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Netflix Is Trying No-Binge Release Schedules for Shows. It's About Time

Commentary: Not everyone can handle streaming services dumping all episodes at once.

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Dear Netflix: Release your new shows weekly.
James Martin/CNET

I've never been good at keeping up with the latest TV shows. But the age of streaming has been the nail in the coffin. 

Not only are there seemingly endless platforms churning out limitless content, but I'm also overwhelmed when entire seasons are released all at once. If I don't want to feel out of the loop among friends and Twitter peers (who all easily finished the whole season of the hottest show over the weekend), I know I'll have to watch as many episodes as humanly possible during my evenings -- household chores and sleep be damned.

But there's been some welcome change brewing. Netflix, for one, has been experimenting with different release schedules lately, announcing last week that the fourth season of Stranger Things will be released in two parts. The final season of Money Heist also premiered in two installments, and horror trilogy Fear Street debuted weekly. HBO Max released an episode of And Just Like That weekly, as it did with Peacemaker, a schedule that often leaves viewers in anticipation of what's next. Disney Plus employed that same weekly structure for Marvel shows like Loki and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, adding to the hype and suspense before each episode.

As someone who finds the flood of TV content daunting, I welcome these changes with open arms.

In fact, on Saturday evening, I decided to start watching The Gilded Age, the new HBO period drama from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. I was delighted to see that instead of a long list of episodes under season 1 in the HBO Max app, I had just four to watch before being caught up -- quite an improvement from a nine-episode dump. Of course, this is because the show airs on the HBO channel weekly, but it was a nice reminder of the joys of a regular TV schedule. It made watching more enjoyable, knowing I wasn't just trying to cross items off a to-do list.

The current TV landscape often makes us feel like we're in a mad dash to consume as much content as possible, lest we stumble across spoilers or miss out on all the hype. We want to relate to friends and strangers online and share our own hot takes on the show everybody's talking about. But just when I feel caught up on the latest craze, another show captures our collective attention. If I want to keep up, I need to dedicate several more hours to binging that show, too. Usually, the time commitment doesn't feel worth it.

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The fourth season of Stranger Things will arrive in two parts. Could more shows follow that model?

Netflix

Of course, streaming services want you to spend more time on their platforms. But in the end, they have to cater to what viewers want, and it's noteworthy that a handful of shows are reverting to the weekly model that TV followed for decades. Could it be they're sensing our burnout? Are we just missing too much content in this crazy race? The fact that I'm complaining about how stressful it can be to unwind with television is a testament to how we should perhaps readjust how we go about doing so.

When Netflix started dropping full seasons of original shows, it was a revelation for viewers who'd enjoyed binge-watching their favorite series on DVD. Now they could replicate those habits with new shows too. But the TV landscape has changed, and with it, our tastes. 

Releasing episodes weekly won't save us from the never-ending content deluge, but it does give us a chance to come up for air. Without the option to binge a season in one sitting, we may be more inclined to do something more productive -- or to simply watch something else. I like to think these streaming changes are an acknowledgement that audiences want more balance. Perhaps the old-school ways of watching television weren't all meant to be overthrown. 

The more things change, after all, the more they stay the same.