Too many cooks spoil the broth. A camel is a horse designed by committee.
There are plenty of sayings that cover the problems that can occur with too many people trying to get their say on something. Most of them apply perfectly to television. None of them can be directed at Netflix.
I’m a firm believer that if you feed people nothing but crap they’ll come to expect little else. You give a person McDonald’s every day and they will lose the taste for fresh food. You insist that all TV viewers are morons and can only cope with The Big Bang Theory, and you train them to not want to watch anything else. Shows like The Big Bang Theory (or Made in Chelsea, or any one of the dozens of terrible programmes on terrestrial and Freeview) are cheap to make, and presume every person is sat on their sofa with their mouth open and their hand down their pants. Which I am, but it doesn’t mean I’ll like Mrs. Brown’s Boys.
Those at the top, as is the case with so many other facets of life, can get too involved in a project and get their hands all over it. They can want it to appeal to more people, to do a better job of targeting a specific audience, to change tone to encourage greater advertising revenue.
Netflix doesn’t have this problem. It trusts that the people making the programme know what they are doing and will put out exceptional content without their interference. It also trusts the audience that they will appreciate the content without being pandered to or forced upon.
Narcos is a great example of this. It’s the story of the rise of Pablo Escobar, and is a beautifully shot and fascinating show. But it would never see the light of day on TV. It’s probably 70% subtitled, and is peppered with unexpected violence and intense sex scenes. It isn’t in a rush to tell the story, and it doesn’t stick to a predictable formula. It also happens to be fantastic.
But is it as good as it can be? One of the main strengths of the Netflix model may be their biggest weakness. As Merrill Barr said far better than I could, the freedom allowed to the writers can result in slightly flabby outputs that lack focus. Over-editing can be awful, but so can no editing (which most of my posts probably attest to). One of the strengths of the current TV system is that a producer will look at a show from a cold standpoint and be happy to tell you that, as great an idea you may have, it just won’t work. It needs to be shorter, tighter, more precise. This is an important part of the process.
Netflix triumphs the fact that they leave the creators to create, and trust them that they’ll put out something of good quality that the audience will enjoy. In some cases (Bojack Horseman), it works. In others (Season 4 of Arrested Development, and it pains me to say that) it really doesn’t.
Creatives are obviously hugely talented people, and I’d love nothing more than to be involved in the development of a genuinely quality, popular TV show. But they will of course become too attached to an idea, to thinking outside the box, to disrupt common thinking, and every other type of nonsense management speak you can think of. What they aren’t known for is structure and keeping things simple.
As is the case with so many things, you need a little of both. Creativity is a wonderful thing, but it needs to be harnessed correctly. Narcos is an entertaining, intelligent, exciting programme that treats its audience like adults. But for some reason, I can’t help but feel like it could have been more. It could be Breaking Bad. Instead, it’s The Walking Dead.
Narcos Rating: Oh look, Sheldon is saying Bazinga again! Like he did in that other episode I saw!