I love stranger things as much as the next nerd, but this new release schedule seems, well… a little weird. Here are the details; the penultimate fourth season of stranger things will consist of nine episodes divided into two “volumes” with a month’s wait in between. According to Netflix’s press release, the first seven episodes of Volume 1 will be available on May 27. The last two episodes, titled 2nd volumewill be released on July 1.
There is a bit more; at least three of these episodes should be extremely long. Episodes 7 (in volume 1), 8 and 9 are all around or above the 90 minute mark. The final is announced at nearly two and a half hours. These three episodes are basically the length of a feature film, and even previous episodes in Volume 1 are rumored to be “oversized”. Duffer Brothers‘ letter posted on netflix.
Do I think the Duffer Brothers do their job well and know what they’re doing? Yes, in general. But it feels like a capital gimmick to keep fans involved for as long as possible and to stretch their visibility over a month instead of a weekend, as often happens with Netflix-produced television. It doesn’t look like TV, it looks like another franchise’s cinematic universe…and maybe that’s what they should have done in the first place. Just make two or three movies and call it a season. But lately, no one feels like they’re saying no to the Duffer brothers…or their budget.
While the three seasons of stranger things were very well received by critics, I know I personally struggled in the last season. It felt like the 80s-inspired nostalgia had finally been pushed as far as it could go, without much energy to back it up. Not to mention that the story felt slow, lacking a lot of the character-driven urgency of previous seasons. Remembering how painful some of these full-sized episodes were, the announcement of these extra-long episodes doesn’t excite me at all.
I understand why they do it; Netflix shows often run well for a weekend, maybe a week, and then their viewership – and press – drops dramatically as people who want to watch the show rush to marathon it over the weekend. -end, hoping to avoid spoilers or get a hot-punch beat on twitter. Splitting a season into two parts, with a month apart, allows more fans to start the fourth season without feeling like the ending has already been ruined online. The five-week wait between the start and end of the season also allows new fans to catch up on past seasons before the finale, gives the Duffer Brothers time for an extended press tour, and leaves plenty of room. people to wildly speculate, likely inviting more viewers into the stranger things fandom – which is probably the most valuable part of any TV series.
Take, for example, Lost. The hit TV show Mystery Box first aired in 2004, when streaming was still a thing of the future, and every week people were given more clues, stories, and questions to solve. There were forums and fanboards dedicated to wild speculation and theory, and the season finales were regularly boosted by watch parties. What many people liked Lost was an opportunity to try to understand, to obtain more information every week. It remains cited as one of the best television shows of all time.
It’s in huge contrast with stranger things. After the first season, Season 2 and Season 3 enjoyed a year of speculation, but the impact of any episode, individually, was relatively insignificant to the theory that considered the entire season. Each season drop was a big event, and then the excitement simmered on the back burner until the next season started teasing its cast, posters, and trailers. Now, with five weeks built into the release schedule between volumes, I have to ask…why not just release stranger things weekly?
Netflix resisted this format for a long time, but with Esotericof the multi-episode block release schedule, it felt like something was turning around. This announcement, however, gives the impression that Netflix is experimenting with ways to stay in the nerd news cycle for as long as possible, rather than delivering a cohesive and exciting TV experience. So, instead of a more stereotypical television series, we get a series of movies that are described as television, simply because they exist in the same volume. When, however, does streaming eliminate the difference between television and a cinematic universe?
This schedule represents a lot of effort to circumvent a perfectly good weekly (or even bi-weekly) publishing schedule, which would achieve the same goals as this split version, leaving people time to speculate, invest and book nights to watch the Display. If this split-release was the plan all along, why not release more episodes on more volumes? Why chonkify the medium, which is inherently meant for uninterrupted viewing?
I know, I’m rehashing the same arguments that were put on the table when black mirror announced their 90-minute episodes. And while I think there’s a difference between a narrative TV series and an anthology series, I won’t dwell too much on extrinsic definitions of TV as a medium – that’s not an argument so interesting, and less so in my opinion, which is that I don’t think Netflix needed to produce three movies to wrap up a TV series.
As streaming breaks down the differences and definitions of film as a medium, I don’t want a longer series or multiple episodes. Above all, I want effective, tight, cohesive storytelling supported by fun and exciting fandom. I want what spectators of Lost had. For a moment I thought stranger things would deliver…and for two seasons, it sort of does. But now? I’m disappointed that I can’t easily dive in and out of a season 4 marathon watch, which the stranger things the series has grown into a massive franchise (with comics, video games, a Dungeons & Dragons tie-in, and novels), and that I’m going to have to hear about stranger things theories for five weeks without any new content. I may be alone here, but I just want to watch a TV series without having to watch three movies to do so.
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