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Week-to-Week: Our Release Schedule Means Nonsense
Ban binge releases for second seasons, for Stede's sake (plus a Subscription Drive update)
A reminder that we’re running our yearly subscription drive, with 20% off new yearly subscriptions through 9/15. To join the conversation and get access to all of our fall coverage (full schedule and details here), become a paid subscriber and help us unlock new Episodic Classics coverage.
When you’re writing a newsletter about television, you’re inevitably going to return to previous topics of conversation.
It’s the joy of television—it’s never a static object, but it also doesn’t always change at the same pace. Sometimes, it changes quickly, and writing about the same topic can create a wildly different conversation than it would have a year earlier. However, other times it changes so slowly that you realize a discussion we’ve been having for years hasn’t really changed, meaning that an argument I’ve been pushing for years on Twitter is (unfortunately) still relevant now.
The latter is true in this case, as last week Max formally announced that Our Flag Means Death’s second season—which Les Chappell will be covering here at Episodic Medium—would debut on October 5. When I was scheduling out the fall, I wondered what Max would be doing from a scheduling perspective—two episodes a week has long been Max’s pattern for new releases, but then in the spring they switched things up with The Other Two, starting with two episodes but then shifting to weekly releases. So imagine the thrill I experienced when I parsed Max’s confusing press release to learn that it’s neither: Our Flag Means Death season two will debut with three episodes on October 5, then shift to two-a-week, before shifting again to just one episode—the season finale—on October 26.
And it’s very dumb.
To be clear, this isn’t entirely new for the show: season one, which I binge watched on flights months later (and wrote about for this newsletter), also started with three episodes, then debuted three episodes the next week, and then went to two-per-week to finish out the season. But my ongoing position related to this debate is that there is no good argument in support of shortening a show’s run when it’s an established property. It reduces the window people would subscribe to the service, it makes anyone who can’t catch a show’s opening episodes feel like they’re immediately too far behind, and the conversation around a season basically ends before it can even begin. Whether from a business logic or fan experience perspective, it’s just…I don’t understand why this keeps happening with returning shows.
Now, with new shows I understand, which is why Apple’s streaming release strategy is the only one I can fully endorse in this day and age. This Friday, Apple debuts the first three episodes of The Changeling, with LaKeith Stanfield starring in a limited series based on Victor LaValle’s 2017 novel. It’s based on a book, yes, but most people who stumble onto it on Apple won’t know that, and having seen the first three episodes it does take a while to get deep enough into its plot to understand the full stakes of the story at hand. Accordingly, in that case, I think it’s probably smart to start people off with a three episode teaser, because I was definitely more invested in the series after watching episode three than I was based solely on episode one. But while Apple repeats this with all new shows, it abandons it once a second season debuts, because they understand that your audience is already bought into the show, and doesn’t need that additional material to become invested.
This won’t be an issue with The Changeling, which is telling a closed-ended story, but it’s a principle that should apply across any and all streaming services, regardless of their default release strategies. Netflix should be releasing marquee shows like Stranger Things weekly. Amazon shouldn’t be continuing to burn multiple episodes in week one of their returning shows like Wheel of Time (which subscriber John Aspler noted in our Substack Chat created some immediate anxiety about being behind, especially coinciding with the holiday weekend). And Max sure as hell shouldn’t be bending over backward to ensure that their 8-episode season crams into four weeks because…I literally cannot think of a reason you would do this beyond a brainless belief that streaming subscribers will rebel against anything that doesn’t at least initially register as a binge release.
Sadly, we’re beholden to Max’s madness when it comes to Our Flag Means Death, so our conversation about the second season will sadly last only four—really three—short weeks in October. However, in my limited capacity to rebel against the system of streaming tomfoolery, Les will be joining the Episodic Medium team a bit early to offer some reviews of season one for anyone planning to catch up or wanting to revisit ahead of the premiere. We had some good success with this with Yellowjackets earlier in the year, and I figure Max’s attempt to artificially shorten our time with the show is a good reason to repeat this strategy. Reviews will be taking the place of the first Episodic Classic 1 slot on the schedule, posting every Friday with the final review shifting to Monday, October 2 ahead of the second season’s debut later that week.
Subscription Drive Update
Speaking of the drive. So far, we’ve gained 25 new yearly subscribers, when combining new subscribers and those of you who have switched your subscriptions to annual. This is a solid start, but it’s definitely not reaching any of our long-range stretch goals in terms of adding multiple new Episodic Classic shows. So, let’s make some announcements and adjustments, in addition to the Our Flag Means Death S1 coverage above:
First, Donna Bowman is officially on board to review the second season of HBO’s The Gilded Age, which shifts to a Sunday slot on October 29. I’ve basically installed a policy that Donna gets to write about whatever she wants, so I’m thrilled to have had her interests line up with our fall schedule plans like this.
Second, I’m shifting our Episodic Classic expansion stretch goal to 35 and 70 for the two remaining Classics slots. I’m hopeful we can push to the 35 level, but 70 does still seem unlikely; however, that’s the shortest interval I can work with to avoid creating potential challenges as the year concludes.
As a reminder, our full fall schedule can be found here, and has been edited to reflect some of these details. If there are any additional questions, you can find an email address to reach me in that email.
I really loved the final episode of How To With John Wilson, which followed up the explosive penultimate episode by simply doing what the show did best: finding shockingly profound moments at the end of initially inane observational comedy. I don’t know if the show could ever recapture the energy of the season one finale stumbling into the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, but each episode was always an adventure, and I really enjoyed getting to experience it. You can read Sam Adams’ interview with Wilson at Slate for some great insights on how the final season came together.
We’ll discuss The Changeling more in the Subscriber Chat on the weekend, but one thing that distracted me was realizing that LaVelle was narrating the show, without any diegetic justification as far as I can tell. It makes for an interesting stylistic note, but I kept trying to figure out if I should know who was telling the story, and the answer in episode two’s credits was a bit surprising. Will be interesting to see the creative team—led by Venom co-writer Kelly Marcel—reflect on that choice.
A lot of my viewing time has otherwise been spent on ESPN’s coverage of the U.S. Open, and if you’re someone who has opinions about the various analysts and commentators who are part of a given channel’s sports broadcast, I highly recommend Joe Reid’s breakdown of ESPN’s team (which was definitely workshopped in our tennis group chat which we maintain throughout the year and is especially active during our tennis pools during grand slam tournaments).