. With fan reception, we also have to take into account the existing fandom. If a series is a remake, there will be a large base of people who are already watching the show with a specific set of expectations. Dune is the perfect example of this. The upcoming series Dune: The Sisterhood has had a hard time with marketing because it's based on the expanded universe written by the author's son, Brian Herbert. They have all sorts of things to say about the newer books. But newcomers to the franchise won't have the same bias, and they could easily find that they love it. If something is getting a ton of bad ratings and it's based on preexisting source material, look at what the fandom has to say, then decide whether you want to invest your time in it. If you really want to check ratings, give it time. It will take several weeks before everyone has put in their vote. You'll get a more accurate picture that way. Also, check the trailer. It could have everything you need to make a decision.
Wednesday Addams - Netflix
It would be impossible to write an article about streaming in 2022 without mentioning Wednesday Addams. It was originally a source of serious controversy--likely manufactured to boost promotion on social media. They chose to go with a more traditional Gomez Addams, casting Luis Guzmán, who resembles the Gomez from the comics, as opposed to someone who looked like the beloved Raul Julia, who was known for his part in the 1990s films. We've all seen the fights that spring up whenever Hollywood chooses to change a character's race. It's predictable, easily manufactured, and it always ends up attracting a giant crowd. Their casting choice definitely boosted the show's profile, which means it was probably intentional. Everything about the series screams cheap marketing. But that doesn't mean it's all bad.
When the series premiered, it went viral almost instantly. It was partially because of Wednesday's characteristic deadpan humor She'd look someone in the eyes with a bland, neutral expression, and say the most insulting thing she could possibly think of. It worked in the 1990s films, and it worked today. Fans praised the series for its dialogue, which was admittedly well-written in parts. It's not perfect. Sometimes her replies fell flat, and it got tedious. That was her sole means of communication. But it was fun and endearing. It went a long way towards boosting her likeability. It was shamelessly written to market which also helped with the appeal. Instead of coming up with a unique setting, they decided to create a gothic Hogwarts. Each student had a race--a hastily drawn-up mythical identity. There were gorgons, vampires, and hydras; it was all very contrived. They were then placed into a house, just like Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. It was obvious that someone had taken a survey and decided that females of a certain age liked the Hogwarts format. This went along with a viral dance craze. They had Wednesday perform some ridiculously goofy ensemble at a school dance, and then they had everyone copy them on TikTok. From a marketing perspective, it was genius. But any adult looking hard enough could see through the whole thing. It was later discovered that she performed the dance while waiting for what turned out to be a positive COVID test. There was no social distancing and no masks, but nobody seemed to mind.
The acting in Wednesday was terrible. Gwendoline Christie, the human giantess known for playing Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones, has earned quite a bit of praise in her career, but she completely bombed her role as the headmistress of Nevermore Academy. It was like watching her regress. Jenna Ortega, who played Wednesday, had zero range, no stage presence, and frankly, no talent. But she didn't need it for the role. So long as she kept a straight face and recited her lines properly, she'd hit her deadpan mark. The rest of the characters were mediocre as well. Catherine Zeta-Jones isn't known for her skill; that didn't change when she dawned Morticia's signature outfit. The only person that delivered was Luis Guzmán. He was strange, over-affectionate, and somewhat repulsive. It worked. The plot was no better. They decided to go with a mystery, just like Harry Potter. Wednesday delved into the school secrets and interviewed her peers, hoping to find out who was responsible for a rash of killings. It moved slowly. There was nothing to keep us interested as things went along, and it was impossible to miss the red herring.
Was Wednesday Addams a Hit or a Miss?
Adults see things differently. We're harder to impress, and we're less likely to believe what we see onscreen. We need realism, intensity, and realistic acting. Wednesday had none of those things, but that was the point. It wasn't for adults. High school dramas are usually geared toward 11-13-year-olds. They want to feel like they're older and they've graduated into something better, so they like to live the high school fantasy. That includes all of the major tropes that we're familiar with, from bullies to goths. They eat those cliches up, because it's not cliche to them. They haven't seen the same thing over and over for the past thirty-something years, and they like to idealize the misfits, the kids that deserve a chance. They believe in equality and human compassion. That genre embodies all of those traits in a format that they can identify with. That's why it's been repackaged so often over the years.
Wednesday was a hit because it was perfectly targeted to reach its demographic. Pre-teens went wild. They bought merch. They learned the dance, and they teamed up to bug Netflix into creating a second season/. It was their thing, and they will love it. It was also interesting enough to keep an adult's eyes distracted for a bit. It was macabre, eccentric, and somewhat dark. Adults like all of those things. They also inserted a nostalgia element that adults love. Many of us were fans of the 1990s films, and we needed a sense of continuity, a nod to make sure they didn't forget about us. The creators of the series knew that. Any reboot has to contend with its former incarnations, and there's an art to doing so. In this case, they decided to give the old Wednesday, Christina Ricci a part in the series. Fans love her. They've followed her work over the years, but that work is dark. Films like Black Snake Moan can't compare some pre-teen high school drama. It did nothing to enhance the show. They also added in a bit of vaudeville. Films in the 1990s were known for their cheesy antagonists and cliche last battles. They'd rub their hands together and laugh or affect an exaggerated demeanor. For children, it was a blast. We loved seeing them meet their slapstick demise, and we remembered them. Unfortunately, it didn't work.
This film is fun for the whole family. It's not for serious adults looking for a darker version of their favorite franchise. So it's a hit with the younger crowd and a pathetic parody for anyone over 14.
The Sandman - Netflix
The Sandman made waves. The series is based on Neil Gaiman's bestselling comic book series by the same name. It was racy, known for its use of ancient myths and authentic magical traditions, as well as its depictions of the LGBTQ+ community. He was casually inserting hermaphrodites, drag queens, and bisexuals in a time when Hollywood was still trying to conform to the public's aggressive phobias--and he pulled it off. Save for a few letters from special interest groups, he didn't hear a word about his work. It was simply too good. He created a universe of deities, known as eternals, who embodied universal traits. They acted like Greek gods, interfering in human affairs and causing trouble, all the while playing out their own conflicts.