Updated: Nov 30, 2020
After Netflix established its original programming business model in 2013, its hundreds of new titles revolutionized the world of streaming services. Soon, the public sang its praises for rescuing several shows from cancellation on their original networks, giving it a savior-like status. Such shows that continued their run on Netflix include Arrested Development, Black Mirror, and You, selections that incited tons of conversation and excitement among viewers. Not only that, but it’s also given opportunities to many a series that wouldn’t stand a chance on broadcast television. But what does it mean when Netflix flips the script and starts to cancel all these little-shows-that-could?
This contradiction to their original narrative became notable after an onslaught of cancelations in the past few years. Perhaps a culling of titles would make sense if it was purely among the less popular, but this certainly isn’t the case. Critically-acclaimed shows got the boot, igniting major backlash and fan campaigns to save them. To name a few, One Day at a Time, Anne with an E, and The OA were all cut at their prime, and it looks like the cries for renewal fall on deaf ears. A special case, Sense8, earned a movie-like extension, which produced a two hour finale episode after the extreme reaction from fans online; otherwise, most are never heard from again.
The issue, however, has only gotten worse with the domination of COVID-19 over our lives. During the period of quarantine in the United States alone (in other words, since around February), over a dozen shows have been canceled, many of them being promising new stories that didn’t get a chance for a sophomore season. Some that clung tight to a Top 10 spot on Netflix’s featured list found themselves axed not long after their release. Sad as it may be, there isn’t much hope for any reversed decisions, considering the circumstances of a rampant pandemic.
Even so, this can’t be chalked up to a simple case of pickiness by Netflix. There’s a deeper concern, in that a striking amount of these stories feature diverse characters and plots that otherwise aren’t being depicted in the media.
A particular example is Teenage Bounty Hunters, one of the most recent cancelations. Part fast-paced wit, part Veronica Mars-like action, it’s pretty much what you would expect from the title: teenage fraternal twins Blair and Sterling accidentally encounter and get themselves recruited by professional bounty hunter Bowser, becoming his assistants in handling “skips” while balancing their social and school lives. Its premise undersells its quality and doesn’t quite capture the heart and complexity of its characters. As devout Christians, they experience several crises of faith, but ultimately learn more about themselves and others without giving up on their religion nor each other. The show grapples with sexual orientation and expression, religion and faith, political beliefs, and the criminal justice system, all while having a profound emphasis on teenage feminism. It strikes a balance between the comedy and the tragedy, the sweet and the serious, largely thanks to the chemistry of the twins (played by Maddie Phillips and Anjelica Bette Fellini) and their supporting cast. And unless any other network can give them a second chance, Blair and Sterling’s twins-turned-bounty-hunters antics will be cut short far too soon.
Teenage Bounty Hunters, of course, is not the only one. There’s GLOW, the nostalgia-filled tale of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. While covering the complicated nuances of feminism in a flashy performance catered to men, these women also deal with the inherently problematic issues of portraying stereotypes of their identity in order to succeed in the world of television and wrestling during the 1980s. GLOW caught the attention of millions of Netflix viewers; though it may not have reached the same numbers and status as instant successes like Stranger Things, its fan base grew strong over time, encouraging the company to give it more opportunities to shine. Well-reviewed and well-loved, the series lasted three seasons and even had a fourth in the works (officially renewed and filming had begun), until Netflix declared it too costly to wait to resume filming after quarantine.
Witnessing popular shows that tell uniquely diverse stories get cut while high-cost, large-cast, and less diverse shows get to stay is, to say the least, worrying. How can we achieve acceptance when, to the media, minorities barely even exist? How can we learn about each others' different identities and experiences when we’ve been told the same stories about the same people for centuries? When will seeing ourselves depicted in our favorite television shows become not a one-time thing, but a common occurrence?
If Netflix continues its reign of terror, there’s a good chance we won’t be seeing much diversity in their surviving titles. The company carries on with its tyrannical executions of our favorites, too many to do justice for in a single article. Of course, it must be acknowledged that other networks have caught wind of fans’ outrage and renewed a show for another season - the lone shining example, One Day at a Time, moved to Pop TV after its cancelation. Though it’s a comfort to see, most won’t be likely to find this same fate. All we can do is hope that Netflix realizes the harm this inflicts on its viewers and starts to prioritize diversified narratives over monetary gains.